(Im)perfectly P!nk

I consider myself lucky to have seen P!nk for the second time last month in Charlotte, this time from the center of the VIP mosh pit.  Since P!nk is such a dynamic, acrobatic performer, as well as an incredible singer, being in the midst of her show was overwhelming.  But one reason I’ve been a P!nk fan for over a decade, while being as far from her target audience as one can get while still remaining human, is how both her career path and songwriting capture the cultural tensions I see playing out in family court.

My initial admiration of P!nk developed with her second album, M!ssundaztood.  The frisky hit “Get the Party Started” was a high-grade bimbo anthem–admittedly one of the finest examples of that surprisingly deep genre.  But the other singles from that album highlighted a thoughtful, confused and non-conformist young woman who still desired to act in an ethical manner and uphold her own notions of integrity.  The title track describes disappointing her parents while trying to do right–“Lookin’ for the right track/Always on the wrong track,” before the chorus:

There’s a song I was listenin’ to up all night

There’s a voice I am hearin’ sayin’ it’s alright

When I’m happy, I’m sad, but everything is good

Its not that complicated I’m just missundaztood

However it was a ballad, “Family Portrait,” that best captured P!nk’s dilemma: the desire of every child to live in a “happy normal” family balanced by a young adult’s knowledge that such families may be a Potemkin Village.  Sung from the persona of a teenager whose parents are separating, P!nk’s burden-bearing for the breakup are lines I could hear many children in my custody litigation heartbreakingly uttering:

Can we work it out

Can we be a family

I promise I’ll be better

Mommy I’ll do anything

Can we work it out

Can we be a family

I promise I’ll be better

Daddy please don’t leave

The chorus is something I suspect may sensitive teenagers scrawled into their journals early last decade:

In our family portrait

We look pretty happy

We look pretty normal

Lets go back to that

In our family portrait

We look pretty happy

Lets play pretend, act like it

Goes naturally

Since M!ssundaztood, P!nk’s songwriting and persona have often focused on the tensions between living up to societal expectations of what a “happy normal” family looks like with the recognition that she’s anything but normal, yet her life and family are satisfyingly happy.  Over the past thirteen years P!nk has gradually given up on the teenager’s desire to be “normal” while recognizing that not living a suburban/2.5 children/dog and husband/white picket fence life doesn’t doom one to dysfunction.  As such she’s been embraced by outsiders–especially gays and fans of Glee.  During a year in which the issues of whether homosexual couples can be “normal” families is being debated in the United States Supreme Court, P!nk’s path and persona mirrors many of the cultural changes I have observed during my career.

P!nk finds amusement that, despite her anti-establishment ways, she has caused less trouble than those with initially more acceptable public images.  She began receiving notice around the same time as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, who started their careers as part of the New Mickey Mouse Club and projected wholesome personas.  Yet P!nk remains the only one of the three to stay out of legal difficulties.  In March 2011, after Aguilera was arrested for public intoxication, P!nk tweeted, “Out of Myself, Britney, and Christina- didn’t everyone think I was gonna be the troublemaker? LOOK MA!!! No CUFFS!!!”  This moment of schadenfreude could have been anticipated by her 2003 single, “Trouble.”  Here she contrasts the bad-girl persona with which she Épaters la bourgeoisie–“So if you see me comin’ down the street/Then you know it’s time to go, go”–with stanza that notes her behavior remains within the bounds of propriety: “No attorneys, to plead my case/No opiates, to send me into outer space.” She concludes with a joyous statement of defiance:

You think you’re right, but you were wrong

You tried to take me, but I knew all along

You can’t take me for a ride

Well I’m not a fool now, so you better run and hide


Mmm trouble

Yeah trouble now

I’m trouble y’all

I disturb my town

I’m trouble

Yeah trouble now

I’m trouble y’all

I got trouble in my town

The family courts, at least in South Carolina, remain one of the strongest bastions of reaction to these cultural changes.  There’s little respect for parents who might be responsible and loving but who smoke a little weed, have sex outside of marriage, or who question God and faith–let alone love someone of their own gender.  Such parents are still treated as pariahs and failures.  Even if they live lives of integrity they are treated as lesser than those who mouth the expected pieties and then behave atrociously.

On her latest album P!nk has matured but she still identifies with those who do not fit into what our culture tells us is normal.  Brazenly celebrating wanton sex in provocatively titled songs such as “Walk of Shame” and “Slut Like You,” she announces “I’m not a slut/I just love love.”  This is a tonic her female teenage fans–who live within an inexplicable culture of girl-against-girl slut shamming–need.

Best of all, as P!nk enters her thirties, she’s developed the wisdom to know that the failure to live a storybook life doesn’t mean she’s not a good person.  The opening track/party anthem, “Are We All We Are” uses the first person plural as a deliberate strategy of including herself in the culture of proud misfits:

We are the people that you’ll never get the best of

Not forget the rest of, rest of

We’ve got our fill, we’ve had enough, we’ve had it up here

Are we all we are

Are we all we are


We are the people that you’ll never get the best of

Not forget the rest of, rest of

Just sing it loud, until the kids will sing it right back

Are we all we are

Are we all we are

Her recent hit ballad, “Try,” demonstrates a mature heartbreak that the singer on M!ssunderstood couldn’t yet understand, while recognizing that one can survive romantic disappointments and come out stronger:

Where there is desire

There is gonna be a flame

Where there is a flame

Someone’s bound to get burned

But just because it burns

Doesn’t mean you’re gonna die

You’ve gotta get up and try try try

Gotta get up and try try try

You gotta get up and try try try

As P!nk commands us on “Raise Your Glass,” her #1 single from 2010 greatest hits album:

So raise your, so raise your glass if you are wrong

In all the right ways

All my underdogs, we will never, never be

Anything but loud and nitty gritty, dirty little freak

Perhaps it is my Jewish upbringing, perhaps it was my own sense that I was a disappointing underachiever earlier in life, but, even though I appear to be one of those happy families in that perfect family portrait, I continue to identify with the dirty little freaks.  Praise be to P!nk for feeling the same way.

Here’s hoping that P!nk and her army of freaks [and Lady Gaga’s army of little monsters] help change a culture that demands folks hide any sign of weakness or imperfection, damns those who act with integrity but fail to mouth the expected pieties, but then acts shocked when human frailties explode out of such fictitious personas.

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