The Legend of “Super Bass,” for the uninitiated, goes a little something like this: Nicki Minaj releases the disappointing Pink Friday in late 2010 and buries the bubbly “boom ba doom boom” track as an iTunes Extra. A few months later, Taylor Swift goes on an L.A. radio station and raps a verse. A few months after that, someone on Nicki’s team wises up to the crossover potential, convinces her to release “Super Bass” as a single, and sets her up on a friend date with Taylor Swift. Soon small British children are on Ellen performing the song in tutus, and Nicki is up for Best New Artist at the Grammys.
The point here is that Minaj stumbled into that massive “Super Bass” success — she either didn’t realize she had a hit on her hands, or she didn’t want to build a mainstream pop career. This second alternative doesn’t hold much water when you consider the Barbie persona, the Madonna alliance, and the Gaga wigs. Clearly, Nicki Minaj wants to be a giant star. But the early releases off her upcoming album suggested that “Super Bass” might not be an isolated incident; instead of leading with the giant chorus, she dropped hookless, vaguely misogynistic, not-that-great tracks like “Stupid Hoe” and “Roman in Moscow.” (Plus that Grammys performance — faux controversy aside, Minaj wasted a major opportunity to debut an actually catchy song.)
In this light, “Starships,” the latest single off Pink Friday: Roman Returns, is actually a little bit promising. It has none of the “Super Bass” magic, and it’s mostly a mess, like what would happen if you put LMFAO, Britney Spears’s “Till the World Ends,” Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night,” and a robot in a blender. But there’s a definable structure and lyrics that will not have to be bleeped from beginning to end on radio. You can totally dance to that part about touching the sky! (She even tells you how: hands up.) Most important, it’s a sign that Nicki has finally realized she needs that radio hit as much as anyone else. “Starships” doesn’t deserve to be that hit! But: Congrats, Team “Super Bass” — if this keeps up, you might just get another jam after all.