Out of the Y2K class of pop stars, who had their bets on P!nk to have one of the most sustainable careers? And yet, here she is. Seventeen years after her debut, her new single, “What About Us,” holds steady at the top of the U.S. iTunes songs chart, four days after its release Thursday, Aug. 10. In fact, the song soars onto Billboard‘s Adult Pop Songs radio airplay chart at No. 18, marking the highest debut of P!nk’s 22 career entries on the list. It’s the highest debut by any song on the chart since Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” blasted in at a record No. 9 on Sept. 6, 2014. “Us” also arrives on Pop Songs at No. 34. (Both latest charts cover airplay in the Aug. 7–13 tracking period, according to Nielsen Music.)
So what is it about the big-voiced vixen that’s allowed her to carve out such an impressive career? With “What About Us,” the answer is obvious: It’s her raw authenticity.
Let’s rewind to P!nk’s debut, 2000’s Can’t Take Me Home. Several of her peers — Britney Spears, Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson and Ashanti — saw their debut solo albums and accompanying lead singles top both the Billboard 200 and Hot 100 charts. Meanwhile, Can’t Take Me Home peaked at No. 26. Two tracks from the album cracked the top 10 (“There You Go” at No. 7, and “Most Girls” at No. 4), but neither made it to the chart’s pinnacle.
It’s well documented that Can’t Take Me Home’s slinky, hip-hop sound was the product of her label, and that P!nk enlisted her childhood hero, 4 Non Blondes frontwoman Linda Perry, to help craft a rowdy, pop-rock sound for her sophomore album, Missundaztood. While the album didn’t hit the top spot either (it peaked at No. 6), it manage to clock in at No. 157 on the Billboard 200 Albums Greatest of All Time chart. Not only that, but P!nk found her sound on the LP — one she’s built upon ever since.
P!nk has never chased pop music trends: There isn’t a hit in her catalogue that benefited from the help of a superstar DJ or a rapper du jour. It would be easy to argue that she rode the 2010–2011 wave of self-empowerment jams with “Raise Your Glass,” but was there a more natural fit for the genre’s subject matter? P!nk has been underestimated since her arrival — a song that celebrates underdogs makes sense.
Rather, P!nk’s biggest wins are always the result of moments of honesty. Her first solo trip to No. 1 on the Hot 100, with 2008’s bratty anthem “So What,” was famously about her (temporary) split with husband Carey Hart. Then there’s her career-defining aerial performance of “Glitter in the Air” during the 2010 Grammys. Rather than perform a recent hit, P!nk swerved left and introed the ballad to the masses, explaining to Oprah, “It feels like after ten years, people still don’t know what I do.” Now her name is synonymous with Cirque du Soleil–style stunts.
Even with P!nk’s wild career trajectory, she hardly gets the respect she deserves. It’s possible that her late-bloomer status and ability to dodge sensational tabloid headlines have affected the way she’s measured against fellow singers. But with a collection of 15 top ten Hot 100 hits as a lead artist — more than any of her aforementioned peers (Beyoncé has 16 when featured acts are factored in) — how is it possible that P!nk is still flying under the radar?
With “What About Us,” P!nk once again throws out the rules in favor of authenticity. Rather than kicking off the era with a bombastic single, she opted to lead with something more sobering. At face value, the lyrics read from the perspective of someone in a turbulent relationship, but they can be just as easily interpreted as a plea for guidance in this confusing political climate. Given that P!nk spent the weekend retweeting commentary on the white supremacist violence in Virginia, it’s not far-fetched to think the double meaning was intentional.
The lines “We were willing/We came when you called/But man you fooled us/Enough is enough” could easily be seen through the lens of someone disillusioned with the political process. To be clear, P!nk was incredibly vocal in her support of Hillary Clinton, but it’s possible she looked past party lines to create an anthem that encompasses the hopelessness in the world.
The outspoken singer hasn’t been one to shy away from politics in the past: Take, for instance, her I’m Not Dead ballad “Dear Mr. President,” an open letter addressed to George W. Bush. P!nk has said that she has no intention of releasing a Trump-era follow-up — “there aren’t words for this shameful person” — but given her candor on social issues, it’s impossible that the country’s (and world’s) unrest didn’t affect her writing process. Rather than addressing Trump directly, a song that captures the general state of confusion is a therapeutic alternative.
So will “What About Us” continue P!nk’s impressive streak of wins? Early indicators are pointing to yes. But if you want to underestimate her again, go ahead — she’s used to it.