Raise Your Glass
"Love means never having to say you're sorry."
It's one of the most famous film quotes in history, delivered with maudlin aplomb by Ali MacGraw's character Jennifer in the 1970 tearjerker Love Story. Millions of people made that film (and the novel upon which it was based) a tremendous success, and millions of people ate up that saccharine platitude. Well, y'know what? I am calling bullshit. To me, love does not mean never having to say you're sorry. It means seeing clearly the flaws inherent in the object of your affection—and still embracing them, precisely because of those flaws.
With all of this in mind, I love the music of Alecia Moore, better known as pop singer Pink. Specifically, I love Pink's stripe of brand-name braggadocio and the many pitfalls inherent in such a mixed bag. Her schizophrenic "non-pop star pop star" shtick is so integral to her image that she should trademark it. Music journalist Sasha Frere-Jones directly addresses this conundrum in "Sass and Cadence," an incisive (at times scathingly so) piece from the Nov. 24, 2008 issue of The New Yorker: "Pink’s being Pink depends on our believing that she has escaped some sort of assembly-line purgatory." She is a safe provocateur, a radio-friendly rebel, a vicious viper stripped of venom.
This attitude is exemplified in Pink's latest single, "Raise Your Glass," an anthemic Billboard Top 10 hit from the collection Greatest Hits... So Far!!! The single was released on Pink's website October 6, and made available for download the next day. It's been all over Top 40 radio, hypnotizing listeners with its ridiculously catchy lyrics: "So raise your glass if you are wrong/in all the right ways/All my underdogs/we will never be never be/anything but loud/and nitty gritty dirty little freaks."
The video soon followed, released November 2nd on MTV. In keeping with her well-established video aesthetic, "Raise Your Glass" is fairly illustrative of the song lyrics, laced with Pink's self-deprecating sense of humor, and full of imagery the mainstream media is all too happy to characterize as "shocking" and "controversial." Normally, I would scoff at such labeling, thinking it an oversimplification. However, that's not the case this time out. "Raise Your Glass" is a highly contentious video, and I have a tremendously complicated response to it.
Some of the vignettes in the video ring true. For example, Pink performs at a gay wedding. Pink is a proud LGBT ally who has spoken openly of her gay following, her youthful days spent dancing at gay bars, and her own queer experiences. I can also buy her taking down a matador the same way matadors kill a bull, with multiple swords brutally jabbed into the body. Pink is a vegetarian and an animal rights activist who has lent her voice and/or visage to a variety of PETA campaigns. Some of the video's images are even touching, such as a fat girl knocking over a cardboard cutout of a judgmental woman, then chowing down on a corn dog, and a tearful woman of color decked out in a cap and gown on her graduation day. I cry every time I see this.
The most intentionally controversial scene starts with Pink in a bed with a holy man, her goblet empty as she holds a sheet over her breasts and waits for the next cleric (among many in line) to join her in the sack. Get it? She's getting endlessly screwed by organized religion—some might argue, like every other woman on the planet. As the video progresses, she is shown weeping after two such gents, then happily thanking Heaven for getting to shag a Catholic nun. I was unperturbed by this scene. If anything, I found it hilarious.
My biggest problem was when Pink tried to present herself as some kind of proletariat warrior, in a sumo match against a stereotypical fat cat robber baron three times her size, facing off in a ring with a dollar sign on the ring's floor. Love her or not, I feel as though a reality check is in order here. Pink is an internationally renowned superstar ranked in the top thirty as one of the most powerful celebrities in the world on the Forbes Magazine's Top 100 Celebrities list. Her reported net worth is over $40 million. Billboard Magazine lists her as the number one Pop Song Artist of the Decade. Pink may come from a working middle class background, but that is most certainly not where she is at now. This image of her as the badass taking on big money is therefore (understandably) a little hard to swallow.
The first ten years of the twenty-first century seem to have been devoted to the exploration—and exploitation—of difference. The slogan of years 2000-2010 should be "I'm a unique rebellious individual... just like everyone else." A discussion of the commodification of dissent is passé at this point. Savvy consumers know it's happening, every second of every day, in American culture. They watch as every possible aspect of their identity is meticulously lifted from—and then sold back to—them. In her supposed celebration of the weirdo, the outsider, and the underdog, is Pink really just using them? Is this a calculated attempt to cash in on the zeitgeist, or is Pink offering up a heartfelt toast to the "dirty little freaks?"