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Nicki Minaj's 'Starships' reaffirms her pop star aims

February 14, 2012 |  1:21 pm


Like it or not, Nicki Minaj is making sure she’s on the tip of your tongues. After riling up Catholics and traumatizing the rest of America with her controversial performance at Sunday's Grammy awards, the rapper has premiered a new single, "Starships."

Though it was always the plan for Minaj to follow up Sunday’s performance with the debut of the track on Ryan Seacrest’s morning radio show on KIIS-FM (102.7), it's abundantly clear that she’s doing what plenty of provocative pop stars have done before her: cashing in on the controversy.

The rapper's new single, just like her Grammy performance, reaffirms Minaj’s aims for pop star status.

"Starships," produced by RedOne, shows Minaj headed straight into clubland territory. Opening with an overused guitar riff that made its way into half of 2011’s summer anthems, the track morphs into what RedOne knows best: glossy Euro-pop dance numbers. That means heavy synths, an infectious chorus and fist-pumping breakdowns (though we don’t have much to say about  the inexplicable "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" sample).

The new single will undoubtedly divide Minaj’s fan base. Longtime fans may want the cypher queen they fell in love with when she was young and hungry on the mixtape circuit, while her newer, sugar pop-loving delegation will likely crave the quirkier verses -- and cotton candy-colored wigs -- of today's Minaj.

Minaj dominated pop radio last year with the crossover smash “Super Bass.” Her collaboration with David Guetta, “Turn Me On” (which she says is now on the new album), is currently seated at No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot 100. But what made those singles ubiquitous was Minaj’s rapid-fire delivery and sticky chorus on “Super Bass.” “Turn Me On” felt like a temporary attempt at conjuring up pop tartness. “Starships” desperately tries to push her toward a pop boundary that feels unnecessary -- her massive success last year proved she had already found that crossover, so let's not force it.

Following Sunday’s performance and now the new single,  Minaj should brace herself for Lady Gaga copycat claims. When she hit the scene, critics quickly slugged her as “rap’s Lady Gaga” because of the wigs and kooky outfits, but Minaj proved herself the minute she opened her mouth -- whether it was on her own single or stealing the spotlight from someone else.

Her over-the-top shtick at the Grammys for the unveiling of "Roman Holiday,” a new track from her upcoming album, felt familiar. She arrrived on the Staples Center red carpet in an overflowing red dress and matching cloak, accompanied by an actor dressed as a pope. During her performance of “Roman’s Revenge” and “Roman Holiday,” she levitated, writhed, appeared to speak in tongues and romped through a stained glass-windowed set surrounded by white-robed backup dancers.

While we applaud her for pushing the boundaries and offering a spectacle that you just don’t see within the rap genre, the moment didn’t feel wholly original. Possibly because she tapped Lady Gaga’s former creative director Laurieann Gibson to stage the performance; it was only a few years ago that Gaga turned the 2009 Video Music Awards into her version of an ethereal cathedral.

And it doesn’t help that RedOne’s best and most interesting work to date has been with Gaga. We’re just saying.

Take a listen to the safe for work version of “Starships” below.


And the winner is...

Full Grammy coverage

Grammys 2012: Nicki Minaj to debut new single on Grammy stage

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy


Photo: Cover of Nicki Minaj's "Starships" single. Credit: Young Money/Cash Money Records