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The Philadelphia Experiment: How Pink and Collaborator Billy Mann Forged a 15-Year Friendship

With first week consumption of over 400,000 units, according to BuzzAngle Music, Pink’s seventh album, “Beautiful Trauma,” proves that the 38-year-old is once again in the black and No. 1.

“She deserves it all,” says Billy Mann, the songwriter who has been by her side since 2003’s “Try This” (newly reissued by Sony Legacy this week) and his co-composition “God is a DJ.” After that track, the pair worked on seven singles from 2006’s “I’m Not Dead,” tunes on 2008’s “Funhouse,” and the torrid, titular theme from 2012’s “The Truth about Love,” of the over-16 songs they have written together over the years.

Pink and Mann further their relationship on “Beautiful Trauma” with the gorgeous gospel-tinged “I Am Here,” and its existential look at the afterlife that was recorded in July near Philadelphia where both Mann and Alecia Moore were raised. “From day one I was hustling, and, while I had already had a bunch of cuts on other people’s records, had it not been for my first album having some acclaim, I never would have found Alecia — or she, me,” says Mann, discussing his first solo album (his eponymous 1996 A&M release). “My greatest success as an artist was failing as an artist.”

Mann, who has produced-and-penned songs by John Legend, Cher, Hall & Oates, Burt Bacharach, and Celine Dion, is currently CEO of a boutique management and publishing company which boasts such artists as Alex Aiono and Natasha Bedingfield, writers Supah Mario (Drake, Young Thug), Justin Stanley (Eric Clapton, Gary Clark Jr.), and Christian Medice (Oh Honey, Halsey), the latter of whom collaborated with Mann on the new “I Am Here” Pink track.

“Throughout the years, I’ve treated collaboration as sacred and carve out every deal as a creative safe house for all parties involved with mutual accountability,” Mann tells Variety.

Then there is Mann’s work with Pink. Like the platinum-plated singer, Mann credits Philly for his songwriting largesse (“the stories of Jim Croce, the harmonies of the O’Jays, the smart emotive lyrics of Linda Creed and the gospel of Patti Labelle”), as well as his upbeat outlook on his hometown and its alumni.

“You know how it is when you’re ‘Philly’ and one of our own starts popping? I was a fan,” says Mann. After an introduction, a friendship emerged in Los Angeles,. “I had the hook of ‘God Is a DJ’ in my head, which felt perfect for Alecia,” says Mann of the moving single from “Try Me,” their first album together. “We met at noon in LA and within 15 minutes, we were drinking whiskey, smoking and it was all Philly  We finished ‘God Is a DJ’ together and it began. That was 15 years ago.”

Along with Mann having four children to whom Pink is known as “Aunt Alecia,” the songwriter says the two, “have gone through personal challenges and professional transitions together,” and that much of that goes into their writing. “We talk about life, the whiskey has turned to wine – she’s a legit wine expert with a vineyard – and along the way, we’re inspired to write. Maybe she brings a book of her poems or I sit with a guitar or at the piano and start noodling, then humming, and words come.”

That’s how “I Am Here” came about. Along with Pink and Mann singing gospel in neighborhood choirs in their youth, the up-tempo track was born in Los Angeles, before Pink and husband Carey Hart got pregnant with their second child, Jameson. “She created a new human, but never forgot that song,” says Mann.

As she recorded “Beautiful Trauma” in L.A., she booked a concert for Atlantic City in July, and decided she wanted to record that new Moore-Mann track in Philly with a local gospel choir. “I immediately phoned Bill Jolly, a mentor mine on the local jazz scene,” says Mann, not only because Jolly could book a studio discreetly (Aston, Penn.’s Houser Audio) and get a 30-piece choir together skillfully and quickly, but because Jolly had done so for Mann in December, 2016. “When my mom passed near Christmas, I wanted a gospel choir service and Bill made that happen. I’ll never forget that.”

While Mann and Jolly arranged the voices, the latter conducted the choir as he had done at gigs with Celine Dion and Michael Buble. Still, Mann gives the lion’s share of the credit to Pink, especially since the coda at the end of “I Am Here,” is just Pink —  or Alecia Moore, at that very moment — alone with her thoughts and prayers. Says Mann: “It was a moving, raw and immensely inspiring moment — and totally Philly to boot. You can take the girl out of Philly, but you can’t take the Philly out of the girl.”

PRODUCTION NOTES

“I am loathe to choose,” says Billy Mann when asked by Variety to list his favorite co-writes with Pink. “I love them all… and they are all different.” Under duress, the producer-songwriter narrowed down his list to these five.

“God is a DJ”
“First song that Alecia and I wrote together… sitting in her truck after the first time we met, drank some whiskey, and blasted the idea in its infancy. We finished it days later. Like most of my songs with Alecia, they are not obvious formula records, but find strange unexpected cultural footholds and stay strong.”

“Beam Me Up”
“I’ve gotten more fan mail from other parents who lost a child from that song than from most others. Photos of lyric tattoos…incredible stories. After the mass shooting of children in Sandy Hook, CT, and the nation was stunned, iHeart national star, Elvis Duran played ‘Beam Me Up’ on his morning show each day to help people heal.”

“Glitter in the Air”
“The daring live acrobatic performance was such a great mirror to the lyric. It went Top 10 on the AC chart for a minute, but it’s a staple copyright for her because the performance is a benchmark in Grammy moment history. … Just unforgettable and made every person gasp and realize just what a superstar Pink is.”

“Dear Mr. President”
“It’s sad that the song is literally as applicable today as it was when we wrote it and recorded it with The Indigo Girls. It topped the charts in random countries, has been used in history textbooks and is an unapologetic protest song sung by a global star standing up for LGBTQ rights, against violence and to protest divisive leadership.”

“Nobody Knows”
“I remember her label head at the time, Barry Weiss, calling me congratulating me on what a smash the song was… But it was never released in the U.S. as a single. On tour she crushed it and people wept. A song about dealing with loneliness, Simon Cowell apparently loves the song and years ago, on ‘X Factor UK,’ at the last minute, he had a boy band sing ‘Nobody Knows’ to win the competition, They were called One Direction.”

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