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M!ssundaztood: How P!nk Defined Herself by Defying Expectation

Vincent Anthony | November 20, 2021

November 20, 2001, Enter M!ssundaztood

Alecia “P!nk” Moore hit the scene in 2000 with Can’t Take Me Home, her debut album that was largely a pop-tinged R&B affair. Led by the She’kspere produced “There You Go,” plus “Most Girls” and “You Make Me Sick,” P!nk seemed to be yet another addition to a line-up of R&B starlets; her sound more akin to  Destiny’s Child, Mya, and TLC, than her the Pop girls like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Jessica Simpson. P!nk, however, had no interest in being boxed into either of those lanes. Enter M!ssundaztood.

Released less than 18 months after her debut, P!nk’s sophomore set M!ssundaztood was a reinvention; or, rather, a reveal. Originally shepherded by Antonio “L.A.” Reid, signed to his and Kenny “Babyface” Edmund’s label, LaFace Records, it’s not surprising that P!nk debuted sounding more similar to the R&B of the new Millenium, than Y2K Pop. Plus, she certainly possessed the voice for it. Full of soul, no doubt influenced by her Philadelphia roots, P!nk’s voice exuded the essence of a soul much more mature than her then 21 years might suggest. Still, truth be told, P!nk was not strictly an R&B act, nor a Pop act, and with M!ssundaztood, she defied expectation to redefine her artistry.

The story goes that when it became time for P!nk to begin the sessions for her sophomore album, she had one woman in mind as her muse: Linda Perry, of the 4 Non Blondes. Perry told Rolling Stone, “She left me this really crazy message how she would come find me if I didn’t call her back … I said, ‘I think you have the wrong Linda Perry.’ She’s like, ‘Is this the Linda Perry who sang ‘Dear Mister President’ in 4 Non Blondes?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ She’s like, ‘Well, I have the right person.’ The first result of their union was “Get The Party Started,” which Perry says she originally offered to Madonna. Together, they crafted eight more of the album’s fifteen tracks. P!nk’s other chief collaborators on the album were Dallas Austin, perhaps most famous for his work with TLC, and Damon Elliott.

M!ssundaztood is notable for its genre-melding sound. While it still possessed strong R&B influences, P!nk leaned into more of a singer-songwriter, Pop/Rock sound that was elevated by her soulful, one-of-a-kind vocals. Not to mention, her bad-ass attitude. P!nk gave no fucks. She exuded “tough girl” on her debut album, but Missundaztood amped it up a notch by not only being tough, but vulnerable and unfiltered. P!nk was living her truth, sharing her truth; the album was like a confessional. On it, P!nk revealed her true self both as an artist and as a person. She let us into her soul, baring it all for the sake of her art, but also likely for the sake of her own sanity. The album’s fifteen songs encompass a journey of self-discovery; one that allowed a budding starlet to become a bonafide superstar.

The Angst

Anyone who experienced the era firsthand will probably associate M!ssundaztood with the image of an angsty young P!nk who pushed the envelope visually, sonically, and lyrically. There was no one else quite like her at the time, and two of the album’s biggest hits are largely responsible for this take: “Just Like a Pill,” and “Don’t Let Me Get Me.” In both songs, P!nk is equal parts vulnerable and angsty. Both co-written with and produced by Dallas Austin, it’s interesting that an era that finds its success largely attributed to P!nk’s partnership with Linda Perry actually owes two of its biggest hits to another partnership: P!nk and Dallas Austin. The pair also concocted “Numb” and “18 Wheeler,” both bubbling with P!nk’s signature, feisty attitude.

It’s interesting, on all four of these songs, as well as on the Perry collaboration “My Vietnam,” P!nk uniquely conveyed both maturity and immaturity, simultaneously. She came across as amazingly self-aware in her vulnerability, yet almost naive.

Think of “Don’t Let Me Get Me.” The video, specifically, takes us back to her teenage years that she is lamenting upon as an adult. “Just Like a Pill,” meanwhile, paints the picture of a run-away. It sounds like a teen girl running away from her troubles, but really, it’s a burgeoning young woman dealing with the traumas of her teen years. These guitar heavy anthems redefined the perception of P!nk. No longer was she another young girl singing “male-bashing” R&B-inspired pop. Now, she was dragging herself through the mud in the name of self-improvement.

On “My Vietnam,” she further laments teenage emotions, while “18 Wheeler” has almost cringe-worthy lyrics. On “Numb,” she compares herself to a “battered child.” These songs are like a therapy session in which the patient wrestles with the childhood trauma that is crowding their subconscious. Then again, perhaps that is exactly what they are.

The Confessionals

The bulk of M!ssundaztood consists of confessional songs on which P!nk bears her soul. The majority of these are collaborations between P!nk and Perry: “Dear Diary,” “Eventually,” “Gone to California,” and “Lonely Girl” (which also features Perry, and written solely by her). There’s also “Misery,” which P!nk didn’t pen and features Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. However, the cream of the crop is “Family Portrait,” on which P!nk literally places herself in her youngself’s shoes, taking us back to when her parents divorced, walking us through how it affected her. It’s perhaps one of the most heartwrenching “pop” songs ever recorded. While it might have been the least successful of the album’s singles (peaking at #20), it is by far the best of the bunch.

All of the Perry collaborations have similar vibes: prodding, moody with soulful vocals and unrelentingly honest lyrics. Of them, the standout is “Eventually,” perhaps because it’s especially heartbreaking, yet still maintains P!nk’s tough girl attitude: “you’ll get yours, eventually,” she sings vindictively. On “Misery,” P!nk doesn’t hold back vocally, going blow for blow with Steven Tyler and winning handedly. In fact, on the original pressings of the album, there is no Tyler. His vocals hadn’t been recorded yet, so they released the album with P!nk’s solo version. While P!nk indeed sings her ass off, and it is a nice song, it does feel a bit out of place on the album.

The Bops

The album isn’t all heavy, though; there are a handful of bops to lift your spirit. Of course, the album’s lead single and biggest hit, “Get the Party Started” leads the way. Penned by Perry and produced by Damon Elliott, the song is best described as bad-ass pop. It serves dance-pop, yet hip-hop, and P!nk is probably the only artist of the time who could’ve pulled it off so perfectly. Its now-obscure and underrated Rockwilder remix, though, is actually the superior version. Mashed up with The Eurythmic’s “Sweet Dreams,” the remixed incarnation of “Get the Party Started” features a guest verse from Redman and P!nk gliding atop a slinky, hip-pop beat. It has a sexy and mysterious, yet equally danceable vibe that the album version just doesn’t. The remix is sorely missed from streaming services.

Aside from “Party,” there’s the title track, and “Respect” which appears to be some sort of maniacal ladies’ anthem that doubles as somewhat of a tribute to Aretha Franklin’s classic. At the start, P!nk refers to it as her “rap-song.” Both songs are rather strange (the former mentions being an “Exlax” commercial, while the latter features a beatboxer, Scratch) but are still undeniably fun in that sort of “no fucks given” way. Very P!nk indeed. Rounding off the bops is the equally strange and equally fun bonus track “Catch 22.” On it, P!nk plays the role of stewardess of “P!nk Airlines” for an all around good time. Personally, I’d have included this one on the main tracklist in favor of “18 Wheeler.”

The Impact

In the United States, M!ssundaztood has sold nearly 6 million copies and is currently certified 5x Platinum by the RIAA. Worldwide, it has sold several million more, having gone 6x, 5x and 4x Platinum in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, respectively. The album’s first three singles peaked within the top 10 of the Hot 100, with “Get the Party Started” landing at #4 in the US and in the pole position in a number of other countries. However, sales and chart success are not where the album’s impact ends.

More significantly, M!ssundaztood marked a shift in pop music. P!nk not only inspired her peers to bear their souls, confessional-style, but she also inspired a reemergance of angsty pop that would once again find itself at the top of the charts. Kelly Clarkson, who won American Idol that same year, would go on to follow in P!nk’s footsteps by following up her R&B leaning debut album with an angsty, pop/rock sophomore album, Breakaway, in 2004. Avril Lavigne would debut to similar success, with a similar sound, in 2002. However, perhaps the most inspired by P!nk’s Missundaztood was also her fiercest rival and fellow “Lady Marmalade,” Christina Aguilera.

On her own sophomore album, 2002’s Stripped, Christina enlisted the help of both Linda Perry and Scott Storch to co-write and produce the bulk of her album. For her lead single, “Dirrty,” Christina tapped Rockwilder and Redman for a feature. Sound familiar?

Linda Perry, of course, was involved in 9 of M!ssundaztood’s 15 songs, and Storch collaborated with P!nk on the standout track, “Family Portrait.” While Storch had been an in-demand R&B producer for many years prior to collaborating with P!nk, she was indeed one of the first “pop stars” he worked with, and the collaboration only helped raise his profile. No doubt, his work with P!nk likely put him on Aguilera’s radar.

However, as far as working with Perry, P!nk’s impact was. She had not done much of anything since her early 90s peak with the 4 Non Blondes. P!nk had essentially plucked her from obscurity to collaborate on her album. Suddenly, Perry became a sought after writer and producer, and Christina Aguilera benefitted beautifully.

Aguilera wasn’t the only one, though. Perry went on to collaborate with dozens of other acts over the years, from Alicia Keys to Adele, and she had P!nk to thank for it all. However, Aguilera’s “Beautiful” aside, no one quite found as much success with Perry as P!nk had. Sadly, the pair only collaborated again for a few trakcs on P!nk’s Try This, the commercially disappointing follow up to M!ssundaztood, and never again.

In the music industry, there is a history of pop stars, women especially, being forced into sounds, looks, and songs that didn’t genuinely reflect the artists they wanted to be. P!nk fell victim to that when she debuted, but fought for her artistic freedom in order to bring her vision to fruition on M!ssundaztood. Her label doubted her, but she prevailed: M!ssundaztood remains the best-selling album of her career, and inspired other artists to follow in her footsteps. She might’ve felt M!ssundaztood before the album’s release, but afterward, who she is as an artist had never been more clear.

Listen to P!NK’s M!ssundaztood

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