To call Nicki Minaj's performance at Sunday night's Grammy Awards controversial would be an understatement. The singer-rapper staged her song "Roman Holiday" as a strange religious-themed spectacle complete with a mock confession, an exorcism, stained glass windows, and dancing bishops — culminating in a divine levitation scene. The Catholic League reflexively blasted both the singer and Grammy producers Tuesday, while wincing critics have dismissed the performance as a "low-budget spin-off of The Exorcist." Now, Minaj is following up the stunt by dropping an easier-to-swallow new single called "Starships." (Listen to it below.) Critics are praising the release and its timing, saying that the "infectious" track is good enough to make everyone forget about Minaj's "Grammy debacle." Is it?
You bet: "Oh Nicki, all is forgiven," says Melinda Newman at HitFix. Quite frankly, after witnessing your Grammys misadventure, "we had to scrub our eyeballs." But "Starships" is the "perfect anecdote: A club-ready smash that is also destined for the top of the pop charts." Like Minaj's super-hit "Super Bass," this earworm of a track mixes her bombastic rapping style with catchy sung hooks. It has all the ingredients of a modern radio hit: "It's as if LMFAO, Taio Cruz, and Minaj had a baby and this is what popped out."
"Listen: Nicki Minaj's 'Starships' is headed straight into the stratosphere"
"Starships" isn't perfect, but it's on the right track: That trainwreck Grammy performance was "a wasted opportunity," says Amanda Dobbins at New York. Why would someone who clearly wants to be a crossover pop megastar use her Grammy platform to debut a "hookless, vaguely misogynistic, not-that-great track" like "Roman Holiday"? Arriving just in time, "Starships" will likely be the radio hit Minaj needs — catchy and danceable and sufficiently PC to appeal to young fans who loved "Super Bass," if too scatter-shot and a bit of a mess.
"Nicki Minaj is at least trying to solve her hit problem"
This isn't the route she should be taking: Minaj's "current musical approach is vexing," says Kyle Anderson at Entertainment Weekly. Judging by her Lady Gaga-esque Grammy performance and this newly released Lady Gaga-esque dance track, she's trying to become a mainstream pop artist. But that's not her strength. Minaj is "ridiculously talented" when it comes to rapping, so why is she squandering that skill? Rather than "pander to an audience with super-glossy pop production," she should be owning her niche as the sole popular female rapper in the game. "That's who she is."
"Nicki Minaj releases new song 'Starships': Hear it here"