The Number Ones

December 11, 2010

The Number Ones: Pink’s “Raise Your Glass”

Stayed at #1:

1 Week

In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present. Book Bonus Beat: The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal the History of Pop Music.

Pop career expectations change all the time. We’re in this weird stage now where pop stars never seem to go away, unless it’s entirely by choice. Online fan armies will support their favorites through anything short of outright grand-scale evil, and attention-spans are so scattered that this kind of cultish devotion can ensure artists’ relevance long past their sell-by dates. One-hit wonders are less and less common. If you were famous once, then you’re famous forever. This new reality may or may not be sustainable. We’ll see.

Nevertheless, there’s a truism that still mostly applies to pop stars: The vast majority of them do their most momentous work in the first decade of their careers. There are plenty of exceptions to that rule — your Michael Jacksons, your Taylor Swifts — but they’re vanishingly rare. Think about it: The 10-year rule would take George Michael up through Wham!’s first album to “Too Funky.” It takes Whitney Houston to the Waiting To Exhale soundtrack. It’s all of David Bowie up through Heroes, though not Lodger. It gets you all the way to Elton John’s Victim Of Love. Even in the case of a deified figure like Prince, the first decade gives you 10 albums, including Dirty Mind and Purple Rain and Sign O’ The Times.

All of these artists are superstars, and all of them did hugely important, worthwhile, and even popular work after they crossed that first-decade mark. But those first 10 years are where they forged their legends. Lesser stars are usually completely cooked by the time they reach their 10th year. So when a pop star approaches the decade mark, it’s usually a pretty good time to take stock and look back. In the days when greatest-hits albums were still potential earners, that 10-year mark was a good time to drop one of those. Often, those greatest-hits albums came with disclaimers or qualifiers, titles that ended with things like Vol. 1. Most of the time, those bits prove unnecessary, and those artists do not get a second greatest-hits album.

Pink is a strange case — an under-the-radar pop-star who’s shown wild durability without ever occupying the center of the pop conversation. Pink’s popular image mostly comes down to two things: Missundaztood, the 2001 sophomore album where she really figured out her defiantly confessional raspy-voiced pseudo-rock style, and the various award-show performances where she twirls gymnastically on streamers, high above the stage. That’s not a ton, but it’s enough that Pink has probably sold out a hockey arena near you sometime in the past year or two.

But then there are the hits. Pink’s got a lot of them. In 2010, Pink was 10 years and five albums deep into her career, and she had hits to burn. Pink had long resisted demands for a best-of collection, but right at the decade mark, she caved. Greatest Hits… So Far!!! is one of the rare career-spanning compilations that lives up to its title’s more-to-come implications, if not its three exclamation points. As greatest-hits collections go, Greatest Hits… So Far!!! does its job. It strips most of the fat out of Pink’s discography, leaving you with one burst of serotonin-jamming recognition after another. Every song on the album isn’t great, but the record’s cumulative effect is to leave you — or at least me — thinking, “damn, Pink’s got a lot of good songs.”

Pink’s Greatest Hits… So Far!!! also accomplishes another very important goal for an enterprise of its kind. It includes a couple of bonus tracks that soon became hits themselves — hits worthy of greatest-hits canonization. In fact, two of the bonus tracks on Greatest Hits… So Far!!! still rank among Pink’s biggest songs. Once those two hits had run their course, Pink found that she was not done, and more hits followed. More hits are still following. That’s a real testament to Pink’s staying power. It deserves a toast.

Pink released Greatest Hits… So Far!!! two years after she scored her first #1 hit as a solo artist. “So What” only topped the Hot 100 for a single week in fall of 2008, but it represented the cumulative strength of what Pink had done. By that point, Pink had been through a few different aesthetic phases and figured out how she wanted to sound. She’d landed on a persona, an approachably rebellious lady who’s always singing about her own messiness. She’d refused to remain artistically involved with the magma-hot Dr. Luke after Luke had helped give her a couple of her biggest hits, though she remained artistically involved with Luke’s mentor, the also-magma-hot Max Martin. You can hear all of that at work on “So What.”

“So What” also happens to be a very good song, so that was probably also helpful to Pink. None of the other songs on Pink’s Funhouse album hit anywhere near as hard as “So What,” and it’s a little disorienting to be listening to Greatest Hits… So Far!!! when a non-hit like “I Don’t Believe You” pops up. (Like a lot of that era’s greatest-hits collections, Greatest Hits… So Far!!! is way too long. Pink would’ve absolutely crushed in the “10 song greatest-hits album that you buy on cassette at a gas station” days.) But Pink toured Funhouse hard, and she became a kind of pop-music road dog, an arena-sized act whose fortunes didn’t necessarily depend on arbitrary pop-chart placements or the vagaries of the album cycle.

In 2010, the Funhouse album cycle was over, but Pink still had herself a pretty big year. In January, Pink sang “Glitter In The Air” at the Grammys. The song never became a huge hit, though the performance did propel it to #18. But the performance was a huge boost to Pink’s career. For years, Pink had been incorporating death-defying aerial-gymnastic choreography into her live show; I saw her do it while opening for Justin Timberlake on his FutureSex/LoveSounds tour. But the television-viewing public at large hadn’t gotten a chance to see Pink singing while twirling 30 or 40 feet above the stage, maintaining outward serenity while spraying water in all directions. People liked what they saw.

Pink spent much of 2010 on tour. In June, she showed up on Eminem’s mega-successful album Recovery, singing the hook on his “Won’t Back Down.” That song never came out as a single, and it’s pretty bad, but it still reached #62 and eventually went platinum. Then she finally decided that she was ready to drop a greatest-hits album, and she got together with her “So What” collaborators Max Martin and Shellback for a couple of added-on singles. One of them was “Raise Your Glass,” which fit the overarching trend of party songs that carry messages of self-empowerment and gesture vaguely in the direction of gay rights. At the time, my colleague Rich Juzwiak called it “the great gay pander-off of 2010.”

“Raise Your Glass,” like Kesha’s “We R Who We R” and another song that’ll appear in this column very soon, doesn’t have any explicit political message. Instead, it’s all about partying, drinking, and having a good time. “Raise Your Glass” positions those activities as pure solidarity. We, the people enjoying the song, are the “underdogs,” and we’re going to do everything in our power to stay happy. That’s not even a particularly empowering message, but the song hits with the same fizzy precision as the other love-yourself songs that were all over the radio at the time, and it presses the same buttons.

Compared to the other empowerment songs of that moment, “Raise Your Glass” doesn’t sound maudlin or overdetermined. Even more than “We R Who We R,” “Raise Your Glass” is mostly about the transformative power of partying, which was not a new subject for Pink. Many of the lyrics are clearly just Pink having fun by singing the dumbest lines she can think of: “Slam, slam, oh, hot damn/ What part of ‘party’ don’t you understand?,” “don’t be fancy, just get dance-y,” the use of the “why so serious” catchphrase more than two years after The Dark Knight. Pink also throws in all these little ad-libbed one-liners, like the bit where she murmurs about her glass being empty. I like how the bridge charges into the big, dramatic final chorus but Pink fucks up the delivery, coming in too early like an overeager karaoke singer.

Those bits of fuckup humor are sheer playacting. Pink puts on an anarchic front, but she’s a professional to the core. Part of the fun in “Raise Your Glass” is the way those stumbling-drunk signals contrast with the brickwalled perfectionism of the Max Martin/Shellback production. The song seems to have two Pinks — the comedian, who pokes and prods at the song from the sidelines, and the pop star, who belts the hook like her life depends on it.

And man, that’s a chorus. Some people were definitely getting sick of the hyper-constructed Max Martin/Dr. Luke school of maximalist uber-pop by the time that “Raise Your Glass” hit, and the song does repeat a lot of the same obvious tricks and structural choices as the other songs that were all over the pop charts in that moment. But those tricks worked for a reason. When Pink roars her way onto a platinum-plated Max Martin hook, that’s a dependable pleasure. These people all know what they’re doing.

Structurally, “Raise Your Glass” hits all its marks. The song starts out like a hyper-polished take on the Cars’ rocked-up new wave, which already sounded hyper-polished in its day. A twitchy guitar riff starts the song off, but it soon gets lost in the stomp of the drums and the power-chord rush of the chorus. Shellback played the song’s guitar, bass, and drums, while Max Martin did the keyboards. The voices behind Pink on the gang-chant chorus are Martin, Shellback, and Pink’s husband Carey Hart. But “Raise Your Glass” doesn’t sound like the work of a small group of close collaborators. It sounds like the entire 2010 pop industry stampeding over your skull.

Lyrically, “Raise Your Glass” takes delight in being “loud and nitty-gritty dirty little freaks,” but it never gets much more specific than that. Pink sings about being wrong in the right way, being an underdog, but she doesn’t say what that means. In the video, things become a little more clear. A lot of the clip is pure silliness — Pink pretending to be a bull who defeats a matador, Pink sumo-wrestling with the Monopoly guy. But Pink also poses as Rosie The Riveter, a clear pop-feminist statement, and director Dave Meyers shows Pink playing guitar at a gay wedding. The shot of two guys kissing is immediately followed by Pink dressing up as a cholo for the “call me up if you a gangsta” line, which probably wasn’t necessary, but that kiss is in there.

At the time, Pink told MTV that she’d just thrown a wedding for her best friend, who was marrying another woman. This was five years before the Supreme Court decision that finally made gay marriage the law of the land, and Pink decided that she wanted to show it in her video. The clip is too cartoonish to work as political advocacy, but Pink is clearly on the side of the gay couple, and the presence of that kiss draws out some of the subtext on “Raise Your Glass.”

Did songs like “Raise Your Glass” actually accomplish anything? In the above-mentioned Village Voice piece, Rich Juzwiak wrote, “What these women are offering is at best a tentative embrace, and at worst, lip service.” The vogue for vague empowerment songs now seems completely stuck in its moment, even if the language of self-help has become even more mainstream since then. But then again, attitudes in this country did change, and they continue to change, despite the reactionary forces that go haywire at any sign of societal progress. “Raise Your Glass” might sound cringe or unnecessary if it came out today, but maybe that song, and the others like it, helped shift the window just a tiny bit.

After “Raise Your Glass” had its one week at #1, Pink came out with another single about inner strength and self-acceptance, and this one was way less silly. “Fuckin’ Perfect” is another team-up with Max Martin and Shellback, but it’s a ballad, not a party song. Still, the themes are the same, and so is the architecture of fast-build verses and grand-explosion choruses. Even with the cussword in its title, “Fuckin’ Perfect” became another huge hit for Pink, peaking at #2. (It’s a 7.)

Pink’s Greatest Hits… So Far!!! compilation sold a million copies, and the “Raise Your Glass” single eventually went quintuple platinum. In 2011, Pink played a big voice role in Happy Feet 2, taking over for the late Brittany Murphy, and she started gearing up for her next album cycle. Like most pop stars, Pink made her biggest impact in her first 10 years. Unlike so many of them, though, she sailed right past the decade mark, and she had more hits on deck. We’ll see Pink in this column again.

GRADE: 7/10

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BONUS BEATS: Here’s Zac Efron dancing to “Raise Your Glass” during what I assume are the closing credits of the 2011 film New Year’s Eve:

(Zac Efron’s highest-charting single is “Breaking Free,” his 2006 High School Musical duet with Vanessa Hudgens, which peaked at #4. It’s a 7.)

BONUS BONUS BEATS: At the 2016 New Japan Pro Wrestling show New Beginning, Kenny Omega won the IWGP Intercontinental Championship and turned on AJ Styles. In the process, Omega took over leadership of the Bullet Club, a crew of foreign bad-guy wrestlers. After the show, Omega and the Young Bucks, the future executive vice presidents of All Elite Wrestling, held a YouTube press conference to apologize. But they weren’t really there to apologize. Instead, they were there to sing a karaoke version of “Raise Your Glass,” turning it into “Raise Your Belts.” Here’s that video:

The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal The History Of Pop Music is out now via Hachette Books. Just come on and come on and buy! The! Book!

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