It’s been almost four years since the release of Pink’s last album, 2012’s The Truth About Love. Oh, to be back in those glorious days of 2012. When we basked in the international joy of the London Olympics and when Donald Trump was just that bloke out of Home Alone 2. When Brexit was just a made up word and North Korea wasn’t about to blitz us all to smithereens. A simpler time. A better time.
In pop terms, four years is a long time too. It’s not easy to slip back into the charts and radio playlists after being absent for so long, especially when a new crop of pop stars has already moved in to fill your shoes. But Pink has always been one for subverting expectations, and after four years of relative silence, she’s back with new track ‘What About Us’.
Pink’s comeback single deftly bridges the divide between her signature sound and the modern pop landscape. Steering clear of both the RnB that characterised her earliest singles and the rock-tinged pop of her later career, ‘What About Us’ is a cool, mid-tempo dance track, starting slow and introspective before building to an earworm chorus. There are echoes of tropical house to be heard in the repetitive riff, though thankfully the track doesn’t go the whole hog, instead keeping the focus on Pink’s distinctive voice, her sad but determined vocals dominating an otherwise wishy-washy song.
Pink has always been a fan of big hooks, the more obvious the better, calculated to score massive chart-toppers. ‘What About Us’ is less explicit in its desire for domination, not as bolshy or brash as say, ‘So What’ or ‘Raise Your Glass’, but the pop perfectionism is still there. It’s a different kind of song for Pink, an artist who has straddled various pop-related genres over her years at the top, but still one that contains all the components of a formulated hit – and unashamedly so.
The problem with ‘What About Us’ is one that I have with most Pink songs. It just isn’t very interesting. It ticks all the boxes, but the pay-off is minimal. Pink sounds good, yearning and desperate, but the dance arrangement is bland and generic. When the chorus kicks in, you expect it to be bigger than it is, to make you feel something, to send a rush of adrenaline through your veins as Pink hits the high notes, to make you want to do something impulsive and stupid. But it doesn’t. Not quite, anyway.
Frustratingly, this is another track that flirts with politics without really saying much at all. When Pink sings “We are billions of beautiful hearts / And you sold us down the river too far”, it’s possible to take this as a dig at Prez Trump. But then it might not be. The track deals in platitudes and vagueness, perhaps realising that being overtly political is frankly too dangerous for a pop star who has an uphill battle to restake her claim on the charts as it is. While ‘What About Us’ is certainly one of the better dance-fluff tracks being pumped into the public consciousness, it’s nonetheless just that – harmless dance-fluff that doesn’t quite hail Pink as pop rock’s returning icon.