By J'na Jefferson
Can’t Take Me Home, P!nk’s double-platinum debut album, introduced the world to the music phenom’s versatile singing chops and notable songwriting skills. The Pennsylvania-born then-20-year-old born Alecia Moore was billed as the tough-talking, partying antithesis of bubblegum pop princesses like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, and her rebellious personality resulted in the album’s unmistakable attitude. Spunky, effortless vocals set her apart from her contemporaries, too, which is especially evident by the Mariah Carey-esque ballad “Let Me Let You Know.” P!nk also worked with R&B-minded musicians such as Kandi Burruss, Robin Thicke, and Babyface in order to hone a sound in that vein.
The project — released April 4, 2000 — fit into the landscape of late-‘90s and early ‘00s R&B, eras where Destiny's Child, Brandy and Monica, and P!nk's then-labelmate Toni Braxton had scored major hits. The LP came equipped with the “not a girl, not yet a woman” content that drove early-aughts pop (“Don’t tell me you adore me, cause all you thinkin’ ‘bout is fuckin’ me,” she sings on the title track), as well as progressive lyrics regarding same-sex relationships (“Girl, boy, boy, girl, girl, girl, boy, boy / Whatever, you should do what you do,” she spits on “Do What You Do”). Can’t Take Me Home spawned the top 10 singles “Most Girls” and “There You Go,” which featured era-appropriate urban slang (“Sometimes it beez like that”) and references to “bling-bling” and Hennessy. The project as a whole appeared to be a breath of air in a world of cookie-cutter pop manufacturing.
But a year-and-some-change later, P!nk’s sophomore effort Missundaztood found her trading in record scratches for guitar licks, as she pivoted sharply to a heavy pop-rock sound. She worked with 4 Non Blondes’ Linda Perry for the project, who called their collaboration “honest.” The album was heralded as her artistic breakthrough, and laid the groundwork for much of her work since then. Songs like “Get the Party Started,” “Family Portrait,” “Just Like a Pill,” and “Don’t Let Me Get Me” (where she claims record executive L.A. Reid told her to change her entire image to become a success) hit the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart.
During Missundaztood’s rollout, Spin put her on the cover in May 2002 with the headline “Rock’s Nasty Girl,” and she noted in interviews that Can’t Take Me Home was “very much marketing.” She has not performed a single song from her debut album on the road since 2013’s The Truth About Love tour, where she sang a medley of “There You Go,” “Most Girls,” and “You Make Me Sick”; before then, the last time she performed something from Can’t Take Me Home was 2006. But as she's shown in the decades since, P!nk's shift was less a calculated marketing approach and more a way to let all of herself (and her influences) shine through.
Although she’s leaned towards pop-rock and adult contemporary stylings since her debut, P!nk’s artistic milieu is deeply rooted in hip-hop, soul, and R&B. She sang in an all-Black gospel choir and performed backup for Pennsylvania-based hip-hop group Schools of Thought as a teen. Plus, her R&B girl group, Choice, was discovered and signed to LaFace in 1995 (L.A. Reid urged P!nk to go solo, and the group disbanded in 1998). Yet she’s been open about her versatile upbringing, noting that she fronted a punk-rock group growing up and is a fan of artists like Janis Joplin and Billy Joel, who was the first musician she saw in concert. Around the time of her debut, though, P!nk did appear to play into — and somewhat delight in — confusion regarding her look and sound. During a 2000 interview, P!nk noted that there was a “bet” going on that her mother was lying about who her biological father was.
“[People] totally think I’m mixed!” she chuckles. “I’m like, whatever! Like, I’m a mutt. We all are. We all came from the same place: God… People need to realize you don’t have to be anything to be anything. It comes from your experiences, it comes from where you’ve been,” punctuating her point with “We’re all pink on the inside.” This didn’t stop outlets from pointing out that she is, in fact, a white woman performing R&B, which — while not unheard of, thanks to acts like Teena Marie, Bobby Caldwell, and Taylor Dayne years prior — was still somewhat surprising. Rolling Stone’s review on Can’t Take Me Home begins with “Pink is twenty-year-old Alecia Moore's hair dye of choice and, for that matter, her skin color.”
As a successful white occupant of a historically Black space, these indications and comments placed the singer in a precarious position. While all musicians should be given the creative license to do what they’d like, it’s important to recognize that white artists are granted the freedom to genre-hop with far more ease than their contemporaries of color. Yet, in P!nk’s situation, wasn’t she being pigeonholed to one specific genre? In 2014, P!nk’s Missundaztood collaborator Perry discussed helping her break out of her R&B comfort zone in order to be the fully-realized artist she knew she could become. “She completely abandoned what she was told she was supposed to be, and just became Alecia Moore,” she said.
P!nk said as much after Missundaztood gave her some of her biggest hits. “It wasn’t a choice with my marketing mind thinking, ‘Well, I’m going to totally switch directions,’” she said in a 2003 interview after the success of her sophomore album. “It was like, ‘I have to do this, guys… [if] I don’t get it out, I am going to self-destruct.”
During the early and mid-aughts, artists such as Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke, and the late Amy Winehouse impressed audiences with their hip-hop, R&B, and soul-inspired flair. And within today’s musical landscape, pop music is heavily influenced by urban stylings. However, there is certainly a trickiness that comes with white pop artists utilizing hip-hop-inspired energy for their music. Miley Cyrus’s pivot from the hip-hop flavored LP Bangerz to the country-pop album Younger Now was punctuated by chastising comments regarding hip-hop, and Post Malone — whose discography is heavily hip-hop influenced — has also come under fire for disrespectful thoughts about the genre.
While some artists (and their labels) actively try to push an image, it’s important to note that — although she joked around with the mixed-race conversations — P!nk never actually tried to prove she wasn’t who she said she was. She was more concerned about pointing out that she was a girl who could do it all. Ultimately, she was the one who defied her label by pivoting her sound in an effort to be true to herself, and that authenticity has been continually triumphant throughout her decades-long musical reign.
It’s not likely that P!nk will dive back into the R&B pool 20 years after her debut, but it’s important that she continues to point out that her initial splash was made in part to the genre that started everything for her. While her feet are firmly placed in the adult-contemporary realm and she’s built a reputation as quite the daring live performer, in the 20 years since her debut album, P!nk has recognized her R&B roots with gratitude and respect, which doesn’t always happen when white artists part ways with an urban genre. However, in her case, her experiences with traditionally Black music weren’t passing fancy — they were how she got here.
“I am an R&B singer, I also am a gospel singer. I’m a punk-rock singer. And a pop singer. And a soul singer. All of that is me,” she told Variety in 2019 ahead of her Hollywood Walk of Fame star ceremony. “I was a little girl that loved Debbie Gibson. Mary J. Blige was the first cassette I bought. I liked 2 Live Crew. I liked Green Day. I loved Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. I liked everything and I think my music reflects that... if you want to blur lines, make people uncomfortable and question what they believe in just by looking at you, then you’ve got to take risks — you’ve got to be bold and go all out.”