This is an excerpt. For the complete story, buy this week’s issue of Billboard.
It’s Sunday, the 18th of October, and P!nk is sending 2-year-old daughter Willow off to play with her touring friend, “Chef Robbie,” for the next hour while Mommy sits down for an interview.
P!nk is sitting in a backstage lounge at Seattle’s KeyArena that has been converted into a temporary play place for Willow, complete with a pink princess castle. She sips from a hot Starbucks cup of tea, as Willow leaves with Robbie Grantham-Wise.
|A Longer Version Of This Cover Story First Appeared in the New Billboard — Click Here to Buy This Issue|
Another mug with a fresh bag of soothing tea leaves awaits—tonight is her first show back on schedule, having postponed the last two dates of her The Truth About Love tour to take some much–needed vocal rest. She’s already 100 dates into the tour, and will stay on the road through mid-January.
And yet, today is palpably less stressful than when P!nk played Seattle in 2009, to kick off the North American leg of her Funhouse tour.
“Oh, man. The last time I was here, I went skateboarding to Pike Place Market with my husband [motocross racer Carey Hart] and I separated my shoulder,” P!nk recalls in between sips of tea. “I couldn’t do any of my stunts. So . . .” She grips her throat. “This is nothing.”
On Dec. 10, P!nk, aka Alecia Moore, will accept Billboard’s 2013 Woman of the Year award at Capitale in New York—yet one more high point in what has been a whirlwind 12 months for the 34-year-old artist, a year she’s quick to call her best yet.
|WOMEN IN MUSIC 2013|
| • P!nk’s 20 Biggest Billboard Hits
• Photos: P!nk’s Fashion Evolution
• Janelle Monae ‘Rising Star’ Q&A
“P!nk has almost been in a class by herself among women in music this year, and we’re thrilled to recognize her successes by honoring her with the Billboard Woman of the Year award,” Billboard editorial director Bill Werde says. “When our 2013 midyear numbers were released, she had the top-selling album and song for a woman, and a blockbuster, sold-out, international arena tour. Earlier this year, ‘Just Give Me a Reason’ topped the Billboard Hot 100, extending her amazingly consistent chart success, which dates back to her arrival in 2000. Combine all of this with a spirit that inspires fans of every stripe, and you arrive at the remarkable package that is P!nk. She will undoubtedly continue to accomplish great milestones in the years to come.”
P!nk’s sixth studio album, “The Truth About Love,” was a hit upon its release in September 2012, becoming her first to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with sales of 280,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The RCA Records release ranks as the year’s top–selling album by a woman with year-to-date sales of 886,000 units and total sales of 1.83 million.
The album’s first three singles all cracked the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, with “Just Give Me a Reason” (a duet with fun.’s Nate Ruess) becoming her fourth No. 1 single in April and the biggest hit of her 14-year career.
And P!nk’s current tour has broken her own previous records with 18 consecutive sellouts in Melbourne, Australia, while also scoring the highest gross for a headliner at a single venue in 2013 with combined ticket sales of $29.2 million, according to Billboard Boxscore. At the Billboard Touring Awards on Nov. 14, P!nk won the top boxscore honor for her shows at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne.
The tour has also become P!nk’s largest and longest in her home country of the United States, having started in North America for the first time and stretching across two legs with more than 30 dates apiece.
With so many achievements and all-time highs in her latest album cycle, it’s no wonder P!nk hasn’t given much thought to her career future beyond the 2014 Grammy Awards. At that event, she says, “I know exactly what I want to do,” confirming that she’ll be a performer. “I won’t tell you, but it’s going to be f*cking amazing.”
Her memorable performance at the 2010 ceremony set a very high bar, of course. The five-minute number, currently being re-created on the U.S. leg of her tour, featured P!nk swinging around the Staples Center in Los Angeles unharnessed in a white sheet, dipped in water and splashing all the celebrities and industry bigwigs beneath her.
Amid all her other recent milestones, P!nk (credited as Alecia Moore) also appeared this year in the film “Thanks for Sharing” as part of a cast that included Gwenyth Paltrow, Mark Ruffalo and Tim Robbins.
Her next move still a question mark, P!nk seemed thrilled to be enjoying the current moment—temperamental throat issues notwithstanding—when she sat down with Billboard for a wide-ranging conversation about the past year, lessons learned from the road and why she’ll likely be a pop star well into her 60s.
Congratulations on being named our Woman of the Year. How does it feel?
Surreal. It’s been the best year I’ve ever had. I feel like I’m finally at an age when I can take it in. When really good stuff was happening around [2001 album] M!ssundaztood, I was too young to understand it. I felt ancient but in actuality I was kind of young. I wasn’t really taking anything in—I’ve always been sort of an observer.
Willow has opened me up a lot. But this year, by far, it’s like a culmination of a lifetime of work has all just settled this year—everything has just been positive and enormous and wonderful.
It just feels really awesome because I don’t know what I’m going to do after this, if I’m going to do anything. It just feels like perfect timing, like a [pats reporter’s arm] “Good job!” It’s really nice, it’s really good. It’s been awesome, especially with my family and everything. I wish Willow was 14 to see me like this. Unfortunately she won’t be old enough to remember I was cool. “Willow, look at this magazine! Who’s on the cover?” “Mom, that was so long ago.” [laughs]
Any particular highlights this past year?
All the performances have been highlights. The American Music Awards [in 2012] was awesome because I’ve always had really fun performances there. It was one of the first times, aside from maybe Billboard, that I ever did a TV awards show. And it was just a really fun thing—”Try” is my favorite thing to do. We did the whole choreography and it was awesome. And Australia, the whole tour was just a bucket of love. Just one thing after the next, it was so fun.
I get to do so much cool stuff with [Willow], including [watching] Disney on Ice and [equestrian/acrobatic show] Cavalia.
Also [at the Australia shows] it’s just so much love there it’s unexplainable. It doesn’t make any sense, there’s no rhyme or reason. But the love we all have for each other, the looks on people’s faces in the crowd, you just don’t see it anywhere else. It’s awesome. And there’s no demographic. There’s no type. There’s no age. It’s just three generations [of fans] there together having the time of their life. So much fun—every day is like a miracle is what it feels like.
And America has been amazing. This is my first time ever doing a full tour here, so that’s incredible. Which is crazy town for me after however many years. Australia doesn’t take away from that. But the problem was that I started [the tour] in the U.S., and so it wasn’t fun. Because adjusting with a [toddler] and doing what I do, and being sick, and having a one-and-a-half-year-old that’s sick, it felt like work. It was gnarly.
And then I got really sick in Europe. We kind of hit our stride toward the end of Europe. It got fun.
Then once we got to Australia something clicked. Everything, like a bicycle, just stared working. It’s been great so far. And then, of course, here I am back with this [throat] sh*t. But it’s been awesome.
Also, didn’t I win a [MTV Video Music Award] Moonman? I did. And that artist who made them? I can’t remember the name of the artist who made them. [The original Moonman statuette, created by the team of Manhattan Design, was reimagined for 2013 by artist Brian Donnelly, known as KAWS.]
I watched a special on the making of the Moonman and I called [manager] Roger [Davies] and was like, “I have to f(cking get one of these. Even if I have to buy one, even if I’m not nominated. Can they just please—even if it says nothing on it, I want one so bad.”
And then I won one. And I haven’t won one of those in so long. So I’m super happy about that.
Do you remember which category?
I don’t. I think it was for me and Nate for something. [P!nk and Nate Ruess won for best collaboration for “Just Give Me a Reason.”] But I don’t care—I got one!
What does it feel like to be a woman in music today? At what points has it been an advantage for you? And has it ever been a challenge?
It’s never been a disadvantage for me. I love being a woman. I love women in music—I love the whole idea of it, I love the cycle of it, I love the different decades of it. One of my greatest advantages was just being myself when I first came out. And then being so polar opposite of every other female that was happening at that moment.
I think it’s incredible women are running sh*t. There’s not really any males that are at the level of the Beyoncés and the Katy Perrys, except maybe Justin Timberlake. I can’t really think of anybody else.
Maybe Adam Levine?
Yeah, but still it’s not the same thing. So it’s really fun to see women just stomp sh*t, drop the microphone and leave. They just keep doing it and I love watching it. And I love what I’ve been able to do, too. Over the years, the rises and falls. I remember early on Roger telling me, or maybe it was L.A. [Reid]—I can’t remember; they’re like my two guys—but [they talked about] the roller coaster.
If you’re around long enough to have major failures and major success, it’s all good. The roller coaster of it at the end is all good. And I look back and I’m like, “Yeah, I’ve been around, for a pop person, a while.” And it has been a roller coaster and it’s all good.
I’ve proven myself as a performer and a touring person. As far as winning a popularity contest or any of the other sh*t, or being a radio darling and all that, probably not. [It’s] probably never going to happen for me, but that’s OK. Because I can tour for the rest of my life—and I do it well.
I was speaking recently with Ryan Tedder about you, and he said that you’ve “quietly become the biggest pop star in the world.” Why do you think that is?
Isn’t that funny? “Quietly.” Because I keep my head to the dirt and I just f*cking pound the pavement. And I’m in a stable of show horses, of prized ponies, and I learn from the best. You can’t compare anybody to the Tina Turners and the Chers and the Sades and the Janet Jacksons—yet. And to me, they’re touring artists, they’re lifelong legendary touring artists. Bette Midler—these are my gods. I’m not after having a radio hit, I’m after making people cry in concert.
But you had a radio hit with “Just Give Me a Reason,” which is arguably your biggest hit yet. What did that feel like?
It felt awesome, because I wrote that song, I fought for that song, I fought to have Nate do that song, I fought for the entire thing. And it took many, many months to make that song happen. And I just didn’t give up. When I f*cking want something I go after it.
Where was the pushback?
Everywhere. Nate wasn’t sure that he wanted to be on a collaboration with a pop star. Their label is an independent label, they weren’t sure. And I just kept telling them—well, I kind of tricked him into doing it, because we wrote the first verse the first day and basically the chorus, and then I went home and I was looking over the lyrics and thinking about the song, and it was never supposed to be a collaboration. We were just collaborating as writing partners. But I was like, “This song is a conversation between lovers.” And he had to do it because he’s my favorite voice right now, aside from probably Adele.
I went back in and wrote the second verse and I sort of pitched the song. And he was like, “Yeah, I don’t know how my band’s going to feel about it.” And I was like, “Yeah, I get it. I wouldn’t want to be on a song with a pop star either. But you can’t deny that it’s a conversation—you just put the vocals down as the scratch vocal and I’ll get Gotye to sing it.” And I knew that was a huge dig. And [so] he sang it and I knew, no matter what he said, no one was going to sing it better. It just took many, many months of convincing.
I’m used to that, though. People want to hang out with me, but I don’t know how to explain it. I have a lot of singer/songwriter friends at barbecues and they’ll always be the ones who get asked to sing a song. I’m never going to be asked to sing a song, because I’m a pop star. So I’m used to being shit on. I’m used to being the underdog. I’m used to being looked at as a corporation. And it’s not until people hear me sing at that barbecue, or see [things like the Woman of the Year honor]. It’s like every year I’m constantly having to reprove myself. I’m not complaining—it keeps me motivated. But it is sometimes a total, huge pain in the ass.
[Electro rapper] Peaches, she’s like, “Why would I do a song with you?” I’m like, “Because I’m f*cking awesome. Just say yes!” And she’s like, “OK . . .”
[It] took convincing. Steven Tyler [didn’t] take convincing. Linda [Perry] didn’t take convincing. But the rest of them all took convincing.
What’s a typical songwriting session like for you?
It varies because I’m as good as my collaborator and I don’t play music. Usually with a Billy [Mann] or a Butch, we’ll come in and they’ll tinker around on the piano or guitar until we hear something we like and we’ll just go. “Crystal Ball” was one of my favorite sessions with Billy because we were just sitting there playing, and he’s my brother so I can be like, “That sucks. Uh, don’t go there.” I can be really honest with him. I’ll just start singing and it’s just like poetry in motion, I guess. And five minutes later, 20 minutes later, I put the vocal down. There’s a lot of wine involved, usually. Unless it’s daytime.
Greg Kurstin comes with these brilliant tracks, crazy tracks—these musical compositions. And he’s so f*cking brilliant that everything he plays you, you want to throw up in your mouth. “Blow Me [One Last Kiss]” was the first track he played me and I was like, “Stop.” “You don’t want to hear the rest?” “No.” Next day, he played another one. “Stop.” “You don’t want to hear the rest?” “No.” Day by day by day. “Blow Me” was first, and then it was either “Walk of Shame” or “Try” last, because I didn’t actually write “Try.” Every day it was different because he’s so good. And he’s so witty and funny and awesome and lovely. I’m so lucky with the people I get to work with.
And touring—what’s a typical day on the road?
Typical day is wake up, Papa takes Willow to breakfast, then we go to the park. It’s basically all about Willow. I go to the gym. Then we play for a little while, then we go to yoga and Willow comes. We do family yoga here with the dancers and some of the band and some of the crew here. And then we do sound check and then we eat. Then I do hair, I get my makeup done. Then I do my vocal warmups, I do my physi warmup, I do my prayer with the band and crew and then we go onstage. Then we get on the bus, go to sleep. Willow gets a bed, I go to the bunk. Then we wake up and do it all over again.
What are some causes that are important to you?
No Kid Hungry is kind of my No. 1 right now. In the last year or so I’ve gotten involved with them. I just watched [the documentary on hunger in America] “A Place at the Table” last night. Tom Colicchio is one of the executive producers of it. He’s the host of “Top Chef” and also the chef of Craft restaurants. I cried the whole way through it. They basically work to bring meals through schools in America because one in four children are hungry in this country. Which is crazy to me.
Animal rights is always a big one, but that’s more of a lifestyle than a cause. And anything women and children. Lately I’ve been going on Twitter and seeing individuals that need help and sort of anonymously helping. There’s something wonderful about doing that and not telling anybody. And not telling the people that you’re helping where it’s coming from. It’s so fun. They’ll tweet something, or someone else will tweet it, and I’ll just find it. It’s really cool.
There was one kid, Calvin in Australia—it’s like my favorite thing that’s happened this whole year on tour. While I’m doing vocal warmups, I’m reading my “@s” on Twitter, because vocal warmups are incredibly boring. And there was this mom that wrote to me [on Twitter], “My son Calvin is 11. Down’s syndrome, just beat cancer. We’re here tonight, your music got him through chemo.”
She didn’t know that I’d seen this, so during the show I get into my harness for “So What,” and I fly out and I know that I stop right over the wheelchair section. That’s my first stop—of 50. So I’m thinking, “Well, he’s probably in a wheelchair. He’s probably out there.” So I yell, “I’m coming for you, Calvin!” I go out and I stopped, and the mom stands up, and starts pointing at her son, and he’s like “Ah!” I literally get chills. She’s bawling, I start bawling.
I was walking on air, literally and figuratively, because I was flying. It was the most wonderful, heartwarming moment that I’ve had in so long, outside of my own daughter. That was awesome, and I guess the radio picked up on it and they gave him more tickets to more shows. That was just so cool.
Is 2014 a blank slate right now?
No, 2014 is Carey’s Supercross. 2013 was my year where he came with me while I toured, so next year is when I go with him. Road mama.
Does that involve as much touring?
The Supercross season is super gnarly. And it’s not pampered like my life. So when you see me at a Supercross you know that I love my husband. When you don’t see me you know that I don’t. It’s every weekend for more than half the year—it’s gnarly. And he flies, like, Southwest, which is bullshit. [laughs] I’m like, “Wait, can we get a tour bus on the budget?”
So you’re looking forward to that?
Well, Willow will start a little toddler program, and I’ll cook a lot. We’ll have fun. She’s two-and-a-half now. It’s nuts. She’s so much fun. She has made everyone very happy this year—the whole crew. She’s with Chef Robbie right now. They’re best friends and they fight like brother and sister. He says the most inappropriate shit around her, I want to smack him across the face. But then he cooks me the best salmon and I’ve totally forgiven him. It’s really fun, the relationships she’s formed. It’s cute.
|A Longer Version Of This Cover Story First Appeared in the New Billboard — Click Here to Buy This Issue|
What other ways has she shaped you?
I don’t even know what to say about that. She just changed everything. I didn’t used to think about ever stopping. And now I’m like, “I can’t wait to find her school. What’s she going to be like when she’s 8? How many Xanax am I going to be on? I hope I’m making that wine by then so it’s free.” [laughs] But she’s wonderful. It’s really awesome.
Do you want to have a brood?
I do. I could just as easily have her. We could travel the world together forever. But my brother is everything to me. So I want her to have family beyond her Papa and me. For that reason, I mostly want another one for her to have a lifelong friend.
I have a stepbrother and a stepsister, but they’re much older. And Carey was an only child for 12 years and then his brother came when he was 12, and he died several years ago. Family is the most important thing. And my best friend Grant has, like, four brothers and sisters. I love it—it’s like holidays, the chaos, the f*cking fighting, the mom always having a kid around. For sure. I want to adopt, I want to have more—just, yes. [laughs]
The last time we spoke, you said that this tour was you facing your fear of heights, and you like to tackle some of your biggest fears head-on. So what’s the next fear you’d like to face?
God, I don’t know. I’m really tired. [laughs] I don’t want to do anything about my fear of sharks—I’m going to leave that one. I don’t know that I have any more fears, really. I’m not afraid of getting older. I’m not afraid of stopping “P!nk.” I’m not afraid of being a mom anymore. So I don’t know. I’m at a place where I’m just living, fully living, and I know who my friends are and I love them. And the future looks bright. It’s very exciting. I’d like my husband to not be in pain anymore, and that’s it. I’m actually quite boring.