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May 19

PINK – “Just Like A Pill”

Popular21 comments • 2,625 views

#936, 28th September 2002

At the time, I didn’t warm to Pink’s overt rebrand. For one thing, the brusque R&B singer of “You Make Me Sick” already seemed fierce, and fierce in a more interesting way than a pop-rock restyle promised. For another, the heel turn from pop star to pop rejector seemed messy and unfinished – “Get The Party Started” was terrific, but tighter and slicker than any of her R&B hits; “Don’t Let Me Get Me” lurched the other way, a take-it-or-leave-it splat of rejection on top of muffled, churning beats.

By the time “Just Like A Pill” came out, in other words, I was more or less on the side of those faceless exec dudes who’d wanted Pink to make R&B and stick to it in the first place. And like them, I was wrong. The rebrand stuck, and then some. Pink is in the Top 40 right now, in 2019, a survivor of the demographic purge initiated by streaming which makes Justin Bieber a veteran. The mess was resilience. The mess was the idea.

The rollout of the new Pink, over the course of Mizzundastood’s four singles, was perfect marketing. First single: Pink is a party girl who likes to rock out. Second single: Pink never wanted to be your dumb pop star. Third single (this one): Pink has a dark side and is drawn to toxicity. Fourth single (“Family Portrait”): Pink has a troubled past in a broken home. A carefully precise transition from fake-Pink to real-Pink, far less sudden and more convincing than some of the image changes we’ll meet.

I don’t mean to suggest here that Pink is or isn’t authentic – I don’t think the question’s very interesting – or that she’s particularly calculating. But like most people with very long pop careers, she has a fascinating grasp, studied or intuitive, of how selling an image and shifting an image work. Pink’s point wasn’t that she didn’t want to make pop music – she’s always made pop music – but it’s that she knew better than anyone else what pop music she ought to be making. And she’s been proved entirely correct.

“Just Like A Pill” isn’t her best track – it’s still an awkward thing, flailing around before it breaks into an ungainly chug – but it’s a better showcase of her identity and, more importantly, her voice than “Don’t Let Me Get Me”. On the chorus, the voice sounds multi-tracked – one Pink clear and strong, one breaking down at the edges into rasp and croak. It’s a stand-in for her whole approach – just enough noise in the signal to strengthen it.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Clint on 14 May 2019 #

    I think this song is wonderfully evocative and pulls the veil off the previous P!nk we’d known until this point.

    The lyrics are dripping with double meanings but it rarely becomes loathsome or too old. The chorus is a power-filled sing-along, but I hate the way the beat dies quickly after it before building back up.

    It’s an 8 for me.

  2. 2
    lmm on 14 May 2019 #

    Very glad to see you picking up again, and right in my awkward teenage memories with this one. New Pink was relatable (I’d draw a line to Avril Lavigne, at least in personal terms) while old pink never made it into my (curiously racially polarised on a musical level, while we mostly got along as people) high school. I liked Don’t Let Me Get Me’s story better – talk of musical-career history felt more understandable than pills and lovers, even if in truth all were equally distant from my experience. But I’d probably put this at a 7.

  3. 3
    enitharmon on 14 May 2019 #

    Welcome back Tom!

  4. 4
    Lee Saunders on 14 May 2019 #

    Though I liked this, Trouble and especially Get the Party Started as a kid, I’ve never really had much to say about P!nk. Most of her hits do nothing for me and despite her constant, impressive sales (another UK number one album at this very moment, while only Vampire Weekend have stopped the album from being number one for two weeks in the US) she doesn’t seem to me to inspire the same sort of crossover following that Beyonce or Rihanna do, but then I might be completely wrong as I don’t follow her myself.

    I was gonna compare Pill to Avril Lavigne but listening back it doesn’t sound quite as much like her as I’d remembered. I’d say that, as has happened with several 2002 number ones, this one relies on its production to amplify its strengths or weaknesses. So with that in mind the verses are good with their unorthodox percussive loop, but the bridges and choruses are flat and a little feeble, and take the hook down with them (which I’ll admit has always reminded me of the Verve’s number one), and seeing as the song is built around its chorus this is quite a shame. I’d have preferred Complicated had gone all the way, although I don’t love that one either.

    5

    No fewer than seven new entries in the top 10 during this song’s week, the highest aside from this being the debut from my first ever favourite band, but more on them later.

  5. 5
    Kinitawowi on 14 May 2019 #

    I don’t know if it was associations with many hours whiled away playing Dope Wars on my PC at the time… but I really, really loved this. (Most of her other singles do nothing for me whatsoever.)

    8.

  6. 6
    AMZ1981 on 14 May 2019 #

    This sneaked in with a fairly low sale, perhaps ironically just edging out the first of the two bands who would become synonymous with low selling chart toppers as the physical market died. The Missundazstood album was already a smash hit and very possibly the biggest selling album of the year at this point, despite having never got above 3 in a weekly chart (it wound up the second biggest seller but – I don’t think I’m bunnying here as the lead single didn’t get to number one – Escapology wasn’t released until late in the year). I have a lot of time for this record, it’s not one I would have bought myself but it’s my favourite of the Missundazstood singles and feels like Bohemian Rhapsody compared to the chart toppers on either side.

  7. 7
    MBI on 15 May 2019 #

    More and more it’s obvious that Pink, her image and her music, set the tone for quite a lot of the 2000s, and I don’t think she’s ever gotten credit for that. I’m not sure we have an Avril or a Kelly Clarkson or even a Hannah Montana without her.

  8. 8
    Cumbrian on 15 May 2019 #

    As Tom has identified, this is a transitional period for Pink – not just evidenced by the way the singles roll out but also who she’s working with on the Missundaztood album. This track is co-written with (and produced by) Dallas Austin, who worked on Creep and Unpretty for TLC, Secret for Madonna, MotownPhilly for Boys II Men and many more R&B performers besides. There are 4 Austin co-writes/productions on the album and, elsewhere, there’s a collaboration with Scott Storch (ex-The Roots) – so the R&B elements of her past are present and correct. The main collaborator though is Linda Perry and signals more of where Pink is going to be going in the future.

    This song does feel a little bit patched together and, without knowing anything about the process, it might be the tension between Austin’s production style (who hasn’t done much pop-rock production work as far as I can tell) and Pink’s possible interests with respect to her future direction that causes this to fall between two stools a little. The bridge feels too lengthy and it doesn’t explode effectively enough into the chorus to really convince. The lyrics aren’t as good as the likes of Creep either. AMZ1981 is right though that, given what surrounds it – and for a reasonable stretch afterwards – this is a good #1; I certainly wouldn’t have turned it off the radio when it came out and I don’t think I would now either. Pink would do better though – I think some of what I prefer by her is bunnied though.

  9. 9
    AMZ1981 on 15 May 2019 #

    Amazingly Pink only has one more bunny to come (in 2008).

  10. 10
    lonepilgrim on 15 May 2019 #

    The chorus reminds me of something else and I can’t think what but the sentiments are still current if some of the art produced by my GCSE pupils is anything to go by. The song treads a finely judged line between angsty rock and hooky pop – a sugar coated pill that’s easier to swallow.

  11. 11
    Shiny Dave on 15 May 2019 #

    I want to say that pop-punk P!nk came to me almost fully formed and in isolation, but I’m pretty sure that would be the quirks of how nostalgia worked. I don’t remember any of R&B P!nk, unless her turn on Lady Marmalade counts (and even there she felt almost vaguely like the rocker of the group, but maybe that’s the hindsight monitors kicking in? I mostly remember that for its ludicrously thick production anyway), but my listening for the years before this skewed pretty heavily towards trance, and it kicked rockwards right about when P!nk did.

    In a way this almost feels like it looks backwards, even as it points directly to the future of at least the performer behind it – it’s very 90s in its post-grunge dynamic lurches, “Don’t Speak” without the orchestral trimmings and the intra-band break-up aspect to the lyrical angst. The biggest difference is that verse percussion, which definitely gives the song a wonky momentum.

    Vivid memory of at least some radio at the time distortion-editing out “bitch” in the prechorus. I have no idea if these same stations also played the Meredith Brooks one-hit wonder of that name. Presumably they didn’t.

    This is a good-not-great #1 for me, on the 6/7 borderline.

    #5 I will always have a massive nostalgia spot for Complicated – as a sixth-former I impersonated Avril on the school bus, people weirdly liked it, I ended up getting roped into a variety show Children in Need fundraiser at the school and performed as Avril, complete with “drag” outfit of a totally wrong wig and things I raided from a charity shop. Meeting the more serious singers there is how I properly got into singing (one of them was my first teacher!) and so I have a lot of memories to owe to Complicated. But in all honesty, I’m not even sure I could go to bat for it against Just Like A Pill at this point.

  12. 12
    Todd on 15 May 2019 #

    More and more it’s obvious that Pink, her image and her music, set the tone for quite a lot of the 2000s, and I don’t think she’s ever gotten credit for that. I’m not sure we have an Avril or a Kelly Clarkson or even a Hannah Montana without her.

  13. 13
    Chelovek na lune on 17 May 2019 #

    Welcome back, Tom.

    I think punkier P!nk was a vast improvement, from the outset, than old commercial (and sometimes far too generic) R&B Pink. “Don’t Let Me Get Me” grabbed the listener by the collar and didn’t let him go. A new aggression, a new apparent authenticity, more aggression, and more coarse, sneering, contempt-ridden, but all in all a big step up what had gone before. Maybe the spirit of the times coming through with all this latent and blatant anger on display from P!nk from this point on. Although, having just reacquainted myself with her whole singles collection – and what a fine, and fairly eclectic selection it is – it seems we have the classic phenomenon of an artist reaching number 1 with something that is far from their best work.

    “Just Like A Pill” is attention-seeking, yes, and in places memorable, but a bit lacking in substance or structure (especially when compared to the singles that immediately preceded and followed it). Still a bit too poppy to quite pull off the anger, though. The chorus has a hook for sure.

    But indeed epochal, and influential. Setting the way – in tone and in attitude – a few years down the road for another US female soloist we’ll enouncter at no 1 with something that, too, was far from her best work. Well, we are who we are….

  14. 14
    James BC on 23 May 2019 #

    Decent song, though much worse than the two singles that preceded it, which I would expect to have sold more, just not enough in one week to have been number one.

    Notable for its terrible title: ‘Just Like A Pill’ must be the worst lyric in the whole song, and almost any other line would have been a better choice.

  15. 15
    ThePensmith on 24 May 2019 #

    Good to see you back Tom!

    You’d have got very slim odds 17 years ago of Pink still being a major star and us discussing her in 2019. And yet here she is, another number one album, and a Lifetime Achievement Brit Award to her name (first artist from the 21st century to recieve this award, no less).

    I have to say that for me, she has moments of brilliance (the unbunnied ‘Stupid Girls’ and ‘U + Ur Hand’ from 2006, for instance) and instant accessibility for me. Despite being a chart topper, ‘Just Like A Pill’ isn’t one of them for me. It was just rather at odds with the two singles that had come before it off ‘Mizundastood’. For that same reason I didn’t care much for ‘Family Portrait’.

    It was just all a bit too whingy and asserting a little too strongly how rough around the edges her life was and how she could get as an artist and performer. For that reason, this gets a 4 from me. Interestingly her biggest seller in the UK is neither of her bunnies – it’s actually a 2013 runner up guest starring the lead singer of a 2012 bunnied one hit wonder.

    Elsewhere in the chart this week: another act still alive and kicking in 2019, and a huge paradigm shift where the boyband is concerned, as Busted made their top 3 debut with ‘What I Go To School For’.

    We will of course be discussing them a few Popular months from now, but this was such a tongue in cheek, energetic first single. I remember the speculation as to who was the real Miss McKenzie they wrote about in the song added to the initial interest in them.

    Also in the top 10 that week, possibly one of my favourite 00s one hit wonders, Matt Hale aka Aqualung, with ‘Strange and Beautiful’, new at #7 after its use in a TV ad for Volkswagen cars. It seems all but forgotten now but if Coldplay or Travis had recorded it you can bet your life it’d be considered a modern classic.

  16. 16
    Keley Ann on 25 May 2019 #

    So happy to see this back again! I quite like this song, although P!nk would have far better in the future (sadly not her other #1 though).

  17. 17
    Bookkooks on 3 Jun 2019 #

    Such music and books are what you need in order to relax properly :)

  18. 18
    hungryandfrozen on 4 Jun 2019 #

    After reading this for years I’m so happy that you’re back that I’ve registered to make my first comment in the hopes that it might have some effect on, well, anything really.

    I’ve never clicked with Pink’s music, it always seemed so insistent of its grittiness in a way that, while I have no doubt it was based on real emotion, felt so forced and tiring. I was about sixteen when this song hit number one and though a shinily packaged display of frustration seemed tailor-made for me, it never brought me joy. Good for Pink though, being able to retrofit her career in such a successful manner.

  19. 19
    Lee Saunders on 16 Jun 2019 #

    A word about some of the other songs that charted that week

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Supergrass’ Grace (#13) was a She’s in Fashion-style ‘much bigger radio hit than its chart performance suggests’ style scenario. As a lead single debuting at #13 you’d hardly think it would endure in the public memory like imperial phase stuff like Richard III and yet Grace regularly plays on the radio in the supermarket where I work even now, just like She’s in Fashion. Speaking of which, Suede’s own Positivity at 16 is a lovely, rather undervalued little song which experienced a terrible chart performance (16>60>out), predicting the commercial bombing of its parent album.

    I’ll no doubt mention it again in a more appropriate place but the song at #3 was possibly the first song I ever sang at karaoke, though I had no idea what the words meant.

    In the albums chart, Weller debuted at #1 with Illumination which is a great example (others being Massive Attack’s 100th Window or Blur’s Think Tank) of a fanbase-propelled number one album of the era which only went Gold in a sea of mostly multi-platinum albums.

  20. 20
    The Nixon Administration on 24 Jun 2019 #

    I was dragged along to a Pink concert around… 2006/7? with a group of friends, and had no real expectations. Like Tom’s initial reaction to this single, I was pretty lukewarm towards her contrived rebrand, I didn’t really know any of her post-Missundazstood songs beyond a chorus… I only went because I had nothing better to do and thought it’d be rude to refuse a free ticket.

    She was *incredible*.

    She had the crowd eating out of the palm of her hand, she dealt with an idiot heckler with a perfect Lydonesque disdainful glare to put him right in his place with the one giggle-snarled word “okay”, she owned the stage with her prowling and dancing and hip-cocking and pulling shapes, and at one point – during a highly unexpected song (“Fingers”) apparently about masturbation – she started doing some astonishing aerialist stunts, theatrically wrapped up in a big silk ribbon and lifted ten feet in the air as she kept on writhing and singing and making eye contact with audience members.

    I honestly didn’t think she could exude that kind of star power, but it was genuinely one of the top ten gigs I’ve ever seen. I still don’t love her on record, but I’ve always had a massive respect for her skill and craft since then, and I’m not at all surprised she’s still going strong.

  21. 21
    Discoconut on 1 Jul 2019 #

    I like that you’re still trying to convince yourself we’ll ever see beyond 2003 in this blog :)

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