The first time I knew that Pink was different to other pop stars of her day, I was 13 and trying to show off to some 15-year-olds.
“Who do you like?” one of them questioned, pointing at my Discman. They had stopped me on the stairwell and would only allow me permission to go to my class on time if I appeased them.
“I like Avril Lavigne,” I said. “And I like Maroon 5.”
“Avril’s a poser,” she replied, “and Maroon 5 are teenyboppers.”
As the girls rolled their eyes at one another, I thought of something else.
“PINK!” I said. “I like Pink.”
“Pink’s cool,” she nodded. And like the Red Sea, the girls parted and let me through.
When you look back at the pop landscape of the late 1990s and early 2000s, it’s kind of amazing that Pink made it through alive. Originally cast by her record company as an R&B singer, she appeared in her first solo single, There You Go, as a softer, whiter, safer version of Missy Elliott. Her pink pixie cut was paired with crop tops and cleavage shots, and the end result was exactly what you’d imagine an advertising executive thinks rebellion looks like, but in reality was something between a Maxim cover and an ad for wash-in hair dye.
She was a bruising, blazing Halley’s Comet, passing through a pop scene that was as uncomfortable with feminism as it was with politics, and Pink was out there, doing both
In contrast, her second album, Missundaztood, was mostly written by Pink and 4 Non Blondes alumna Linda Perry. In it, Pink directly criticised George Bush (Dear Mr President), alluded to her own drug use (Just Like A Pill), criticised the industry openly (Don’t Let Me Get Me) and included a swansong about divorce (Family Portrait). Pit Pink’s aggression and androgyny against the other chart-toppers at the time – Atomic Kitten’s Whole Again, which had all the rebellion of a cup of milky tea, and Britney being sexually overwhelmed by a snake in I’m A Slave 4 U – and it feels amazing that Pink was even allowed to happen. She was a bruising, blazing Halley’s Comet, passing through a pop scene that was as uncomfortable with feminism as it was with politics, and Pink was out there, doing both.
Now, things are different. The MTV Video Music Awards this weekend were heaving with political agend – Susan Bro, the mother of anti-fascist protester Heather Heyer, was invited to speak. Paris Jackson condemned “these Nazi white supremacist jerks” and transgender troops walked the red carpet. Pink, there to collect her Video Vanguard Award, arrived on a dune buggy and decided to make things personal.
Pink tells the story of her six-year-old daughter, who, according to herself, is the “ugliest girl (she) knows”. On investigation, Pink learnt that her daughter was mocked for looking “like a boy with long hair”.
“I didn’t say anything and instead I went home, and I made a PowerPoint presentation for her. In it were androgynous rock stars and artists that live their truth, are probably made fun of every day of their life, and carry on and wave their flag… and these are artists like Michael Jackson and David Bowie and Freddie Mercury and Annie Lennox and Prince and Janis Joplin… so many artists, her eyes glazed over.
“When people make fun of me, that’s what they use. They say that I look like a boy, or that I'm too masculine, or I have too many opinions, or that my body’s too strong and I said to her, ‘Do you see me growing my hair?’ She said, ‘No, Momma.’ I said, ‘Do you see my changing my body?’ She said, ‘No, Momma.’ I said, ‘Do you see me selling out arenas all over the world?’ ‘Yes, Momma.’
“We don’t change,” Pink concluded. “We take the gravel and the shell, and we make a pearl. We help other people to change, so that they can see more kinds of beauty.”
It was an incredibly moving moment and, hopefully, is the speech that will inspire thousands of PowerPoint presentations all around the world. Kids who are too boyish or too girlish or too dark or too gay or too loud or too fat or too anything have a plethora of icons to look up to, and let’s hope their parents are putting those icons right in their eyeline. And, in my opinion, Pink herself deserves to be among them.
Because she’s right – Pink’s toughness, her loudness and her androgyny have all been used as sticks to beat her with during her long music career. But, as her own PowerPoint proves, both the thing that excluded her from the pop pack will be the thing that solidifies her reputation as a hero. And it’s exactly where she deserves to be.