Monday, May 12, 2014

In Defense Of: "Starships" by Nicki Minaj

This In Defense Of comes from NYC-based writer and radio journalist Matt Collette.

It's the summer of 2012, and Nicki Minaj’s “Starships” is everywhere. So you can imagine my confusion when the DJ at my friends Erin and Evan’s wedding tells me he’s never heard of it.

“Yes, you have,” I fire back, probably a little drunk off the wedding’s open bar. “Everyone has heard this song. It is the song of the summer. Look on your computer. It is probably already there.”

Again, the DJ says he’s never heard of it. So I start singing it to him: “Let’s go to the beach, beach, let’s go get a wave / They say what they’re gonna say / Have a drink, drink, found a Bud Light / Bad bitches like me, it’s hard to come by.” I offer to let him just plug my iPhone into his system or just hold its speaker near the mic. I am not backing down.

(OK, maybe I was more than just a little drunk.)

“Clearly, you know this song,” I tell the DJ, and finally he relents. Yes, he says, he knows the song — everybody alive that summer knew “Starships” — and of course he has the track. But he was expressly forbidden from playing it. Direct orders from the bride herself. She knew I would request this song, and she cut me off at the pass.

Or so she thought. Ten dollars later, “Starships” is playing. Game, set, match.

The bride is not happy about this, something I know even before her particularly cutting death stare cuts across the dance floor. She and her husband lived right around the corner from me that year in Boston, and they probably faced my love of this song more than anyone: at karaoke and jukeboxes and regular boring afternoons, when I’d fire it up on my laptop. But soon enough, even Erin is dancing because 1.) she is the bride and therefore required to be happy on this special day, and 2.) it’s physically impossible to not dance to this song.

Right now, I know what you’re thinking, and I probably agree: “Starships” is quite possibly everything that is wrong with music today. It is vapid and laden with product placement and doesn’t actually mean anything. The music was probably written by that supercomputer from 2001’s Josie and the Pussycats, where an evil Alan Cumming brainwashes the youth of America with subliminal messages embedded in pop songs.

But it’s also everything that a so-terrible-it’s-excellent song aspires to be. It’s only got, like, four lyrics, so you know all the words before the song’s even over. It’s got the kind of beat that anybody in the whole world can dance to, and the song is just so over-the-top ridiculous you don’t even have to feel self-conscious about loving it, because you’ll never reach the level of insanity the song does. And it’s about as catchy as those new strains of antibiotic-resistant VD.

This isn’t a song that the lovely Ms. Minaj worked on for days and weeks and months, the artistic progeny of a tortured musician. It’s not about a failed relationship or love or feelings or backbreaking work that made America great or whatever it is that great songs are supposed to be about. This song was never a labor of love, but rather something engineered to be loved, like the Scarlett Johansson cell phone character from Her. Even though you know it’s wrong, you’re going to love it back.

“Starships” is a song about spending all your money, because today’s payday. It is about drinking cheap beer and tequila by the beach and dancing like an idiot at your best friends’ wedding. It’s about all those dumb things you do on a summer afternoon when you don’t have anything better to do.

It’s about a fucking starship that is, in fact, meant to fly.

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