Posts Tagged ‘hollow’

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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.

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psychoanalysis.

September 5, 2009

It’s come to the point where I look forward to my dreams to see what twisted scenario my brain is going to spit out at me while I’m sleeping.  When I wake up and I either haven’t had a dream (to my knowledge), or I already know that I have forgotten it, I feel somewhat frustrated and cheated, although there’s nothing I can do.  But the past couple of weeks, as you’ll know if you’ve been checking in here from time to time, I’ve been having an extraordinary string of weird, convoluted dreams.  Last night’s was more a reversion to type, where I had been with my mother and my nan in town, except for some reason I had to catch the bus up to my nan’s house by myself.  I remember I was smoking at the bus stop, anxiously scanning the streets to make sure that I wasn’t caught by my family.  The bus was taking an extremely long time to turn up, and just before it did, this girl from school that I used to know, called Kate Noble, appeared and began to stalk me, circling the bus stop and grinning in my face (in a creepy way).

I thought I had shaken her off when I got on the bus, which looked more like a coach. The driver indicated that the only free seat was the one directly behind him (right at the front) so I sat there, only to discover that Kate was sat behind me, wearing a knitted black shawl around her head and shoulders so as to make her look like a creepy gypsy, with her heavy black eye makeup and violet lipstick with blinding white teeth.  She kept trying to steal things from me (at one point, the driver of the bus turned round and indicated to me that she had stolen my gold and silver ring, a plastic piece of jewellery my father had bought me as a misguided Christmas present a few years ago), and after a while I turned around and started threatening her to leave me alone, I swore at her and called her a cunt, and she just laughed at me.  That was about it, although I remember a knife being involved, though I’m not sure if I tried to kill her or if she intended to murder me.

I often have dreams where I’m being stalked, where there is a murderer or killer or evil person chasing me for some reason.  I have always loved horror movies, and when I was a child I used to watch the murder mysteries and movies that my mother would tape from the nights before.  Looking back, I guess I was quite young to be watching those kinds of things, but I only occasionally got scared and I found the stories quite exciting and absorbing, as well as psychologically stimulating.  Trying to work out who the killer was, what motivated them to do what they did and their methods was like a detective game for me, and I look back fondly on those times I shared with my mum watching programmes in the mornings when I was off from school.  I never felt like I couldn’t handle watching even the scariest films, and it’s come to the point where none of my friends want to watch a large part of my DVD collection because I have a lot of twisted, scary films.

During my waking hours, watching these kinds of thing doesn’t affect me in the slightest, so perhaps my dreams are a manifestation of that? Not to get all Freudian, but it would make sense if the violent and twisted things that I watch are replicated (in a more abstract way) in the dreams that I have, because luckily in reality I have yet to be stalked by a serial killer or be fleeing from my family who had been turned into vampires or even be followed by a compulsive thief.  Right now, I am watching American Psycho, because I am about a third of the way through Bret Easton Ellis’ book and loving it, so I wanted to revisit the film.  The main character, Patrick Bateman, is quite twisted and yet extremely hollow, actively conforming to a yuppie stereotype and exhibiting no further ambition beyond collecting money, designer clothes and achieving a perfect physique; his addiction to hardcore pornography and penchant for violently murdering beautiful girls is perhaps the most edgy thing about his life which is a qualified success beyond all measure, and yet an utterly heartless and one-dimensional façade.  Perhaps this is why he has developed this irresistible urge to violate, to cause pain and end people’s lives… it’s the most impactful thing that he can do, although the impact is obviously negative.

Despite this, the film is hilarious at the same time as its ideas are interesting and vaguely shocking.  I recognise a world where you are supposed to achieve a checklist of things in order to be “successful” or “happy”: car, well-paid job, trendy social circle, relationship, house… These are all things that I genuinely want, but at the same time I don’t have complete faith that once I’ve achieved these things, I will be any happier than I am now.  I think that most of us seek a way to achieve our wildest dreams while also working towards a more realistic success – one doesn’t necessarily negate the other, but there comes a point where we choose one over the other.  Because not everyone can be famous, most of us go for a realistic, modest version of happiness which is possibly more stable; but either way, nobody knows how much happiness lies at the end of the journey.  I guess that nobody wants to be predictable or mundane, so we search for ways to make us edgy.  Rather than murdering or raping people (as does Patrick Bateman), I choose to have killer fashion sense and make my own music (that’s also in pursuit of achieving my dreams of being a singer, so I try to keep my dreams alive while living an everyday life).  That’s the way that I set myself apart from others, even in my own head.  We all have our own ‘thing’, I guess…

But at the end of the day (I don’t know if this is true in American Psycho the book, as I haven’t even gotten halfway through it yet), it remains to be seen whether it truly satisfies us.  All I want, which is part of the reason why I want to entertain, why I love to sing and create music, why I want to be a Careers Adviser for my more ‘realistic’ vocation, is to make a difference to people’s lives, to have an impact on society, to be important and remembered; to matter. I guess that Patrick Bateman is driven to choosing to murder people (I know it is a paradox to be “driven to choose to do something” but it’s the best, most immediate way I can think of to express how we are at once responsible and moulded by society and environment for the choices that we make) in the same pursuit : to break away from mundane ordinary life, and to make an unforgettable impact.  I hope to do the same, but in a more positive and less damaging, psychopathic way!!!   I hope that my dreams just stay as dreams, because they are exciting, interesting and yet utterly harmless.  I guess that I enjoy Street Fighter IV in the same way – it’s edgy, violent and satisfying, but it’s just a game and I have no desire (96% of the time) to kick anyone’s face in.  I suppose all I am trying to say is that while murder is inexcusable, I can also see how current society, employment and the hierarchies which exist within each can drive somebody apparently successful and balanced to do shocking and unbalanced things.  I just hope to do things which shock people in a good way, rather than in a bad (or illegal) one.