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Musical Analysis: “Dear Mr. President”

The artist Pink is internationally known for being tough and wild, but it wasn’t until her song “Dear Mr. President” came out that she showed audiences the politically and socially conscious side of her. While retaining her bad girl image but adding a tone of soft sincerity, Pink relays an unmistakable message to former President Bush. As one of the only mainstream female artists to release such a song at the time, she touches on several important issues that other artists had not.

“Dear Mr. President” was a track on Pink’s fourth album entitled “I’m Not Dead Yet,” with the record label LaFace. The song, released at the end of 2006, features the Indigo Girls, and was written and produced by Pink and Billy Mann.

The only instrument used in the song is the guitar, played by Emily Sailers of the Indigo Girls. The use of just one instrument is an important feature, as it directs the listener to focus on the lyrics. Though I am not familiar with guitar chords, an analysis of the song reveals how the instrumentals continuously complement the lyrics.

The song begins with the guitar strumming a slow, melancholy tone. Pink begins “Dear Mr. President/ Come take a walk with me.” The guitar stops playing as the line “Come take a walk with me” is repeated. For the duration of the first verse, the guitar somberly plays the same three chords and stops at certain points so that all you hear are the lyrics. For example, for the lyrics “you’re not better than me” and “speak honestly,” all we hear is the vocalist with no background instrumentals. This highlights those lyrics and portrays their significance to the message being conveyed.

For the second verse, the tempo picks up slightly, but the melancholy tone is retained. The guitar is strumming a different set of chords from the first verse, as Pink begins asking a sting of questions that will continue for the remainder of the song. The verse begins with “What do you feel when you see all the homeless on the street? / Who do you pray for at night before you go to sleep?” and concludes with “Are you proud?” The questions jump out when juxtaposed with the low guitar strumming the same chords over and over again.

The song’s tempo picks up as the chorus begins. The guitar is gets louder, as does Pink’s voice. Slowly, the depressing tone is changing into what sounds more like anger, but not completely as of yet. The chorus asks, “How do you sleep while the rest of us cry? / How do you dream when a mother has no chance to say goodbye?” Here, Pink is referring to the soldiers lost in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the grieving families. The chorus ends with “Can you even look me in the eye and tell me why?” Here we are brought back to the very beginning of the song where Pink plainly asks to be treated as the President’s equal and be given some honest explanations.

The guitar returns to its original slow, somber tone. One can imagine the artist having gotten a load off of her chest and then calming down. It’s like she took a deep breath and told herself to stay composed as she starts again with “Dear Mr. President/ Were you a lonely boy? (Were you a lonely boy?)/ Are you a lonely boy? (Are you a lonely boy?)” The juxtaposition of referring to him as Mr. President and then a lonely boy is quite powerful, especially since “lonely boy” is repeated four times. She is forcing the listener to forget about the power the title holds. She continues with “How can you say no child is left behind? / We’re not dumb and we’re not blind.” In this line Pink directly addresses the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind Act, which was implemented as an attempt to mend the nation’s ailing education system, but to no avail.

For the fourth verse, the guitar gets more powerful, mirroring the tougher questions Pink asks. “What kind of father would take his own daughter’s rights away? / And what kind of father might hate his own daughter if she were gay? / I can only imagine what the First Lady has to say.” Here, Pink is addressing former President Bush’s stance on abortion as well as gay rights, in light of Dick Cheney’s situation with his daughter. Pink wonders how The First Lady, being a woman, feels about these issues.

In the bridge of the song, the listener hears the instrumentals and vocals climb to a climactic anger. Pink sings:

“Let me tell you ’bout hard work
Minimum wage with a baby on the way
Let me tell you ’bout hard work
Rebuilding your house after the bombs took them away
Let me tell you ’bout hard work
Building a bed out of a cardboard box
Let me tell you ’bout hard work
Hard work
Hard work
You don’t know nothing ’bout hard work
Hard work
Hard work”

This part of the song is especially stirring, as Pink paints a powerful picture of poverty. This is also the one part of the song where political affiliations can be set aside, as we think about the undeniable adversities less fortunate people in America and abroad face. Those who come from affluent backgrounds can admit that they have not faced those kinds of difficulties, in that their simple fundamental needs were always met.

The anger dissipates as the guitar strums quietly; closing the song in the melancholy tone it began in. Pink asks her final question: “Dear Mr. President/ You’d never take a walk with me/ Would you?” She has come to a realization that she will never receive the truthful responses she desires.

Following 9/11, there were many songs expressing discontent with the government, anti-war sentiments, and the need for unity. Pink’s song is unique because it is one of the few that asks for truthful explanations to get to the root of all the depression and anger expressed in other songs. Furthermore, unlike other political songs at the time, Pink addresses several prevalent issues, not just war.  Although war was definitely a large part of people’s dissatisfaction at the time, she reminds us of the domestic problems, like education and poverty, which are perpetuated when resources are poured into foreign causes.

A major part of this song’s significance is due to the fact that it was written and recorded by women, Pink and the Indigo Girls, the latter artists being largely recognized as a politically active, lesbian duo. Other popular socially conscious songs at the time were by John Meyer, Green Day, Eminem, and the Black Eyed Peas; all males. As the only well known female perspective on the topic, Pink and the Indigo Girls are the only ones to address abortion, gay rights, and education. It also explains Pink’s repeated plea in the song to be treated as an equal who deserves answers.

In an interview on the show Jimmy Kimmel Live on April 10, 2007, Pink thanks Kimmel because his was the only show that would allow her to perform “Dear Mr. President” and adds that she can’t even talk about the song on the radio. This fact alone sets it apart from the aforementioned political songs by mainstream artists. Unlike the other songs, the instrumentals, vocals, and lyrics of “Dear Mr. President” all demand the audience to focus on the lyrics, think about the questions and issues being addressed, and feel a mix of sadness and anger for the current state of things in America. Not everyone will agree with the political messages, but no one can deny the sorrow military families experience or the hardships endured by those living in poverty, and the song calls attention to that. Though the song did not make it on American radio stations, it was an international hit, especially in Europe, Australia, and Canada. In this sense, the song served as a voice to the rest of the world for Americans who didn’t agree with all of the government’s policies.

“Dear Mr. President” is a significant song in popular music, as it comments on the most prevalent, and sometimes controversial, political and social issues of the time. It was the only popular song of its kind to be written and recorded by females, which gave the topic a new angle and fresh perspective. Its explicit but sincere lyrics ask for one thing: the truth.

Works Cited

“Dear Mr. President.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July 2004. 1 October 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dear_Mr._President>

“List of anti-war songs.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July 2004. 1 October 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_anti-war_songs#Gulf_War.28s.29.2C_Iraq.2C_9.2F11.2C_and_the_War_on_Terror>

Kimmel, Jimmy and Pink. “Pink Live Interview- Jimmy Kimmel.” Jimmy Kimmel Live. Interview. 10 April 2007. Youtube. 1 October 2010. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtRGhdP9uns>

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October 3rd, 2010 at 2:33 pm

27 Responses to “Musical Analysis: “Dear Mr. President””

  1.   jstrick Says:

    Nice analysis! I feel like it is so important for artists to come out and say exactly what they’re thinking. By doing so, they inspire others to decide on opinions and think about whether they agree or disagree.

  2.   Amy Herzog Says:

    Great work, particularly in describing the way in which the guitar and vocal styling work to contribute to the overall message of the work. Like the Dixie Chicks (who were another well-known female group to challenge the President at this time), she caught a lot of flak for being so outspoken.

  3.   nicole Says:

    I’m happy someone chose this song! I love this song and even thought about analyzing it for this assignment. I agree with you that the song is far more powerful over acoustic guitar and no other instruments. I saw Pink perform this live in concert and she got so into the song that it brought her to tears. I feel like it takes a lot for an artist to release a song as controversial as this one questioning a president and I’m glad Pink did because she’s an amazing artist. I think it’s interesting, as you pointed out, that this socially conscious song never hit mainstream radio yet other male artists of that year had hits with their socially conscious songs. I also think it’s interesting that most shows wouldn’t let her perform this song on tv. You would think with all the other garbage they allow on tv this song should be the least of a network’s worries.

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