Pink’s Other Brave Act: Modern Pro-Queer Protest Singer

By Chris Azzopardi

Photos: Christopher Schwegler.

I watched in gasping awe on Aug. 16 as Pink spun through the cool Detroit air, a soaring trapeze artist with a soaring voice to match. Take, for instance, the way she zipped to all corners of Comerica Park during her Summer Carnival Tour, her first-ever stadium show in Detroit, while somehow still singing her playfully cocky hit “So What” against the city’s skyline. That acrobatic entrance alone definitely earned her the glass of wine and bubble bath she took shortly afterwards, according to her post-show Instagram post.

Twenty-plus years into an enduring career built on reinvention — something to admire, especially when you consider Pink’s underdog status in the era of Britney and Christina — the singer-acrobat has become known for this circus act. It wasn’t until her second album that she dropped the R&B persona that defined her 2000 debut “Can’t Take Me Home” and went full on pop-rock. Though her path seemed clearer based on that album’s success, its followup in 2003, “Try This,” was a commercial flop. During that time, when she first made being a misfit look cool, who could have predicted that it would be Pink selling out stadiums across the country in 2023? Not to mention, breaking a Comerica Park record — her sellout crowd of 45,000-plus is now the biggest reserved-seat attendance in the ballpark’s 23-year history, besting acts such as the Rolling Stones, Billy Joel and Elton John.

The first time I saw Pink was in Detroit at the State Theatre in 2002 for the Party Tour. There were no “holy shit, she’s flying” moments; she was on foot the whole time. Still I knew she had something even more daring than a circus act to give this fickle world — that’s real talk, no matter the consequences.

A few years later, in 2006, Pink released “Dear Mr. President,” a joint effort with the Indigo Girls. The song, where she called out those opposing same-sex marriage, was coincidentally released the same year the Chicks released “Not Ready to Make Nice,” a song the country trio directed at those who blackballed them after speaking their mind about then-President George W. Bush. Pink didn’t let what happened to the Chicks stop her, however. In Pink’s song, she blasted Bush with her signature no-bullshit approach. I was already paying close attention to her as a fan of her music and a teenage misfit myself, but it was that show of direct allyship, a gesture she made as a relatively new artist at what seemed like peak fame, that gave me newfound respect for her.

Years later, she’s still peaking. And her platform has changed — it is, fortunately, even bigger now. It is stadiums in Nashville, Cincinnati, Omaha — all places where anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has passed in the last year — and Detroit, where I realized no one seems to be talking about the other gusty part of her Summer Carnival Tour.

No, she’s not swinging from the top of a stadium, but Laura Ann Carleton, a mother of nine, was fatally shot in California recently, allegedly killed by a 22-year-old because of the Pride flag she proudly put in her store window. In 2023, it’s dangerous to even be an LGBTQ+ ally. So as I watched a sold-out crowd of 45,000 people, surely some of them Trump supporters and others who may be oblivious to the threat of simply being LGBTQ+ or even an ally right now, I was also seeing Pink the pro-queer advocate — someone who has not backed down from the fight for equality, even as she commands her most massive audiences yet.

At Comerica Park that night, any anti-queer fans had to confront the reality of pervasive homophobia and racism in our country, not to mention the overturning of Roe v. Wade and gun violence. The flying was a thrill to watch, but these days it seemingly takes even more guts to stand up for basic human rights. Pink did just that several times during her show in Detroit, performing her politically charged protest song “Irrelevant,” written and released last year. On giant screens were protest images from #MeToo, Pride and Black Lives Matter marches, many of which appear in the song’s music video. One said “Queer solidarity.” Many of the clips shown had rainbow flags, the same cheerful, defiant imagery that got Carleton killed. 

I looked around plenty at the show to understand the crowd, and I couldn’t come up with many examples of pop performers who appeal to such a broad spectrum of people like Pink does, from gay men to lesbians to some sloppy-drunk small-town suburban moms and their husbands — the same ones who don’t think trans people should be able to pee wherever they choose. Well, not only did they get Pink’s 2017 anthem “What About Us,” a message to Trump on how to be a president for all people, but those husbands also got Brandi Carlile, an out lesbian and multi-Grammy winner who is also an unapologetically vocal LGBTQ+ activist.

I love this circus act because only Pink can do it, I have never seen anything like it in the pop music world, and it gets people who might not otherwise listen to how minority communities are hurting to perk up their ears. But also, Pink is onto something by marrying the wide appeal of a carnival act with her more polarizing political views — through the art of flying, she’s made it impossible for anyone to look away.

Chris Azzopardi is the Editorial Director of Pride Source Media Group and Q Syndicate, the national LGBTQ+ wire service. He has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Cher, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, GQ and Billboard. Reach him via Twitter @chrisazzopardi.

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