On a warm November day, Pink sat at a back table in a Malibu restaurant, ordering salmon and behaving like a good pop star. Dressed in workday denim and plaid, a skullcap covering her short platinum hair, she was all set to start unloading furniture into her new beach house near Point Dume. Instead, this lunch date interrupted the move that cements her reunion with husband Carey Hart, the on-again love of her life and father-to-be of her first child, due in May.
"We've been renting for three years — well, I have, and now he is," said the 31-year-old singer, referring to the couple's recent separation. "This is going to be our first home in nine years together. It's really exciting. We grew up."
Promotion cycles, however, don't pause for romantic bliss. Pink, whose real name is Alecia Moore, was tending to the release of "Greatest Hits … So Far!!!," which collects the singles from her decade-plus of hitmaking. Even someone like Pink, known for sneering at convention, has to toe the party line sometime.
But that's so boring. "I was not inspired at all for this album," she said, dismissing the very product she was there to sell. "I always figured you need to be 60 or better, to have a little more past, to put one of these out. I fought it for years. That and dolls, to me, just don't need to happen."
Her interviewer protested that Pink would make a lovely action figure, with her tattoos and the muscles she's developed doing aerial acrobatics during her recent tours. That got a guffaw. In the end, Pink said, she did warm to the idea of a greatest hits package, realizing that acceptance can be the best route back to control.
"Record companies, I found out, can put out compilations without your permission," she said. "I wanted it done my way, so I jumped on board. Then, the less skeptical I felt about it, I started to feel a little proud. I decided, all right, I'm not going to be a little [brat] about it."
Pink didn't say "brat" — her choice of words was saltier. That's how she is, in interviews as well as in her work: in your face with a smile and no time for niceties.
There is a central mystery, however, surrounding the powerhouse vocalist: Why isn't she an even bigger star? "Greatest Hits … So Far!!!," along with the increased visibility brought by her dazzling live show, may be correcting that oversight.
"I think people respond to her sense of independence and dedication. It inspires people," wrote author and Rolling Stone critic Rob Sheffield in an e-mail. "This is a prolific pop artist who is sometimes famous and successful, sometimes obscure, who nonetheless keeps making her own kind of music. Every few years, the spotlight comes back around to her — but her fans can trust that when the spotlight moves along, Pink will keep on writing Pink songs."
Britney Spears may have wiggled her way more deeply into America's titillated psyche, and Justin Timberlake earns more kudos as a musician, but it's fair to claim that Pink is the most trailblazing artist from the famous teen pop class of circa 1999.
Hemmed in on her 2000 album debut by generic hip-hop soul stylings, she found her path on the next year's "Missundaztood" with the sound that's become her trademark: a mix of rock's bright rebelliousness and emotional rawness with dance music's infectious beats.
Add in a great sense of humor, and you have a model for the mash-up approach of latter-day divas such as Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and even Rihanna. Gnarls Barkley came up with a similar formula on the breakthrough hit "Crazy"; the Black Eyed Peas and Taio Cruz pay respect to it too. And it's still working for Pink, whose Max Martin-produced "Raise Your Glass," recorded especially for "Greatest Hits….So Far!!!," is currently atop the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
Then there are Pink's tours — magical evenings that blend classic dance-pop routines with Bette Midler-style comedy and stunning aerial work performed by Pink herself.
"Anything that I can imagine, she's basically been able to do," said Pink's aerial choreographer Dreya Weber, who has also worked with Madonna, Cher and Spears. "And the way she can create intimacy within an arena setting is really beautiful. Even in a pop-rock context, she's got whatever it is that allows that to happen."
Pink didn't exactly plan to change pop — she was just a kid, trying to own herself. Signed to the Atlanta-based LaFace Records as part of a girl group that never fully took flight, she gave in, at first, to what all the kids were doing.
"In the late '90s, R&B was dominant in the radio, and the white kids were taking it mainstream," she noted. "The Backstreet Boys, Britney, Christina, all those artists.... I had had my record deal before all of them came out. I was just sitting on my ass watching everybody put out records, and I was like, this stuff is disgusting. I can't do this!"
Pink found her match — and her ticket out of the doldrums — in the producer Linda Perry, whose band Four Non Blondes she adored. Perry treated Pink like a singer-songwriter, not just a big voice.
"The first day I went over to her house, she said, 'Tell me how you're feeling,' " Pink recalled. "I was like, excuse me? No one had asked before that. No one cared what I was feeling, they just wanted me to sing the ad lib exactly the way the session singer sang it."
Pink's work with Perry took her to platinum status, and she spent 21/2 years touring, pouring out her heart to journalists and becoming the gold-hearted potty mouth that her fans adore. Then she needed a change.
"It just drained the life out of me," she said of the "Missundaztood" aftermath. "So I went and met Tim Armstrong, and he was rad and fun."
The album "Try This" saw Pink working with the Rancid front man and other surprising collaborators, including the punk burlesque star Peaches and the electronica auteur William Orbit. After that experiment, she returned to hitmaking with "I'm Not Dead," which began an occasional partnership with Martin that's still flourishing.
"I did not want to work with him; he did not want to work with me," said Pink about the godfather of Scandinavian pop, who'd made his name working with the Backstreet Boys and Spears — the very peer group that had sent Pink running toward the rock-oriented Perry. "I don't like working with hitmakers. I don't want hits! You're not even allowed to say that word around me."
Yet Pink and Martin hit it off. "I walked into the studio with two bottles of wine, and we opened one of them, and a week later, we were friends for life," she recalled. "He's a closet punker; he's hilarious. His family is amazing, and I just adore him to death."
"Raise Your Glass" is one of two collaborations with Martin and his occasional writing partner (and fellow Swede) Shellback on "Greatest Hits … So Far!!!" It's emblematic Pink, with a punky snarled vocal, a nod to hip-hop in her comical asides, and a big chorus that pays tribute to the underdogs who, like the singer herself, "will never be anything but loud."
It seems Pink has found peace as a trailblazing pop star, a wife and a mother-to-be. "I'm gonna get fatter and happier!" she chortled. Sometime soon, she'd like to go to Nashville and make an album with "old school songwriters," one that will take her down a more introspective path. "Just absolutely, consciously, not trying to get played on the radio," she said with an impish grin.
Whatever happens next, Pink knows that she's a performer for life. "If I'm Cher, say, this is the first quarter of my career," she said. "In about 30 years, I will for sure be in Vegas, shaking my ass. Carey's from Vegas; I told him baby, one day we'll be back there. I want Celine Dion's room at Caesars Palace!"
The beach house might have to go on the market.