Songwriter-producer Linda Perry is one of the music industry’s most pervasive hitmakers. As an artist, she had success as frontwoman of San Francisco queer-rock band 4 Non Blondes, whose 1992 debut album Bigger, Better, Faster, More! peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, and has sold 1.7 million copies in the U.S. to date, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data. The set included the band’s breakthrough hit “What’s Up,” written solely by Perry, and which reached No. 14 on the Hot 100. The anthem also topped Billboard’s Heatseekers chart as well as rankings across Europe.
In 1995, Perry exited the band to launch various solo projects as well as to build a career as a songwriter-producer for other artists. Now signed to Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Perry’s first big commercial success was co-writing/producing eight songs on P!nk’s 2001 album, M!ssundaztood, which spent 90 weeks on the Billboard 200 and reached No. 6. She was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2015 and has since stacked up credits for P!nk, Christina Aguilera, Dolly Parton, Gwen Stefani, Adele, Courtney Love, Weezer, Alicia Keys, Dixie Chicks and others.
Perry has also earned four Grammy nominations to date: song of the year, for Aguilera’s “Beautiful” (2004); album of the year, as a producer on Stefani’s debut solo LP Love. Angel. Music Baby. (2006), producer of the year, non-classical (2019), the ninth woman ever to be honored in the category for the soundtrack to women’s veterans documentary Served Like a Girl; and best song written for visual media, for “Girl in the Movies” with Dolly Parton (2020).
As an executive, she’s also launched labels including Rockstar Records and Custard, which included her protege James Blunt, whose debut LP, Back To Bedlam sold over 11 million copies worldwide and included the Hot 100 No. 1 “You’re Beautiful.” Perry’s latest venture is a label-publisher-management company, We Are Hear (Natasha Bedingfield, Imogen Heap), launched in 2017 alongside musician Kerry Brown.
The LGBTQ icon says that performing at her first Billboard Music Awards in 1993 made her and the rest of 4 Non Blondes feel like “we were fucking making it,” she says. “We could see it happening in real time.” Below, Perry reflects on the 1993 BBMAs and how the night shaped her early career.
When 4 Non Blondes started to break, I rememeber seeing us on [Billboard’s] Heatseekers [Albums chart] and freaking out, like holy fuck, we’re climbing! When we hit No. 1, we just knew we were going to the majors. With “What’s Up,” I wrote a legacy classic at 24. It’s a very personal punk-folk song based on frustration. It was instant for people because 1) you can’t go wrong with ‘hey hey hey what’s going on?’ [as the hook] and 2) because there’s a subtle political statement there. I was writing about what it was like to be a human in this world, whether it was emotional blindness or I was just needing help, or the obstacles that got in our way. But it was also an anthem for kids about not going away, and the purity and simplicity of that song is what took it to where it’s still going today.
At the Billboard Music Awards, there were obstacles for us to climb because of the nature of being so out, but I don’t feel it ever got in our way. I didn’t make a statement that night — I made a statement the moment I never cared about being who I was. My guitar said [“dyke”] on it, but it was always like that. It puzzled people that I was so open about it. So that’s the weirdest part of this whole story, is I wasn’t being discriminated against for being gay, I was being discriminated against for how open I was. That night, our performance was emotional and you could tell that we were legit, good players.
Around that time, the Grammys had become stale and lost their rock’n’roll edge, when everyone started showing up in ball gowns and tuxedos. The BBMAs were the more fun award show. It was a party. I met Sean Penn — what a high that was — and Stephen Dorff stole my hat and goggles and was running around wearing them. We became really good friends after that. Alan Thicke sat behind me and gave me the biggest hug after our performance. He said, “You’ve got something, kid.” At the time, he was on Growing Pains, which was a big show! To have him say that meant a lot. That night had a very big impact on me and the band, and opened people’s minds about who 4 Non Blondes really were.