Jab. Jab. Cross. Hook. Uppercut.
In a spartan photo studio in Paris' raggedly beautiful 11th arrondissement, Pink is showing off her impressive shadowboxing skills. This impromptu demonstration has been sparked by an observer's comment that the singer, dressed in a gray all-in-one hoodie tracksuit, looks less like a pop star than a pugilist. Appearances, in this case, are not entirely deceptive. Growing up in Doylestown, Pa., the then Alecia Beth Moore learned an array of self-defense moves from her father, a Vietnam vet and karate expert. More recently, she has been studying the martial art of Muay Thai (as popularized, at least in butt-kicking circles, by the 2005 film Ong-Bak) . When asked if she has ever had cause to put her bone-cracking skills to use, Pink replies,''Maybe, once or twice. I wasn't supposed to but...I did used to fight a lot. A lot of people do things where the violent side of me would like to come out. At this point of my life, I'd rather just sit down and freakin' talk about it. But some people,'' she adds, ''do want their asses kicked.''
Pink is in France to promote her fourth CD, I'm Not Dead (in stores April 4), and its wonderfully confrontational first single, ''Stupid Girls,'' a gleeful slap in the face of vapid starlets like Paris Hilton, Mary-Kate Olsen, and Jessica Simpson. The track is already a hit, reaching No. 13 on Billboard 's Hot 100, and its hilarious video which blatantly mocks Hilton's sex tape and Simpson's ''These Boots Are Made for Walkin''' video is all over MTV.
After the photo shoot, sipping mineral water and sucking on a Marlboro Light, Pink explains that her new album's title refers to ''awakening, not having blinders on.'' But the singer acknowledges that some people will take it as a reference to her recent career trajectory. Five years ago her sophomore CD, M!ssundaztood with its tough-but-confessional sensibility and a slew of irresistible singles made her a superstar, selling 5 million copies in the U.S. But her next album, 2003's Try This, was a disappointment, moving a comparatively dismal 700,000 CDs.
What went wrong? Largely produced by Rancid's Tim Armstrong, Try This featured a harder rock vibe that alienated many of her fans. But the real problem, Pink explains, was pressure from her label. ''My heart wasn't in it as much,'' she says of the album, which she wrote in a single week. ''And I was kind of rebelling against the record company. I got tired of deadlines. It was, like, put a quarter in the slot, watch the monkey dance!''
This time around, Pink, 26, resolved to spend some real time on her material, and in January 2005 she started working with producer Billy Mann (Backstreet Boys, Kelly Rowland). Mann had crafted her last single, ''God Is a DJ,'' and executives at Pink's record label, LaFace, presumably hoped he would help steer Pink back to the sort of dance-floor-friendly songs that made her famous. It didn't quite work out that way. Pink and Mann came up with some potentially explosive material, especially a blistering anti-Bush track called ''Dear Mr. President,'' which features lines like ''What kind of father would take his own daughter's rights away?/What kind of father might hate his own daughter if she were gay?'' and references old rumors of W.'s alleged cocaine use (although you will search in vain for the word alleged among the lyrics). When she played it for her label, ''you could feel the fear in the room,'' she says. ''But nothing was ever said.''