Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded
Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded
2008 ended up being a game-changing year for mainstream pop looking back on it. It’s not the style of the music that changed but its image. In June, Katy Perry came out of nowhere with One Of The Boys, whose single “I Kissed A Girl” stormed the charts, blending aggressive sexuality with an innocent naivete. Later that summer, Lady Gaga released The Fame, introducing her brand of over-the-top theatricality, ambitiously weirdo costumes and all. And only a few months later, Beyoncé offered up I Am… Sasha Fierce, adding some faux-conceptual undertones to her music by way of alter-ego, pop music’s go-to “I’m an artist now!” ploy, at least ever since David Bowie did it. The immense success of these records altered the landscape for up-and-coming pop stars, seemingly guaranteeing that if you ever wanted to take over the world, you would need some sort of flashy quirk to stand out from the crowd.
Many were quick to take up the call, with everyone from trashy, hard-drinkin’ Ke$ha and party-rockers LMFAO scoring major hits in the years since, but Nicki Minaj was different. It wasn’t just that she came from the hip-hop side of the pop equation (or the pop side of the hip-hop equation), it was in her provocative raps and hyper-stylized performances. Instead of just floating her eccentricities on her image and music videos, she was more willing than her contemporaries to throw these left turns into her music. It’s something that surfaced occasionally in her guest spots, her mixtapes and Pink Friday, her promising, if uneven, debut. (Ironically, in the midst of all this, Adele dominated the charts without maximalist productions and ambitions, getting by on simplicity and sincerity and leaving everyone else to out-outrageous each other.) So though Gaga may have attempted to make a sweeping statement with Born This Way, if there was anybody that was going to create something truly over-the-top (and make it work), it was Minaj. The fact that her sophomore record, annoyingly titled Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded as if it were a remix album, would explore her gay, male alter-ego, Roman Zolanski, only seemed to confirm that, for better or worse, the album would at least be some kind of spectacle.
The beginning of Roman Reloaded fulfills this promise right away. “Take your medication, Roman/Take a short vacation, Roman/You’ll be okay,” Minaj announces in an exaggerated British accent. This is supposed to be Zolanski’s worried mother trying to convince her son to change his ways. It’s a thread that doesn’t go anywhere, really, because just like most concept albums, all this talk of fictional storylines and imagined characters doesn’t end up amounting to anything: It’s more decoration than foundation. Plus, this is Nicki Minaj we’re talking about, not Pink Floyd. In the end, her M.O. isn’t driving home profound themes and weaving complex plots together. The joy of her music is in hearing her make amusing boasts on “Come On A Cone” or listening to her wave off other MCs on the cool, confident “Beez In The Trap.” And the first half-dozen songs or so maintain a pretty high level of quality, her wordplay entertaining, the production dense and memorable.
But then something odd happens. Somewhere around “Champion,” Roman Reloaded abruptly shifts from the delirious hip-hop of the first handful of tracks to a fairly generic (and overlong) pop album, full of predictable electronica moves and pitch-shifted vocals. There’s nothing obviously derivative of specific artists but, rather, echoes of nearly every dance-pop artist of the last half-decade. And it’s in this musical anonymity that the record falls on its face. True, this is anonymity with shining moments—”Starships,” in particular, is bound to get people on the dance floor—but there’s hardly enough of them to regain momentum as the album stumbles towards its conclusion, the polarizing “Stupid Hoe.” Yet like it or not, the deranged, stuttering “Hoe” has more boldness in its three minutes than much of what preceded it. Yet by then, it’s too little, too late. Minaj’s personality is integral to her success, and in trying to incorporate so many different voices throughout Roman Reloaded, she ends up losing her own. And in Nicki’s world, that is the biggest sin of all.