Pink: Going Over Down Under

Published 2009 in issue 27 of IQ Magazine

 

Funhouse may have taken Pink to a new level in Europe and the US, but the Australian tour propelled her to a whole different league. Lars Brandle reports…

The term ‘superstar’ doesn’t quite do justice to Pink’s status in Australia. Down under, her album sales are a class apart, and no one comes close to touching her in box office terms. Her 58-date Funhouse Tour has been destroying records up and down the country this year, selling 658,000 tickets and generating a total gross of A$80million (€49m) in just three months on the road. No other solo artist in the history of Australia’s touring business can boast such figures.

Put in perspective, the figures are enough to make one’s head spin. To illustrate the point, if you rescaled Australia’s population of 21 million with the United States 304 million, then Pink’s tour would have shifted 9.5 million tickets to her compatriots and generated a staggering ticket gross of US$1billion (€676m). You get the picture.

“It went to a level none of us could believe,” says Michael Coppel, the veteran promoter who masterminded the historic outing with Pink’s astute manager, Roger Davies. “Even with 58 shows and 650,000 tickets sold, my feeling is that we were 15-20 shows short of what we could have played.” Across the entire stretch, 99.23% of all venue capacity was sold-out.

The Funhouse Tour was nothing short of a “freak of nature,” notes Michael Harrison, tour co-ordinator for Michael Gudinski’s rival promoter, Frontier Touring. “The last time we saw something like that was her previous tour, and then before that Dire Straits in the mid-80s. I wish it would happen more often. It was a freak thing where an entire country embraces an artist across the board.”

There was a time, however, when the Pink ticket wasn’t so hot. In April 2004, Pink hit the road for her first national headlining tour of Australia. Then, as now, Coppel – owner of Melbourne-based Michael Coppel Presents – orchestrated the visit. “We virtually had a disaster,” he recalls. “It was meant to be a 100,000-ticket tour and we only sold 25,000.” On that run, no house was more than two-thirds full and, ultimately, a number of shows were cancelled.

“People were saying I should cancel the tour because it was going to be a messy financial loss,” Coppel says. “But I thought she had something special. And I figured the money was already spent so I’d carry on and try to build something for the future.” And build something he did. Coppel and Davies went back to the drawing board and got to work on creating a tour for the record books.

Come April 2007, a dozen dates were pencilled in for Pink’s I’m Not Dead Tour. And then tickets “just exploded,” Coppel says. “We were going to play another 12-date tour but we ended up doing 35 shows and selling more than 307,000 tickets. The shows were so great, the word of mouth spread and we just kept adding shows.” Each time the performances would sell out, so Coppel would add more dates. They too would sell out. “We criss-crossed the country three times. At that point it was the biggest tour by a female artist in Australian touring history.” By the end of the tour, the Pink show had been on the circuit for eight weeks. The spectacular outing was rewarded at the 2007 Helpmann Awards – the Australian live entertainment sector’s annual gala – where it won the best international contemporary concert category.

“When we looked at the tour for this year, Roger Davies and I mutually agreed if we did 250,000 tickets that would be fantastic,” Coppel says. “We thought the 2007 tour had been a high water mark on the beach. We wouldn’t get back there.” But the Funhouse Tour outsold I’m Not Dead on the presale.

Central to its success was the model of return visits. Word of mouth from Pink’s performances would percolate so that the next time she was in town, tickets flew.

“Some people came three, four, five times,” Coppel says. “Even though it is a much more expensive way of doing it, there was always a huge buzz when we came back.” Merchandise sales alone raked in an estimated A$10m (€6.2m).

Making Her Move

Records are meant to be broken and Pink has made a habit of smashing them in Australia. Her fourth studio album I’m Not Dead (LaFace/Sony Music) was the second-best selling record in 2006, and again in 2007, according to labels body ARIA. Funhouse was the second-best seller in Australia in 2008, beaten only by Kings Of Leon’s Only By The Night (RCA/Sony Music). Each album has sold upwards of 600,000 copies in a market where platinum certification is recognised at 70,000 by ARIA.

On the live front, Pink has demolished a swathe of Australian venue records. Her latest three-month itinerary included 17 non-consecutive, sold-out dates at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne and ten shows at the Sydney Entertainment Centre – all of them records. She also became the biggest-selling artist in the 23-year history of the Brisbane Entertainment Centre (BEC) when she performed 11 concerts to more than 127,000 fans.

“The undoubted highlight of this year was Pink breaking records for both the number of shows undertaken and the number of patrons attending,” says BECs general manager, Tricia McNamara.

In fact, when Pink returns to Brisbane Entertainment Centre, she’ll have her own throne waiting for her. The AEG Ogden-managed venue celebrated her record-breaking achievement by naming and redecorating a set of toilets, which are now affectionately known as the “P!NK Ladies.” “By the way,” she told the audience during a Brisbane date in late August, “if anyone needs to pee later on, I have a toilet upstairs dedicated to me. I want you all to christen it”.

It’s this good nature which has won Pink the hearts of a nation. “Australians like people who are genuine, people who’ve got tickers on themselves, who are realistic about what they are and who they are,” Coppel says. “The persona you see in the interviews, it doesn’t get manicured, it doesn’t get trained or spun, or produced. She’s really a normal person.”

For all her tomboy charm, Pink thrives on a competitive streak and a fierce determination to be the best in her game. “What kept her going in Melbourne was breaking the John Farnham record (which stood at 13),” Coppel explains.

“The last four shows, which were added on, basically sold out in a day. We did 17 in total, but how many more could we have done? Another two or three at least. Maybe four.

Good Influence

Coppel describes the artist as driven and supremely fit – a gym rat who does a two- or three-hour workout each day before diving into a two-hour performance. “She’s intense and hyperactive, very energetic and she can wear you out,” he laughs.

Indeed, for many associated with the tour, keeping up with Pink has been the hardest challenge. Kuy Thurman, team leader with Stage and Screen Travel Services that took care of all travel and hotel requirements says it’s the longest tour he’s ever worked on. “It was certainly a challenge due to the mammoth volume of information and the extended duration requiring intense attention to detail,” he says. “However, the professionalism of the international touring parties made it an absolute pleasure to work on this tour.”

Domestic Telco Optus sponsored the Australian leg of the Funhouse Tour and contributed a high-profile TV ad campaign where the singer mixed it up at a pool party with a CGI-rendered penguin disc jockey. “We were a fraction nervous doing a TV commercial and getting a lot of mainstream free-to-air coverage which could contribute to a (consumer) burnout,” Coppel says. “That didn’t happen. The entire tour was a rare occasion we had such huge success and not a hint of criticism or backlash.”

There’s an extra incentive to lure Pink back down under. Ticket sales across all her Australian shows to-date are approaching the seven-figure mark. “The first show of the next tour will be the millionth ticket she sells,” Coppel enthuses. And when might that show take place? “My guess is that 2012 might be possible,” he suggests.

And for many in the crew, quite what was achieved is still sinking in, even three months on. “It was surreal,” says production manager Richard Young. “It’s very difficult to appreciate how big she is there when you’re in it. It became a source of humour at one point. ‘Oh, it’s back to Melbourne, is it?’ And they’d know where you liked your desk set up. It was an amazing thing.”

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