Track Review

From the beginning of her career, P!nk has endeavored to set herself apart from the rest of the female pop-rocker crowd by mixing her Philly-bred, tough-girl, in-your-face rebelliousness with barbed social commentary and rock star gimmickry. Just a simple glance at the title of the second bonus track from her greatest hits album quickly indicates that a decade in the music industry hasn't mellowed her one bit.

So it's perhaps not the song's title—or its repetition of the obscenity found therein—that's surprising here. The real shocker comes from the fact that the song is actually intended to be a message of hope for those who feel defined by their flaws and imperfections.

"Pretty, pretty please, don't you ever, ever feel," P!nk pleads over and over again in the chorus, "Like you're less than f‑‑‑in' perfect." The singer then describes how she's refused to let her own hard-knock experiences pin her down for the count. "Mistreated, misplaced, misunderstood/Miss No Way/It's all good, it didn't slow me down/Mistaken, always second guessing, underestimated/Look, I'm still around."

P!nk also encourages broken fans to stop fixating on their own perceived faults. "You're so mean, when you talk about yourself," she says. Then she instructs, "Change the voices in your head, make them like you instead."

As the song progresses, P!nk analyzes her own ambivalent reaction to critical people. She wants to just ignore them ("Done looking for the critics, 'cause they're everywhere/They don't like my jeans, they don't get my hair"). And yet she's also self-aware enough to know that she sometimes tries to change herself in order to please others, a character trait she hates: "Exchange ourselves, and we do it all the time/Why do we do that?"

We also get an odd, stray reference to drinking tossed into the mix: "The whole world's scared, so I swallow the fear/The only thing I should be drinking is an ice-cold beer."

Then there's the song's accompanying video.

"I'm sure my newest video for 'F**kin' Perfect' will be much like some of my other videos, which basically means I expect it will ruffle some feathers," the singer wrote on her website. And that, it turns out, is the understatement of the year, as this video relies on some truly shocking imagery in an attempt to ram home the song's messages.

Chronicling a lifetime of abuses suffered by a girl as she grows into a young woman, it begins with a sex scene (with included motions under sheets) between a man and the woman the girl grows up to be. Then the narrative flashes back to her childhood, where we witness her being bullied by students and yelled at by her disapproving parents.

Ongoing humiliation yields illegal behavior (she shoplifts and apparently snorts a drug in a bathroom stall), an obsession with her weight (we see her in her bra and underwear weighing herself) and a truly cruel cutting habit—viscerally illustrated when we see the teen girl in a bathtub (explicit breast nudity is narrowly avoided) carving the bloody letters "P-E-R-F-E-C-T" into her forearm with a razor blade. It's a blood-splashed scene that would feel right at home in an R-rated horror movie.

For a moment you think that perhaps the girl has committed suicide. But she gets out of the tub, cuts her hair and eventually becomes a successful painter. The video's story concludes with a big dose of happily ever after when the teen, now a woman, checks on her sleeping little girl in a room down the hall. Mom mouths the words, "You are perfect."

The message is clear: With enough moxie and determination, she's overcome a lifetime of abuse and addiction and now has a family she loves.

P!nk wants these images—the good and the bad—to get people's attention. "Cutting, and suicide, two very different symptoms of the same problem, are gaining on us," she wrote. "I personally don't know a single person who doesn't know at least two of these victims personally. A lot of us have seen certain starlets showing off their latest scars on a red carpet somewhere, usually right before they head back to their favorite rehab. It's a problem, and its something we should talk about."

We should talk about it. But should we do it quite so graphically in a rock video? Images of a teen's soul-crushing alienation and self-mutilation might do more than merely reflect hard realities. They might also influence young watchers to imitate the very things P!nk wants them to avoid.

I suspect P!nk would have us believe she's delivered a fiercely uncompromised artistic statement here. But her obscene grandstanding and penchant for sensationalism badly compromise everything she says she's trying to accomplish.

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Hit No. 2 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart; No. 1 on iTunes.

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December 14, 2010

On Video

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Bob Hoose

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