Q&A: Pink on her new album, Billy Joel and why she’s over pop-star feuds

Pop music critic

“You want a beer?” Pink asked, though she seemed more than happy to drink alone.

Standing in her cheerfully cluttered kitchen on a recent evening, the pop star had just finished a lengthy television shoot at her home north of Los Angeles and was now overseeing dinner for her 9-month-old son, Jameson.

In the living room, Pink’s 6-year-old daughter, Willow — the subject of a moving speech her mother gave at August’s MTV Video Music Awards about stifling beauty standards — was practicing cartwheels loudly as her father, Carey Hart, prepared to take her for a motorcycle ride.

“Don’t be home too late,” Pink told Hart, a retired motocross racer. “School tomorrow.”

It had been a long day, and it wasn’t over yet. “Cheers,” the singer said, turning to me with a weary grin. Then she clinked her bottle against mine and took a restorative gulp.

At this point, Pink, 38, is accustomed to hanging in there — and to doing more than one thing at a time.

Born Alecia Moore in blue-collar Doylestown, Pa., she’s set to release her seventh solo studio album, “Beautiful Trauma,” on Friday, nearly two decades after she first crashed the top 10 with her debut single, “There You Go.” Since then she’s consistently racked up hits (including the No. 1 smashes “So What” and “Raise Your Glass”) even as her music has evolved from quick-stepping R&B to guitar-fueled pop to lung-busting power ballads like “Just Give Me a Reason,” which earned a Grammy nomination for song of the year.

And her elaborate touring show, in which she proudly sings live while performing tricky aerial choreography, has made her a top draw on the road.

On “Beautiful Trauma,” Pink takes up many of her reliable themes — fear, anxiety, the lure of damaged love — in highly detailed productions that pull from rock, folk and hip-hop. (Eminem delivers a scorching guest verse in “Revenge.”) Yet the music, which Pink created alongside studio wizards such as Max Martin, Jack Antonoff and Greg Kurstin, always feels designed to showcase her powerful singing — perhaps because her collaborators recognized what they had to work with.

Ross Golan, who co-wrote “Barbies” and served as Pink’s vocal producer on the track, remembered asking his engineer to turn off Auto-Tune as they were recording the song.

“He looks at me and goes, ‘There isn’t any Auto-Tune on,’” Golan said. “I was sure the vocal was being manipulated — that’s how accurate it was. But she’s just that good.”

Pink’s singing isn’t merely a technical achievement; its emotion also gives her records a welcome timeless quality. At a moment when many of her peers seem preoccupied with chasing the latest sonic trend — or with settling scores à la Taylor Swift and Katy Perry — she’s clinging to an older-fashioned idea of what a great pop song should deliver.

Which doesn’t mean she hasn’t been “terrified” to get back in the game, as she revealed when she flopped down on a wine-stained couch after Jameson finished dinner.

“Sorry,” Pink said, pointing to a dark splotch. “Carey likes to fall asleep holding his glass while we’re watching shows at night.” These are excerpts from our conversation.

What’s scary about putting out an album? You’ve done it plenty of times.

I have two kids — I have a baby. And it’s so different now. I’m not inclined toward drama and feuds and soundbites. But I almost got caught up in it. I was doing radio in London and we played this game called “Pink Fast.” They’re like, “Team Katy or Team Taylor?” And I said, “Either way, I can’t win — but Taylor?” And I should’ve just kept my mouth shut, because I don’t believe that. I don’t care. But I felt rushed and I didn’t know what to do. And I paid for it, because then the next day: “Pink is Team Taylor.”

Does the climate surprise you?

It surprises me how snarky it’s gotten. There were always these feuds between rock stars — I mean, if you like Oasis, there’s always a feud. But it’s gotten pretty bad. And we’re giving our power away by playing into it.

It’s kind of become the main way to stay in the conversation.

I’m competitive. But I can’t base my self-worth off this stuff because it’s silly. I’ve chased that carrot my whole life. I wanted to get the hell out of Doylestown and get to Venice Beach and get discovered and change the world. But I’m going off a thing that died at Woodstock. My model was the model my dad gave me, which was Steven Tyler singing “Dream On” and Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and this thing where everybody hangs out together and has bonfires every night, and somebody gets lit on fire but they’re OK. That’s what I’m buying into.

Do you see new things to get excited about?

Real moments like Kendrick Lamar’s performance [at the VMAs] — people that are still out there, still really kicking ass and doing it from an authentic place. That’s super-inspiring to me. I walked into that night feeling a little bit like an outsider as always. But I did my performance and I said something to my daughter, and I felt really good about that because it was an authentic mom moment for me.

That speech touched a lot of people.

It did. I got a lot of cool Twitters from mamas. Willow and I have a really good connection. I tell her very honestly about my life, and she listens.

“Beautiful Trauma” has some heavy moments. You wrote “Whatever You Want” with Max Martin about a couple whose “ship’s going down tonight” — not exactly the type of pop banger he’s known for.

I wasn’t feeling that way most of the time in the last four years. I spent a year just writing slow, sad songs, thinking I was Adele.

When you work with Max or Jack Antonoff or one of these other A-list guys, do you think the process is different from how they work with other singers?

I have very honest conversations with them. If they play me something, I’m like, “No, that could be anybody — I’m not doing that.” It has to be a little bit darker. But, you know, Max is a closet punk rocker. And [his producing partner] Johan [known as Shellback], he comes from a death metal band in Sweden. So they know what I’m talking about. I’m just trying to rip it out of them.

And they’re generally up for that?

I think they take it as a real challenge and have a lot of fun with it. The first time Max and I got together, I didn’t want work with him, and he didn’t want to work with me. It was a record company blind date: “You need singles, and I want you to work with this person.” So I showed up with three bottles of wine and we started talking and getting to know each other, and I said, “Wow, I’m the person I always said I wasn’t — I totally prejudged you.” And it’s blossomed into a beautifully honest friendship.

Do you still prejudge people?

I prejudge certain types — like maybe at this point certain Republicans that I haven’t met that I feel like I understand and don’t really want to meet. But even those — I mean, my dad’s a 72-year-old Republican white man from Pennsylvania. So I’d have to hate him too, and I don’t — I love him. I think he’s a fascinating man that’s grown into some of his opinions. Which are surprising.

Do the two of you talk about politics?

In certain ways. I remember when I wrote “Dear Mr. President,” I played it for him and I was really nervous about it. And he stood there and he said, “Well, I feel good that I fought for your right to say things like this.” That was a positive reaction. Now I think the last thing I said to him was, “You must hate me if that’s the way you’re going with your vote.” That’s as far as we go.

Are you ever hesitant to express your opinions on big issues? The Team Taylor thing shows how scrutinized everything you say is.

If I take an action, I mean it, and I will take the consequences that come with that, celebrity or not. My husband would rather separate things. But I come from a military family. I pay taxes. I vote in every election. I educate myself on what’s going on all over the world. So why shouldn’t I have an opinion? Just because I sing? Well, that guy does air conditioning — why does he get to have an opinion?

People say, “Shut up and sing.”

You shut up and telemarket. No! Nobody should shut up. Everybody should be talking. I was raised with the mantra “Dissent is the cornerstone of democracy.” We’re supposed to disagree. You don’t really know how you feel until you have to defend it.

Talk about getting Eminem on “Revenge.”

We wrote the song, Johan, Max and I, and I wanted a rap Grammy. So I drank a lot of wine and I wrote a rap, and I was mediocrely impressed by my rap skills. Then I went home and drank more wine, because that always sounds like a good idea, and I emailed Eminem and I said, “I’ve loved you since you gave me your autograph in 2001 at the MTV Awards, and I’m gonna be a rapper now and you’re gonna rap with me.” And he wrote back and said OK.

Last thing: Billy Joel recently told me you guys had worked together.

Billy Joel is in my opinion one of the best songwriters that’s ever lived. He paints a picture with words unlike any other. I walked down the aisle to “She’s Always a Woman.” I grew up listening to him with my dad. He was the first concert I ever went to at 2 years old. I did the Songwriters Hall of Fame 15 or 16 years ago, and I saw him and went over to him and I went, “Hi, you don’t know me, but I’m Pink and I want you to write a song with me.” He goes, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that — I don’t write pop music anymore.”

Then I ran into him again — I brought my dad to his concert, and he had us backstage. Then I went to a master class of his in Times Square. And I’ve never left him alone. I’ve never stopped asking. He always says no — he’s kind, but he’s firm.

But then we ran into him in the Bahamas at a piano bar. I bought a very good bottle of wine and sent him a glass. He came over and I said, “You gonna write that song with me?” He said, “OK, I’ll try it.” So several months ago I flew to Palm Beach with my brand new baby and we tried to write a song.


The problem is he’s too good for me. I clammed up. But we’re gonna keep trying. He goes, “Do me a favor: Go home, pick out the best poem you’ve ever written and send it to me, and I’ll make you a song.” I got home and was like, “All my poems are the worst pieces of trash I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Twitter: @mikaelwood


Janet Jackson leaves no idea unexplored at the Hollywood Bowl

Why losing Tom Petty feels like losing a piece of ourselves

On the road with Billy Joel: The Piano Man talks Trump, L.A. — and new music?