Posts Tagged ‘formula’

h1

Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (album review.)

April 6, 2012

It’s time to accept that the Nicki Minaj that we heard on her mixtape (and best album to date) Beam Me Up Scotty is gone. The Nicki Minaj that we heard stealing the show on Kanye West’s “Monster” is a distant memory. Now, the Nicki Minaj who pleasantly surprised us with her bubblegum rap confection “Super Bass” is asserting herself throughout Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. Nicki Minaj may not have concretely realised her Roman Zolanski alter-ego (who shows up at the start of the album, but his fangs have been sanded down after his explosive showing on “Roman’s Revenge”), but throughout her career we have seen her evolve and shift through persona after persona. The hard female rapper we heard on Playtime Is Over gave way to the exciting cyberspace femme fatale with the ridiculous flow and heart of gold on Beam Me Up Scotty, who tarted herself up with colourful outfits, wigs and softened edges for Pink Friday. Although her rap credentials have become less indisputable, mainstream success has opened Minaj to a new audience: pop. Teenagers, little girls dancing and rapping along to her songs on youtube, people across the world now want to hear what Nicki Minaj has to say. Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded finds Minaj trying to please everyone whom she has courted throughout her career. Does she succeed?

Well, the album is certainly diverse and there is something for everybody. After the insane and yet exciting “Roman Holiday”, the album is stacked with urban tracks designed to prove that Nicki is still in touch with her musical roots. “Come On A Cone” is a fascinating listen, and the genuinely unexpected “dick in your face” interlude about two thirds of the way through the song is a refreshing thrill – but Minaj can no longer get through an entire rap song without resorting to her trademark ridiculous vocal tics. This is a gimmick that initially served to set Minaj apart from other female rappers, but now it sounds like a party piece that is trotted out to fulfil the listener’s expectations. The song succeeds, but it could have been more. The tracks which follow are chock full of features, which is nothing unusual for a rap album, but here they serve to mute Nicki’s own impact on the material. “Beez In The Trap” is catchy but incredibly basic while “HOV Lane” is single-entendre bragging that may pay tribute to Jay-Z and to Minaj’s potential to be a supernova rather than just a star, but compared to the more insightful work Minaj has done on the past (for example on Beam Me Up Scotty‘s “Can Anybody Hear Me” or Pink Friday‘s “Moment 4 Life”) it rings a little hollow. “Stupid Hoe” is an ill-advised tirade against Lil’ Kim that is so ridiculously silly that the bite in Minaj’s lyrics is muzzled by the repetitive hook and uninteresting beat. The buzz single for this project, “Roman In Moscow”, was so much more than all of the rap tracks that actually made it onto the album because the production was exciting and the flow and rhymes were unbridled and interesting. It showed that the ‘old Nicki’ is still alive, but there is no longer a place for her among any of Minaj’s current, more successful incarnations, which is a shame. As oddly structured and jarring as they may be, “Roman Holiday”, “Come On A Cone” and “Roman Reloaded” are the most successful songs in the first half of the album because although they are not amazing, they grab the listener’s ear and don’t let go.

After some tepid R&B slow jams which are so rote that they barely deserve mentioning, let alone a place on this album (“Right Thru Me” and “Your Love” from Pink Friday were miles better than these), we get to ‘pop Nicki’. This abrupt about-face in the album really should have been split into two discs on the physical version, but it’s not the disaster that other reviews have reported. “Starships” is at once derivative of LMFAO’s and Rihanna’s latest smashes, and yet also entirely the mutant spawn of “Super Bass” (without which ‘pop Nicki’ would never have come to triumph over ‘old Nicki’ or ‘Roman Zolanski’ or ‘Harajuku Barbie’ etc.), but my god is it fun. This song absolutely deserved to be a single and to be successful – I feel conflicted because Nicki Minaj shouldn’t have had to so deliberately manufacture such a hit, but its hit status is undeniable. “Pound The Alarm” goes one better and is an absolute gem that Britney Spears probably wishes she had recorded. “Whip It”, “Automatic” and “Beautiful Sinner” repeat this formula ad infinitum (or ad the next 15 minutes), and although the songs are great fun, they expose Minaj’s crossover aims as so calculated that a little bit of this fun is taken out of them.

The album winds down with some mid-tempo, more thoughtful songs such as “Marilyn Monroe” and “Young Forever”. Strong hooks and mainstream production make these songs perfectly enjoyable, and although the lyrics show more insight from Minaj than the preceding half hour or so, they’re still calculated. “Fire Burns” and “Gun Shot” close the album (before the jarring “Stupid Hoe”) and they are the most genuine tracks of the second half. “Fire Burns” is this album’s “Save Me” (one of the highlights from Pink Friday), and the regret and sadness in Minaj’s delivery rings true. “Gun Shot” features Beenie Man and brings a little Caribbean flavour that Minaj hasn’t explored since Pink Friday‘s bonus tracks, or Beam Me Up Scotty‘s “Keys Under Palm Trees” or title track (her shout-out to Trinidad at the beginning of “Beautiful Sinner” certainly doesn’t count). While so many of the second half’s tracks are deliberately and irresistibly exhilarating to a head-spinning extent, “Gun Shot” is a less manufactured but, if anything, more uplifting ray of sunshine.

Do I like this album? Absolutely. Do I feel that it squanders Minaj’s potential? Yes, and no. This has been a hard review to write, because there’s so much here to deal with. The mainstream-aimed songs are good, but many of them are so deliberately manufactured to be hits that the genuine feeling is often ironed out. The rap songs are acceptable to good (barring the mediocre slow-jam section in the middle), but the featured artists rarely measure up to Minaj’s own potential, while simultaneously limiting her own space to shine. The weird songs are absolutely interesting, but Minaj doesn’t need to rely on inconsistent alter-egos and silly voices to be compelling. Beam Me Up Scotty proved this, and I find it sad that Minaj isn’t encouraged to exhibit her rap skills and singing in a more genuine way. “Roman In Moscow” and “Fire Burns” are remnants of the Minaj we have previously experienced. And while I genuinely am happy for the existence of songs like “Starships” and “Pound The Alarm”, their aggressively insane exuberance is something that Minaj may risk exhausting herself trying to outdo on Pink Friday: Roman’s Resurrection (or whatever comes next).

I believe that Minaj genuinely enjoys catering to a range of audiences, but as Beam Me Up Scotty and even Pink Friday demonstrated amply, she can do this in a more integrated and less scattershot way. Everyone was wowed by Minaj’s feature on “Monster”, but there’s nothing approaching that venom or spark here; her album-closing declaration that “I am the female Weezy” is reductive. Minaj is not a female Lil Wayne, female Jay-Z, new Lil’ Kim or resurrected Lauryn Hill. Nor is she Roman Zolanski, a cockney grandmother, a Harajuku Barbie or anything else – she is more than the ‘mere’ summation of these characters or costumes. She’s a savvy businesswoman and a genuine talent who is producing good music but coming dangerously close to losing the edge that set her apart so definitively in the first place. I fear that the more mainstream success that Minaj garners (and it will likely be deserved), the less heartfelt and genuine her music will become. There’s a difference between creating art that is deliberate in its purpose and achieves its goals, and art that is so focus-group tested and aiming to please that the quality is filtered down to a semblance of what it originally could have been. And while we can respect and admire an artist’s potential, we can’t praise them for what they have the talent to create if they don’t actually create it, or realise their potential consistently. And so Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded is a blast to listen to, but it also warns that unless Minaj takes stock and finds away to hone all of her personalities, she may ultimately spread herself too thinly and become nothing to anyone, rather than something to everyone.

Advertisements
h1

if i weren’t me.

April 29, 2010

Last week I spent a full week at university, which by this point of the course has become pretty much a rarity.  I was pretty down last week (which culminated in a weekend of feeling so ill that my head was going to drop off… I wonder if it was psychosomatic? Who knows.  I’m more or less better now though 🙂 ) and had a lot to think about, a lot of voices in my head and a couple of voices in my ear.  Ultimately, the situation has been resolved for the moment and I feel a lot better about it – it’s always best to be honest in a relationship.  Anyways, I’m not going to talk about that because I believe that a relationship is best kept private, and neither me nor my boyfriend would want things to be splashed across here publicly.

But while I was feeling down, I withdrew into myself somewhat, and it was interesting what I noticed.  A couple of people whom I don’t normally talk to on my course were quite concerned and asked me how I was, but then I’m not close enough to them that I really wanted to go into details so I just brushed it off and diverted the conversation onto something more general, less specific.  My close friends knew what was up and were genuinely helpful and listened without being overly cloying, which I really appreciated.  But for some people, I ceased to exist.  Now, in one way I really appreciated this because I didn’t want everyone coming up to me and being all in my ear like “Alan what’s wrong? You seem like this” or “You should do this” or “You’re normally so bubbly”.  I can decide how to tackle my own problems and I don’t need anyone’s pity or for them to point out my mood, because that’s not going to make things any better or help me.  But it was like I was invisible; if I didn’t make the effort to be friendly and say hello, they didn’t even acknowledge my presence.  It was funny how machiavellian it all seemed; I am a friendly acquaintance but not a good friend, so they don’t need me and therefore I don’t merit even a civil greeting, because I haven’t put myself out there first? I won’t forget that.  I’m very lucky that I have enough very good, beloved friends who do care about me and are genuine because that behaviour in the past would have made me insecure, whereas now it doesn’t matter to me.  But it doesn’t mean I didn’t notice.

I remember when I first started on the course, I was quite outgoing, confident and very sociable, organising nights out and gatherings.  I really threw myself into it and everyone seemed to really like me; I somehow managed to say hello to everyone and be everyone’s friend.  One person whom I barely talk to even called me “the glue that holds our course together”!  Now, there’s nobody I dislike on the course and I am pretty sure nobody dislikes me, but at this point we have formed our own cliques and allegiances and we don’t really deviate from those.  The only time I am generally a talking point these days is if I have a new tattoo or if I am somehow connected to a large group activity.  So from my shell looking out, I noticed last week how different I am from Mike, how much more laddish he is and how easily he can mix with other people socially.  I mean, it’s all superficial and I am not very good at shooting the breeze on a superficial level with someone with whom I know I have little in common.  But I wondered, why are we such good friends if we’re such different people? Like, we have different interests, differing music tastes, and yet we’ve always had so much to talk about and the same opinions on a lot of things.  I can’t quite quantify it and I’m not sure what the working formula is, but I am glad it does work and I hold our friendship so dearly.

And although I was looking at myself toughly wondering why he might want to be friends with me, I looked at the other members of our group: Emily is absolutely hilarious, quite filthy and very Welsh; Vikki is similarly Welsh and very family oriented; Gina is sweet and lovely with a heart of gold, but quiet as a mouse.  And I think that I’m quite interesting, I definitely have my quirks, but I don’t need to shout about them and I don’t need to be noticed, so I guess that I fit into that group because I’m not overly opinionated, and I also don’t have an off-kilter, geeky sense of cheesy humour aspect to me that even the “cooler” people in the big clique on our course have.  I like my friends and I think I fit into our group perfectly, that I wouldn’t want to belong anywhere else and I don’t feel I need to.  But I miss the community sense of friendship that was on our course in those initial months.

If I weren’t me, would I be more deserving of their acknowledgement? Maybe. Maybe if I could talk about sports or about marriage or about wandering around South America or whatever it is they talk about, I might fit in better.  But that’s not me, that’s not who I am.  By this point, I’ve worked quite hard at uncovering, discovering and improving the man that I am that I quite like myself, generally speaking (though this depends on whether you catch me on a good or a bad day 😉 ).  I am also very grateful that I have the friends I have, that we all care about each other and we are so close.  Life isn’t a popularity contest (though I have never been unpopular), and I know where I stand and I think I am happy here, it’s just interesting to contemplate if I were different, would my friendships be different? Would Mike and I have more in common, and would that change our friendship for the better or for the worse? I can’t imagine us having a closer friendship considering what we have achieved in the last 8 months, and I am truly blessed and I wouldn’t want that to change in the slightest.  I sincerely hope nothing ever changes between us and that we are friends forever (I can’t see anything changing this in the future, but you never know).  I still went on a guys’ poker night and that went perfectly well (I was deceptively skilled, which impressed the others), so although I am not quite as laddish as Mike or the other guys on our course, I must be fine and I guess that my differences are to be cherished: I am unapologetically myself and people do respect me for that, which I appreciate.  I guess it’s useless to think about being a different person, because we can only be who we are.  I am happy with who I am, I just wonder if there are sometimes ways I could act which would be better, or more charismatic to attract other people to me.  Food for thought.