Pink’s ‘Missundaztood’ Turns 15: Backtracking
At the turn of the millennium, Pink was the oddest woman out. She was a white girl singing R&B (assisted by L.A. Reid and Babyface, no less), with an aggressive pink dye job and a nonconformist streak not seen in the TRL set she came up with. The shtick worked. In fact, it worked so well that she had the confidence, and was given the freedom, to change it up on sophomore album, Missundaztood.
On her second LP, the Philly native swapped out the pop-R&B hybrid of her debut and refashioned it into a pop-rock affair. Missundaztood wasn’t created in the current record label vacuum where the suits diligently mix and match songwriters to get the best possible outcome. Instead, it was old-school in that it relied heavily on one partnership: Linda Perry and Pink. At that point, Linda Perry’s claim to fame was being the lead singer and songwriter for iconic ’90s one-hit-wonders 4 Non Blondes. Pink’s motives for teaming up with her were initially unclear to anyone on the outside — and the new direction gave Reid pause. To make the story of their collaboration even more enigmatic, it began with Pink leaving an unsolicited 10-minute answering machine message begging Perry to work with her.
The album arrived on November 20, 2001, just a couple months after 9/11, at a time when the world had shifted massively and pop culture was still figuring out its place in this new environment. Radio was filled with an odd mixture of hits that offered reflection or escapism. Songs like Enrique Iglesias‘ “Hero” and No Doubt’s “Hey Baby” made their home on the Top 40 airwaves that fall. “Get The Party Started,” Missundaztood’s Perry-penned lead single, fell squarely into the escapism column. It became the highest-charting single of that cycle, peaking at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. But the bombastic track wasn’t exactly an accurate preview of the heavy insight into Pink’s personal past that rounded out much of the album.
“Don’t Let Me Get Me” followed at the top of 2002 with lyrics and visuals that playfully mocked Reid and gave a full video introduction to Pink The Rocker. Then that summer, “Just Like A Pill” continued her full dip into the post-grunge pool with an angsty video. Both singles cracked the top 10.
With these songs, Pink offered a vision of Top 40 unseen thanks to the Orlando-pop invasion that defined the late ’90s. The other midriff-baring divas were talented in their own way – Britney with her dancing, Christina with her voice — but Pink was one of the first of the era to embrace her perceived imperfections. Her self-doubt, unhealthy romantic entanglements, loneliness and a childhood marked by divorce were consciously placed into the skeleton of the entire album.
This resulted in two dominant themes on Missundaztood: female empowerment and melancholic nostalgia. “18 Wheeler” and “Respect” fell into the former category and were pop confections. Cuts like “Eventually,” “Lonely Girl,” “My Vietnam,” and “Misery” gave the collection such an authentic heart that it appealed to an audience beyond radio inclinations. Even “Family Portrait” was just the right amount of torment and confessional that set her apart from the Class of Y2K Pop.
Missundaztood defied expectations both in sound and themes, and the gamble paid off. The LP spawned four Top 40 singles and sold 10 million copies in the US, catapulting Pink into pop’s upper echelon. But it also set the template for similar efforts from her peers. She peeled away the layers of the fabricated persona from her debut, and that type of growth would become common soon after, whether it was Justin Timberlake on Justified, Robyn on her eponymous release or Christina Aguilera on Stripped. In fact, Aguilera poached Linda Perry for that album because of her work on Missundaztood, which was seen as such an affront to Pink that it strained their working relationship. They’d reunite for her third album, Try This, and they haven’t collaborated since.
But the pop-rock glory the pair crafted on Missundaztood paved the way for career-making albums in that mold from other pop stars: Avril Lavigne’s debut Let Go in 2002, Kelly Clarkson’s Breakaway and Ashlee Simpson’s Autobiography in 2004. Even today, when genres are more muddled, that lucrative female pop-rock sound thrives with acts like Haim or Sky Ferreira, or even parts of Lady Gaga‘s latest Joanne.
Alecia Moore was the first to leave the doomed small town of “pop trend” and head to the big city where artists make personally meaningful albums all while finding their signature aesthetic, and in the process she became a superstar. That’s why Missundaztood remains as much a fresh listen today as it was 15 years ago.