02 April 2007

Pink and Pop-Culture Justice

Sometimes there's justice in pop culture. Like when someone as cool as Jodie Foster gets to be a star or when people finally stop believing that M. Night Shyamalan is anything more than a pony with one increasingly insufferable trick.

Another example of justice? Pink's career is being reborn. Again.

It won't be a surprise to long-term readers of "I Totally Hear That" that I have soft spot for this lady. But come on! She's awesome. Yet her awesomeness has been strangely overlooked since the heyday of "Don't Let Me Get The Party Started Like a Pill." Even her big comeback album "I'm Not Dead" looked like flopapalooza...

...until now. Suddenly, "I'm Not Dead" is racing back up the album chart, the long-moribund single "Who Knew" has sold enough copies to debut on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, and the song "U + Ur Hand" has become an actual hit. As I write this, it's top 20 on both Billboard and iTunes, and it's in the top ten of radio play.

What? Crazy!

I've said before that I don't think "U + Ur Hand" is one of her best songs, and I still think that's true. (Though, admittedly, it's growing on me.) But who am I to complain? Maybe now more people will start listening to the rock-awesome tracks on her new album.

And I do mean "rock-awesome." She shreds it up, both vocally and musically, on monster ballads "Long Way to Happy" and "Runaway." And though lyrically it's not the most sophisticated song, "Dear Mr. President" has a lovely vocal and arrangement that give emotional weight to its anti-Bush sentiment. Plus, the song features the Indigo Girls in their least mawkish performance since 1997. I really thought I would never be able to like any of their newer music, and now I do.

And for the third and final time, I implore you: Listen to "Leave Me Alone (I'm Lonely)." There's so much to love.

But remember: It's all about cherry-picking with Pink. Enjoy the good and skip the bad. At her best, Pink is a raw-throated belter with a filthy mouth, bruised heart, and diverse taste.

At her worst, she's a hypocritical copy of all the bling-n-booty twits she's supposedly above. Case in point: The video for "Stupid Girls," in which she sings about hating airheaded starlets while cavorting around in skimpy clothes to "parody" them. But if your parody involves booty shorts and getting drenched with water, you've allowed yourself to become the very thing you're supposed to oppose, Pink. You don't get to have it both ways, strutting around as an overt masturbatory fantasy for teenage boys while trying to justify your own objectification by calling it a social comment. The guys jerking off over you aren't making the intellectual distinction about whether the reductive caricature of womanhood writhing before them is ironic or not. Better to present an alternative form of feminine sexuality than suggest you don't have the imagination to think beyond the images you disdain. That's like saying the "stupid girls" have won.

So, right... not a clear-cut case. But for the most part, Pink's art seems like a refreshing, tuneful alternative. She's a bad girl with feelings. She's got raging hormones and a real, vulnerable humanity.

For those looking to explore her two most recent albums, "Try This" and "I'm Not Dead," let me offer these suggestions. I hope you enjoy.

From Try This:

(1) Trouble (this single should've been a huge hit)
(2) Last to Know (aggressive, angry beat. lots of cursing. inventive overdubbing on the vocals)
(3) Oh My God (seriously, one of the dirtiest songs ever. with rapper Peaches)
(4) Save My Life (a message song with lovely harmonies on the chorus)

From I'm Not Dead:

(1) Leave Me Alone (I'm Lonely)
(2) Long Way to Happy
(3) Runaway
(4) Nobody Knows (a bluesy torch song that builds to a seventies-rock cresecendo)
(5) Dear Mr. President

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