a long talk

Understanding Pink

The night before we meet in a multilevel room at the Greenwich Hotel in Tribeca, Pink was watching news about a Trump-encouraged political stunt involving Vice-President Mike Pence traveling to Indianapolis for a Colts–49ers game and walking out after several players refused to stand during the National Anthem, in solidarity with the movement to protest racial injustice started by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick last year. She grabbed her phone and did what she’d been working on not doing: fired off a couple rage-tweets. “You are doing a terrible job. Worse than every other job you’ve done terrible at. Do you seriously have time to worry about the NFL?” she tweeted at Trump. But that’s not the message most people saw. Instead, they caught her follow-up: “I’ve seen people change and turn their lives around. There’s still hope for you @POTUS. It’s what the world needs.”

As quickly as she hit send, her tweet was met with fury from those questioning its intent; some accused her of sympathizing with the president, others suggested she might have voted for Trump. Most people told her to delete it. Instead, she spent the night sparring with trolls and reminding them of her 17-year record — the one that includes seven albums, three Grammys, a recent Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award at the VMAs, and a lifetime of outspokenness about her beliefs. Pink has never stopped being opinionated or been afraid to let anyone know how she feels. Days after her Twitter dustup, she issued a more levelheaded clarification: No, she did not vote for Trump and shame on you for thinking she would.

Now, while kicking back on her hotel room couch — and looking like she came straight from the early millennium that made her famous, in baggy jeans stitched all over with sports-team logos, a cheetah-print corset top, a gold Spongebob chain, and her buzzed fauxhawk — Pink wants to use our time to clear up whatever else people might still misunderstand about her after nearly two decades in the spotlight. Pink talked to Vulture about lashing out at Donald Trump on Twitter, the fallout from speaking up about Dr. Luke, the book she never wrote, and trauma.

I was impressed by how quickly the response to your tweets about Trump veered into “stick to singing” territory.
Yes! It’s fun, right?

Do you feel like you still have to explain yourself?
It’s a thing. And maybe people don’t know what I’m about, and that’s okay. But I’m happy to let them know, obviously. My issue is just how quickly we disintegrate the communication. That’s the issue. That’s what pisses me off. It’s like, you don’t know me. And if you took one second to research — just go through my feed, any of it — you’ll see who I am. I’m not the one you’re mad at. I’m not the person you wanna fight, I’m actually on your team. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. The only person I’m really mad at is Donald Trump.

What are you most mad at him for today? Right in this moment, because the reasons can change by the second.
I was about to say, what just happened? What happens next? I’m angry that people are being treated the way that they’re being treated, and that goes for pretty much any group of people. Humans being in general. It’s so shitty. It’s so fucking shitty. I don’t know how else to put it. Birth control, the NFL, “little rocket man” — I mean, you fucking name it. It’s gnarly. My thing is, can we at least take his Twitter account? Can we just start there?

What specifically prompted your tweets at him that night?
The NFL. Because that’s the whole thing: You have time, dude? Puerto Ricans don’t have power, but you have time for this? Seriously, how is this our reality? And I come from a military family, I was raised with patriotism in my blood. I marched on Washington since I was 3 years old. Every Thanksgiving dinner was for the homeless … [pauses]. There are so many good people in this country. This cannot be the way that we’re going. This can’t be it. When will it end? Because I don’t want my kids to think that this is what the presidency looks like. I don’t want my daughter to see that this is the world we’re in right now. I just can’t wait until 2020, until it’s over.

How do you and your husband [Carey Hart] explain what’s going on to her? Do you avoid those conversations entirely?
She’s not aware of all of it. I try to just let her be 6 because it’s a beautiful thing to be. You realize how ridiculous racism is when you try to explain it to a 5-year-old. It’s a ridiculous conversation. Because she grew up with me on tour and there’s someone from everywhere on my stage and that’s how the world should be. And we all love each other, these people are my family. We all look different, think different, worship different gods, we’re women and men, straight and gay, and everything in between. One of my best friends is my dancer Reina [Hidalgo] and she’s Cuban, and I’m trying to explain to my daughter, “Well some people believe that men are better than women and some people believe that white people are better than black people. And some people believe this and that.” And she’s like, “I don’t understand.” I know! Go play [laughs]. No one does.

I’m just sad about it all. I’m just sad. And sometimes I lash out because I wasn’t raised to roll over and have people say things about me that are untrue. But it’s really not about me. It’s about turning on the news every day and my heart is breaking.

Is that what pissed you off most? That some people turned your tweets into a controversy about their perception of your politics rather than the point you were trying to make?
Yes. It’s a distraction. I don’t wanna fight anybody but the Man. I just want to get back to the point. It’s the same thing with birth control and gun control. You take away one thing after another. We’re too easily distracted. What’s sad, too, is that that second tweet — my sort of hopeful tweet for him — was because everybody picking on him is clearly not working. It just fires him up even more. So maybe reminding him that, look, I’ve seen people come back from heroin, cancer, alcohol. I’ve seen people change. I’ve seen it! I’ve seen the person that everyone said wouldn’t change, change. So that tweet came from a place of, if I believe change is possible, then we need it for you. Because that’s what the world needs. That was my point, it wasn’t the rest of it. The rest of it — I don’t have time for that shit. Well, I did have time last night.

You’ve been a pop star during periods that have challenged the role of the pop star in American history. You performed through George W. Bush, and you’re doing it now through Trump. I don’t think you’ve ever tried to pretend there’s a line between pop star and politics, or that the two can’t intermingle in terms of what a pop star is allowed to say in their music. Does it feel to you like the game, so to speak, has changed?
I feel like I knew what the game was when I first came out and I fought against that game. I kind of made my own game up over on the side. It all goes back to the way I was raised, I think. Your childhood shapes you. Growing up listening to protest music, rock and roll — and pop music, I love pop music. You just write what you feel. I mean, I’m not accepting love songs from other people and just putting them out with EDM beats under them and shaking my ass. That’s great, there’s room for that, too; I listen to it. But that’s not who I am. So I write what I write. I don’t know what the game is anymore and I don’t know what people are doing. I’m just doing what I do. When I got to the studio the day I wrote “What About Us,” it was just another day I was angry about what’s happening in the world.

I was initially a little disappointed that song wasn’t more explicit about resistance. It hadn’t occurred to me then that not engaging in that way is resisting.
Honestly, a lot of people have said, “When are you gonna make ‘Dear Mr. President 2’?” And I’m not. Because there are no words. I wouldn’t know what to say. I feel like “What About Us” is one of the more sophisticated songs that I’ve written because it was a little more poetic and inclusive. I think it’s a beautiful song. It feels good in my body, number one. And it says everything I needed to say: What about us? I knew the video would paint that picture as well.

It says what you needed to say, without saying it all. At Vulture, we’ve been using the phrase “comfort food TV” to describe similar art. It’s not unlike what you’re doing. Your music isn’t warm and fuzzy, but it’s an escape from the noise.
I have that. Lauryn Hill is one of those for me. Her voice is like a Xanax for me.

Is that a space you’d like to occupy in pop right now?
Yes, absolutely. I wanted to be a social worker; I very much believe in therapy. My live show has sort of become over the years like group therapy. I can see people exorcising the same demons I’m trying to. It’s a good feeling, it’s a real feeling. I have this desperate need for connection, so that’s where it comes from.

Trauma is a word that’s come up a lot in the past year to diagnose this cultural malaise. Why put trauma in your album title?
The song is one thing and the reason why I named the album after it is a whole other. Jack [Antonoff] and I got together, and he is a loveable human being, and we were just sort of trading funny relationship stories. You know, long-term relationships are a lot of work. It’s fucking hard, especially when you have kids. I’ve seen a lot of our friends go through terrible divorces, and I don’t want that. I went through that as a kid; Carey did many times. I like to fight for things I believe in. When it came to naming the record, I always like to name it after a song — I don’t know why, but I always have — and beautiful trauma is my life. Life is fucking traumatic.

Like, my dad just beat cancer. Chemo was traumatic. Having your dad dying of cancer is traumatic. Turning on the news is traumatic. Mother Nature is fucking traumatic. Everywhere you look, it’s really that word. But at the same time, there are so many rad, good people in the world. There are so many people who aren’t racist, who aren’t douchebags. You go to Haiti, it’s the poorest country in the world, and people are dancing, sharing food, cooking, and loving. There’s just love to be made still. I think beauty and trauma go — that’s just what life is. If you can surround yourself with the right people and find your village, then you’ll be good.

Were you writing the album while your dad fought cancer?
Yeah. He’s in remission now, which is wonderful. But his cancer is incurable; it’s just treatable.

I think back to the song he wrote about the Vietnam War that you performed together years ago. What is your relationship with him like now?
It has been all over the place in my life, both my parents. But my dad is a solid dude and he loves me. I’m daddy’s little girl and he’s a wonderful man. I love that song. We’ve had a wonderful life together and he’s been incredibly supportive. We do not agree politically and that’s okay.

I read he voted for Trump, which seems so out of step with the daughter he raised.
I said the same thing. But it’s interesting: I played him “Dear Mr. President” back when I wrote it and I was really nervous to do it because he has strong opinions and so do I. He said, “You know honey, I’m glad I fought for your right to say whatever you want.” Because to him, to soldiers, they’re fighting for your freedom to say what you want and be who you are. I appreciate that sentiment. He’s a good dude and an awesome grandpop. He has a magic flashlight [laughs].

The music business has changed a lot over the course of your career. Back when artist development was still a priority at labels, I’m sure being politically correct was one of the first things you were told when you walked through the door. Do you still hear it now, or is more of a “why bother” situation?
Why bother? Early on, they gave up on me. They wanted me to take etiquette classes. I should’ve done it because now I’d be like, “Hmm, which fork do you use?” But no, it didn’t work out and I’m glad I stuck to my guns. Because while I can be very polarizing, I never say anything I don’t mean unless I’m super angry.

There’s a clear benefit to dropping the PC act. It’s given women a loudspeaker. We’re seeing that happen now with Harvey Weinstein.
Women are speaking up and supporting each other, too.

Do you think you could’ve said publicly that you refuse to work with Dr. Luke even five years ago, had it not been for Kesha?
Yeah, but I would’ve gotten in a lot of trouble. People give me shit. But it’s okay, give me shit.

So what’s changed?
I never backed down. I always say it, the difference is I just get in a little less shit. I think people think I’m really angry a lot of the time. When you think of me, or the caricature of me, it’s this snarly person.

Because you’re outspoken.
And I have a vagina. But I never back down. I’m never not gonna say what I actually think. I just have to listen less to the comments. I love where we’re at as far as supporting each other. It’s a giant step forward and I think girls are growing up aware that girls need to support each other. When I was in high school, that wasn’t even a topic of conversation. So in some ways, we do move forward together and this new feminist movement is freaking awesome.

Having such long, stable careers has afforded both you and Kelly Clarkson the space to be able to denounce someone like Dr. Luke without risking your jobs. You don’t need this man to make music. Is passing along what you’ve learned about this industry to young women something that weighs on your mind?
I wanted to write a book once called Artist to Artist: How to Get Fucked 101. Because I was so screwed over by so many people [laughs]. But I’ve let that go. But I wish there were more situations for women — what’s that thing called in Joshua Tree where women get together and mentor each other? God, I’m such a closet hippie. But Gloria Steinem — if I could just have a book of quotes from her. Her book’s amazing. I think we should be honest about our experiences, but I also think it’s hard to borrow other people’s advice. You kind of have to buy your own. At 16, I don’t think I would’ve taken anyone’s advice.

That onus also shouldn’t have to fall only on women to warn other women about who to avoid and what not to do.
Well I did, I guess, by saying it in the New York Times.

Have you received pushback from that?
Sure, but it doesn’t change how I feel. I understand if certain people don’t want to support me anymore because they think that’s wrong, but I didn’t ask for their support. My conscience is clear on that one. Some of the things I say are hard to hear, but I mean them with all of my heart and I don’t expect people to agree with me. I don’t need to be agreed with. I’m just telling it like I see it. Everyone always asks me, “Do you think it’s a responsibility of a celebrity to have a platform?” and my answer is, if it’s in them, if it’s authentic. If they need to, they should. But it’s not everyone’s responsibility. There’s such a thing as escapism in art and we need that, too. We need to be able to shut off the news and the political songs and just dance. We need that as humans to just shake our asses sometimes and forget about it all. I want that too. I’m obsessed with Grey’s Anatomy for that very reason.

Absolutely! Oh my god, I’m so glad it’s back on. Do you know I went through a moment a month ago where I was like, “When are my friends coming back?” Like, whoa, calm down. That was weird. I’ve known them for 14 seasons!

Reading the reaction to your Trump tweets, I couldn’t help thinking that the people telling you not to get political are probably the same people dying to know if Taylor Swift voted for Trump.
It doesn’t make sense to me when people tell me to shut up and sing. Are they politicians? We all pay taxes, we’re all citizens. So why does a telemarketer or an insurance salesman have more of a right to an opinion than a person who sings for a living? I have a job, you have a job. I’m a grown-up, I have kids that are in school. My family is from the military and my mom was an ER nurse for 40 years. I didn’t grow up in a bubble or with a silver spoon. I didn’t grow up with a rich daddy. I’m not removed from reality, so why is my opinion less important than yours? Because I’m famous? Makes no fucking sense.

What they should be saying, because we are a democracy built on dissent, is everyone has a right to their opinion. Instead of why don’t you leave, how about why don’t you stay and let’s work this out? Because when you tell people to shut up, it just gets their ass up in the air and people dig their heels in. Then they’re even more right or more wrong. I want to know when people disagree with me. I want to know what my blind spot is and I want to be educated. That’s where we should all be at.

What’s a blind spot of yours?
Because I do a lot of therapy, I know it’s indignation. I throw my hands up in the air a lot and go [claps], “Oh yeah, of course.” I’m working on that. Happened yesterday.

Have you seen the music industry — and the public’s relationship to it — change enough that what happened to the Dixie Chicks could no longer happen to an artist today?
The left and the right are so divided that it’s like watching a bad marriage collapse. It’s like watching my mom and dad try to live under the same roof again. It’s traumatizing, to use that word again, but there’s no beauty in it. I even think everybody who campaigned for Hillary paid a price and that’s really sad and disgusting to me. There are still prices to pay, absolutely.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Pink on Lashing Out at Trump, Dr. Luke, and Her New Album