Let’s Be Real, V Festival Doesn't Deserve a Pink Headline Set
Photo by Andrew MacPherson via PR

Let’s Be Real, V Festival Doesn't Deserve a Pink Headline Set

Guys, remember early Pink? How much her albums banged? She's better than V 2017.
March 2, 2017, 2:30pm

Ten years ago, Pink bit off more than she could chew. She stepped out on stage and realised a festival crowd in Switzerland didn't actually come prepared for 4 Non Blondes' 'everyone knows the chorus and maybe pre-chorus' hit "What's Up". And her cover, with all of its attempts at crowd participation, floundered about three-quarters of the way through. At one point, in her sparkly two-piece and knee-length heeled black boots, and with her hair swept up in that bleached quiff, she murmured a "y'all can do better than that," after trying to get the largely French-speaking audience to sing the bridge.

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I know because I was there. I stood squeezed somewhere on the left near the front, where the crowd nudged towards a food truck and a load of picnic tables on which teens would sit on each other's laps, make out and try to sneak sips of liquor. I'd gone to Geneva's Paléo Festival that year as a sort of throwback, having been a few times as an adolescent. I was jostled this way and that with the girl who'd been my best friend in year five, and a group of her new friends. Now we were in our late teens, enjoying the summer between the first and second years of university while Pink – or P!nk, as I will still always think of her – bounded around on stage in front of us. Later that weekend, I would cry while watching Arcade Fire and shush an arguing couple while watching Bjork.

But for now, I was watching the woman whose one-brow-raised R&B sass and later confessional pop-rock angst had soundtracked so many of my tween evenings. She … she wasn't exactly nailing it. Her voice still crackled with its usual texture and power, but something about her set in a rock festival setting, where her discography had pinged across so many genres, didn't quite work. Later that year, she'd go onto play the V Stage at V Festival in August – and now she's been announced to headline the event this summer, her name splashed across the early-release lineup poster on Monday alongside Jay Z's before tickets go on sale on Friday.

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Here's the thing, though: V Festival in 2017 doesn't deserve a set of nostalgic, Can't Take Me Home Pink, or even her "this is actually the music I want to make" followup in 2001's Missundaztood. V Festival – bastion of garish commercial branding and over-priced beer that it is – probably only just about has the right to host Pink's latter-day career acrobatics act set to the sound of her last album or two. Namely, those recent records played less of a part in setting her apart as the vocalist she's been since she first appeared LaFace Records with "There You Go". And yes, she's due to put out an album this year, but who really is gagging to hear Pink's new material? Again: it is 2017. Unless she magically pulls out a set centred on the very material that she probably performs the least – the songs written at the start of career, when the industry was trying to force her into the sexy R&B girl lane – V Festival should only be granted the basic privilege of hosting, and making do with, her newer work.

When Pink smashed a motorcycle through a no-good boyfriend's window and into my heart in 2000, she sounded like granite soaked in honey – gritty and likely to punch you in the mouth, but also with runs sweet enough to make your insides flutter. Just as All Saints had done with their tiny-top-plus-large-trousers aesthetic in the late 90s, Pink stuck her pierced tongue out at the idea of a pop star's expected feminine silhouette. She was toned, bordering on buff, with abs that hardened when she threw her head back in 'why are men like this' anguish in that debut single's video. And when she sang about heartache on Can't Take Me Home, or wanting real love rather than a "man with the mean green" on "Most Girls", she made those early lyrics – some bordering on absurd, with the clarity of hindsight – feel profound, even when she'd only written half the songs. Say what you want about her credibility as an artist later, but that first album banged.

"I loved Can't Take Me Home," she told the LA Times in 2012. "The only thing I didn't like was I didn't have a say. Back then in Atlanta, it wasn't about the artist, it was about the producer and especially new artists." And there's the rub. When Pink was first signed and marketed, she was made to fit into a sultry mould that wasn't true to her feelings or sonic influences. "I was getting claustrophobic being in that box," she told ABC. "You know, pop's bad girl, the anti-Britney, the pink-haired freak and 'white black' girl." After being plucked from girl group Choice in the mid-90s and offered the chance to make it on her own, she had to compromise.

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The resulting songs, with their flairs of African-American ebonics and distinctly tinny early-00s production, became an albatross of sorts for Pink. She sang them with gusto – hoarse-voiced on "Love Is Such a Crazy Thing" and "Stop Falling", dutifully ad-libbing on "Do What You Do" – but this sound wasn't her own. Like, do you remember early Pink? It's amazing to look back at how much the press focused on the fact that she was white, setting her up as a sort of Joss Stone or Sam Smith precursor to being considered an imposter in her genre.

By the time she'd put her foot down and collaborated with 4 Non Blondes' Linda Perry on Missundaztood, we were introduced to another artist altogether. She showed audiences what she really wanted to sound like: raw, personal and guitar-heavy, referencing everything from her parents' divorce to her drug use. Her move paid off, with the album peaking at number 2 on the UK albums charts and debuting at number 8 on the Billboard 200. Reflecting on that record, and her progression from R&B girl group to solo act, she's said: "I was a different person. On Missundaztood, I was frustrated. I just wanted to break free. I had a lot to get off my chest." To Rolling Stone in 2002, she said she'd "like people who never thought they'd listen to a Pink album to be enlightened about how an artist can take control of her life, do what she wants, and fuckin' break the mould and be successful". Preach it.

Fast forward almost 16 years, and she's got three Grammys and a Brit, but no longer feels a central part of the industry. For a festival like V, that isn't necessarily important. It's fairly apt that an event of its scale has gone from Britpop zeitgeist in its initial 1996 run to a sort of mish-mash of various genres and styles in 2017. Increasingly, festivals have to position themselves as the everyman's event, lumping together a variety of genres to maximise profit from the most people. And that's where V 2017 sits. I love Pink, and have forgiven her for making a series of dud albums after Missundaztood, but a festival like V doesn't merit her whipping out her classics.

I'm sure people will be hoping to hear the hits from that second album, and a few of the ensuing singles – "Trouble" and the fairly average "U + Ur Hand" come to mind – but I can't get behind the idea of Pink blessing the contoured makeup crowds in Chelmsford and Weston Park with her peak bangers. V hasn't set itself apart as an event with the clout to host her earlier work; its own identity has been both changed and somewhat lost too much for that. Nothing will really compare to her debut, an album we're all unlikely to hear her perform tracks from because it doesn't represent her anymore and wouldn't translate as well in an outdoor festival setting. But, in a way, I'd rather have it that way: let her save her best work for a gig that's worth it. And at least this time, given scale of her success to date, she won't have to worry about the crowd shouting the words back at her.

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