But the L!ttle G!rls Understand
More often than not, Pink upends her i to turn P!nk; given how m!ssundaztood she is at 22, future developments may warp that stalk and bring her into Mysterian territory. She was an exuberant puzzle at the Beacon on May 28. Before an audience stocked with balloon-bearing schoolgirls and their bemused chaperones, the icy r&b semi-diva turned badass chick from the Moulin Rouge turned self-loathing yet supremely confident headliner front-loaded her show with “Get This Party Started” (itself front-loaded, power chorus preceding first verse) and title track “M!ssundaztood.” Clad in a mechanic’s jumpsuit, she megaphoned half the words like a peroxide Tom Waits, and indicated impending posterior osculation by straddling her mic stand and applying a perfectly poised finger to the appropriate region.
Her most irresistible songs out of the way seven minutes in, Pink remained riveting through second-string material. She covered Mary J. Blige, grabbed her crotch and rubbed her fingers to convey ch-chingitude, donned green frog slippers. “Lonely Girl,” which mentor/collaborator/Non Blonde Linda Perry wrote about her, wondered if Pink was “a borrowed dream or a superstar.” “I’m looking for a way to become the person that I dreamt up when I was 16,” she sang, every inch the creature that she always meant to be, despite someone else writing the script.
For the metallic “Numb,” she cheerfully simulated some sort of acrobatic and vaguely degrading sexual routine with a leggy model. But then it was time to get sober and “pay respect for those that have gone before us.” She howled gamely through a Janis Joplin medley, while everyone from Miles to Tupac—essentially, any pop star who has ever died—flashed overhead. Such tributes are the sincerest form of vanity, but the AV overkill paled next to the epic hubris of “My Vietnam,” which nodded to Miss Saigon‘s chopper landing and the Hendrixed “Star Spangled Banner.” Here Pink (daughter of a Vietnam vet) stopped making sense, comparing that war to her private angst, as the screen flashed earnest provocations (not just SEXISM but AGEISM) and ended with the ground zero-as-Iwo Jima pic.
Saving “Don’t Let Me Get Me” for last, Pink converted adolescent insecurity and pharmaceutical desperation into empowering sing-along. The touchingly audible voices of all the young girls wove a ghostly, Langley Schools shroud around each word. Misfit became role model, and Pink would not do: She was irrefutably P!nk, and one mused on the origins of that mark, how early scribes would set an I above an O to indicate Io, Latin for joy. —Ed Park
We Have No Weapons!
On May 24, 10 music organizations, including the Recording Industry Association of America, the Future of Music Coalition, and the American Federation of Musicians, issued a “Joint Statement on Current Issues in Radio.” (The faint tinkling audible when those three groups agree on anything is the sound of icicles in hell.) The document includes the phrase “negatively impacted” and is also co-signed by the inauspiciously named group Just Plain Folks, but its point is unmistakable: They want somebody to do something about radio-ownership consolidation—i.e., Clear Channel—and they want to end the reign of “independent promoters.”
Ironically, indie promotion was originally nurtured by the RIAA’s biggest constituents as a way to circumvent payola laws (which prevent record companies from paying radio stations directly for airplay) and price smaller labels out of the radio game. Promoters pay stations regular fees in exchange for bending program directors’ ears about their, y’know, research; in turn, labels pay the promoters a regular retainer, plus cash bonuses when stations add one of the label’s records to their playlists. According to one industry veteran, it now costs roughly half a million dollars just to test a record at pop radio, and even if audiences tap their toes, it can take another $2 million to “go the distance.”
Name-dropped 12 times in the five-page joint statement, Clear Channel is the Death Star: The biggest owner of American radio assimilates stations and concert-promotion companies at warp speed. Pop stars are (cough) encouraged (cough cough) to ask “How high?” when Clear Channel says “Jump.” Like other radio networks, their Contemporary Hits Radio division (which includes New York’s Z-100) has a very cozy relationship with an indie promo firm: Tri-State Promotions, whose homepage features a link for “Clear Channel Jobs.”
Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) announced May 22 that he’ll soon introduce a bill to address radio and concert-promotion ownership consolidation, ticket-price gouging, and “legal payola.” The FCC is unlikely to do much about media consolidation besides giving their rubber-stamping wrists a good workout, but Clear Channel nonetheless formed a PAC a couple weeks ago.
So what might happen to radio in New York if Congress makes some noise? Probably not much, one record-business insider suggests: “Labels will still be interested in working with New York radio; people are still going to want their act to play station shows in New York. It’s having to send them to Myrtle Beach that they aren’t so enthusiastic about.”
Still, there’s sort of a hopeful precedent. Back in early 1986, after NBC reported on “the new payola,” all the major labels pulled out of indie promotion, and then-Senator Al Gore announced a congressional investigation. It didn’t happen, and by ’88 the majors and the promo firms were in bed again, but that two-year window saw independent-label hits by Billy Vera & the Beaters, the World Class Wrecking Cru, Run-D.M.C., Timex Social Club, Salt ‘N Pepa, and more. Under present conditions, small labels hardly stand a chance at commercial radio. Even lowering the price of “legal payola” could do some good for the airwaves. —Douglas Wolk