In Appreciation of Nicki Minaj’s “Starships”

I mentioned in my previous entry how Ava Max‘s potential chart-topper “Sweet But Psycho” bears all the hallmarks of this decade’s maximalist pop hits, found mostly between the years 2010 and 2012. While I’d like to save a full retrospective on those golden years for the end of this year, I do want to put the spotlight on some of those individual tracks. The first being Nicki Minaj‘s ebullient dance-pop monster “Starships”.

If the artwork didn’t tip you off, this was very much a Gaga inspired joint. Part of the maximalist pop brand was being decorated with as many baubles and colours as physically possible. It was all absolutely ridiculous, but easy to look past considering everyone was bringing their songwriting A-game. 2012 gave us so many pop gems it’s nearly unbelievable that the charts held all these songs at the same time.

“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”.

“What Makes You Beautiful”.

“I Love It”.

“Call Me Maybe”.

And of course “Starships”.

Coming off the success of the pixelated candy-pop of “Super Bass”, Minaj delivered two of the best written hooks of this decade. The pre-chorus and chorus of “Starships” are the stuff of songwriting legend, the kind of platinum-coated melody most can only dream of. As she so helpfully mentions at the start of the song, they’re provided by mega-producer RedOne, who along with Dr. Luke, Max Martin, and Ryan Tedder has shaped most of the pop hits of this millennium.

Those hooks could have gone to anyone, really. The processed cheeseburger guitars are virtually identical to the ones Katy Perry employed on her Teenage Dream album, or the ones Miley Cyrus had on “Party in the USA”, or the ones in that “Domino” song. It’s the verses where Minaj puts her stamp on the track with her frenetic brand of rapping that got her noticed in the first place.

Technically she’s unmatched, but if we’re going to talk lyrics- this is supremely silly stuff. This is a song that follows celebration of unbridled hedonism with a nursery rhyme. It’s all very millennial in the purest sense of the term.

Like with every other pop hit of that era, the message is of the “dance all night/live your life/young wild and free/no responsibility” variety, as popularized by Kesha at the turn of the decade. In that sense “Starships” is on the exact same tier as Pitbull‘s hits from the same period. While pop purists would have me up against the wall for saying that I mean it strictly as a compliment. This is unabashedly fun music.

Of course, we can’t forget to mention the biggest non-melodic hook in the form of the “higher than a motherf**ker” post-chorus. Placed over one of those dubstep inspired vacuum-cleaner-synth drops so popular at the time (see also: LMFAO‘s “Party Rock Anthem”, Cher Lloyd‘s “Swagger Jagger”, and Gangnam Style”), it’s undeniably central to the song, but it does halt the momentum of the melody. It’s only in that respect that the track falls short, and Minaj’s best song remains the slightly-more-effervescent “Super Bass”. It’s still a stellar track and a more-than-worthy follow-up to that song.