Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Nicki Minaj – Pills N Potions

Coming in with the exact amount of controversy you expected…

Patrick St. Michel: Nicki Minaj has established she’s capable of variety, and also capable of doing a lot of things very well. She routinely steals the spotlight from other rappers on their songs, and she’s a great pop star (hi, I think “Starships” is great, thanks for listening). “Pills N Potions” shows she can deliver a perfectly fine heartbreak anthem — and hey, those rap bits are good, the best parts of the song. But Minaj can’t make this more than a slow-lane, lighters-in-the-air ballad, despite doing better than most could have.

Alfred Soto: Self-help ‘n’ singing.

Andy Hutchins: This is the mature, honest, conflicted countermove to the swoon of “Super Bass” that Nicki was probably destined to make someday, and it’s a song that only she could make. Only a few artists would command an Ester Dean co-write this good and a Dr. Luke/Cirkut production that is at turns regal (those drums!) and wistful (that tambourine, and the synth in the hook) without ever stealing the show from her or flattening her, as David Guetta once did — and none of the other candidates are rappers. Only Nicki and Drake, among rappers, could inflect this hook perfectly, calibrating a balance between proud and plaintive; it’s easy to forget Nicki can sing, if all you want her to do is rap, but she’s always been able to. And of those two, only Nicki, not her more self-consumed little brother, could be generous enough to devote her first single to mixed feelings about a former friend/lover/something. While I’m generally cynical about the modern revival of the old-as-popular-music-itself trend of trolling listeners with personal songs that invite speculation about the unnamed figures, especially as Mssrs. Swift and Graham play the game more expertly than ever, Nicki’s never been particularly public with her relationship(s). Safaree showing up in “Super Bass” was an Easter egg, not the point of the video. And Nicki’s broken so far out of the mold of the young man’s game that is most rap that she can make a song like this, and songs like the brilliant, poppy second half of Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, without much more than nominal pushback than the concern trolling from the Peter Rosenbergs of the world. Nicki is grown (she’s 31 and has been rapping professionally for 10 years now), and Nicki is invulnerable enough to be vulnerable, and Nicki is rapping about as well as one can rap for this kind of track on this track (“Benzy”/”envy”/”frenzy” is superb low-key internal rhyme; “But I: Still don’t wish death on ’em, I just reflect on ’em” is a great line). She contains multitudes; we are lucky to live in her time and ought to appreciate all of them.

Mallory O’Donnell: Not only is Nicki Minaj more talented, successful and hotter than you but ALSO SHE IS MORE FORGIVING.

Thomas Inskeep: Nicki Minaj: great on hip-hop songs, awful on pop songs — especially her own. After the adrenaline rush of “Lookin’ Ass Nigga,” I was dearly hoping for a hard hip-hop record from Minaj, but she’s clearly decided the money is more important than her art.

Katherine St Asaph: Peter Rosenberg is full of shit. The bros who think Nicki Minaj is a metonym for bad music taste — the kind of guys who comment on Clockwork Orange videos suggesting the Nazi footage be replaced with “Stupid Hoe” — are full of more shit, and as much as they insinuate their problem is with rap, their problem is actually with pop. (Specifically, with “downmarket” pop, which prompts an entire digression on race and class and cred and neon hair, the tl;dr of which is screw the Taste Olympics.) But “Starships” still sucks. It would be such a triumph if only it didn’t suck. I don’t know when or why critics decided it didn’t suck, or made it so damn symbolic. It’s not the music — if it were, people would have canonized even one other RedOne production from 2012 onward, and Ester Dean would be a star. It’s not Nicki’s indelible presence, because indelible presences on RedOne tracks often come off like ink bleed on a photocopy. “Starships” began as, and was written to aspire to, a Mohombi track; Nicki’s added value was bringing the guest rap in-house. Is it literally just that Nicki has made a pop song, whichever ol’ pop song, and that people who don’t like pop don’t like it? Rap bros don’t even care; it’s imagining points onto a scoreboard the other side is pissing on. “Pills N Potions” sucks less than “Starships,” but it sucks more drowsily, which is exactly what you’d expect from Dr. Luke and Cirkut giving Nicki a lighters ballad. I didn’t like this either when it was called “Adore You” or “Battle Cry,” or for that matter “Marilyn Monroe” or “Fly.” In theory I don’t begrudge people their pop crossovers, not in this music economy. I want Nicki Minaj to be a star, and have since her still-astonishing “Roman Holiday” at the Grammys — which would have been iconic if Nicki got iconic songs. Instead, she got Sia with drug metaphors, and got predictable.

Crystal Leww: One of the most substantial complaints (i.e. not nonsensical yelling about what constitutes **real hip-hop**) about pop Nicki Minaj is that she always sounds like everyone but herself. “Whip It” was Britney circa-2012, “Beautiful Sinner” was Rihanna, and “Young Forever” was Ke$ha in “The Harold Song,” which is Ke$ha doing Taylor Swift. “Pills N Potions” is, oddly enough, Minaj doing Lykke Li — not exactly a pop star, but definitely someone who makes music who can be classified as pop. That’s perfect, completely poetic for Minaj, who has spent her entire career straddling the line between multiple genres (“mixtape Minaj” doesn’t exist; Beam Me Up Scotty had the wonderfully taut “Handstand” among other pop tracks) because hey, Nicki Minaj contains multitudes. “Pills N Potions” has its problems: the song lacks a focused subject matter, the raps are a bit generic, and the Ester Dean assist is just slightly tonally out of place. And yet, for how close this is to being a really bad song, it’s got just enough superstar power to make it work. In particular is that bridge, quietly nostalgic for the person who makes her high from a tangential contact with their memory and desperately hopeful for a future. There’s a hole in the Billboard charts this summer where a late night, cruising down the highway tune should go, and “Pills N Potions” is ready to step in.

Will Adams: Because “Your Love” and “Right Thru Me” were the one-two punch of singles that launched Nicki into the stratosphere, right? Oh wait, they weren’t, they sucked, and so does “Pills N Potions.” The production is drab, and Nicki’s weak singing voice is left alone in front of it. She’s unconcerned with placating the legions of fans who wish she’d either be a rapper or be a pop star, but when the results are this mediocre, I can’t get behind it. But hey, at least I can pretend she’s singing “PASTA LOVE PASTA LOVE PASTA LOVE.”

Brad Shoup: It’s an IMAX flip on “T.R.O.Y.”, and if CL had iterated “I still love” to infinity, the executor of my will would be finishing this blurb. The verses are standard SMDH fare, but that hook heals all diseases of the soul. I’m guessing that’s on Ester Dean; Luke and Cirkut are uncharacteristically bashful, afraid to step on Sufjan Stevens’s turf. But I could never overdose on that blurred horn; there was no need to save it for the end.

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: The tinny, unearned (but otherwise striking) regal horns at the end are really the only thing “Pills” has going for it. How could Nicki be so boring?

Edward Okulicz: A couple of years ago, we all hoped that Nicki’s parade of great guest verses would set her up for a huge solo career. Now I just hope boring surefire hits like these keep her in demand for guest spots.

Anthony Easton: She can sing, and that little catch is a delightful touch of negating artifice, as interesting as the brass coda near the end. It’s too bad the lyrics are a jumble of pity, cliche, and talking for the sake of talking. An extra point for the percussion.

Madeleine Lee: If someone tells you they like this song because “it’s actually good,” don’t trust them. If someone tells you they like this song because it’s perfect, because it makes them feel like falling or floating or running or taking a deep breath, ask them on a date to the park to watch the clouds, or to meet you at a party at night on the balcony outside where it’s quiet. If someone tells you they don’t like this song, smile at them, turn the volume up, and let them get lost.

Megan Harrington: When I hear Nicki sing “pills n potions/ we’re overdosin'” in the saddest, tiniest voice it feels like putting a cigarette out in a fresh, open wound. I’m empathizing with her cosmic pain, of course, but there’s a secret, thrilling, roller coaster high that’s released when you go so low. That high is the song’s strong sense of finality; sometimes closure is as simple as accepting that you still love that person. Nicki uses the metaphor of failed romance to hold a mirror to all the superficial music industry machinations, but instead of elevating or condemning either experience, the takeaway is that Nicki truly is above the fray. “Looking” represented one way to do battle, “Pills N Potions” another — what’s most exciting is that Nicki never stops moving.

Rebecca A. Gowns: This is not a “return to form” — it’s not a “return” to anything. Nicki Minaj has consistently been turning out songs in different flavors for years. She likes to rap, but she also likes to sing, dance, pose, tell jokes, and act. She’s a jack of all trades! When it comes to her acting — well, sure, she’s in movies now, which is something she’s wanted to do since she was very young. She is also nearly always acting, always playing with which Nicki persona she wants to pull out of the doll chest next. They’re all ready at a moment’s notice. I like this one: sensitive and open, but also righteous and strong. It’s the same one at play in “Your Love,” “Fly,” “Fire Burns,” and “Still I Rise.” This persona reminds me of Sanford Meisner’s acting technique: “living truthfully in imaginary circumstances.” She may be “on” all the time, but it’s never fakery! She’ll always be who she is, delivering her stories (or, story at all) with conviction. As for the song itself, if it has to be compared to any previous Nicki “moment,” “Fly” works the best as a reference point — hurt, but triumphant. Can be played lying facedown in bed, or blasting out of speakers on the way to the beach, with the sea breeze kissing your face.

Reader average: [5.62] (8 votes)

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9 Responses to “Nicki Minaj – Pills N Potions”

  1. Somewhere, Dave smiles.


  2. Maddie’s blurb made me feel feelings.

  3. Cut from my blurb: An undeveloped observation about hearing this for the first time on the radio, something that hasn’t happened since “Born This Way.” Point of it was that this, like that track, is a planned swerve, but that this, unlike that track, is also good beyond a first listen.

  4. Wow, #1 controversy pick of the year so far. And higher than anything from last year.

  5. the fact that a lot of guys don’t care about Nicki’s music = “bros” not liking it is pretty reductive. She has a certain target audience, that’s fine. Personally there is a point where certain music gets too “girly” for me, and I’m sure the reverse is true with certain rap/other genres.

    Both her rap & pop moves have always sucked though real talk

  6. also I don’t think “real hip hop” parameters are completely useless if applied correctly. There is a certain artificial, explicitly Top 40 sound — whether we’re talking Pitbull/Flo Rida or current-era Eminem/Macklemore — that are removed from the core of the genre in a negative way, I think.


  8. “Goddamn Goddamn” *Shy Glizzy Voice* at Katherine’s blurb

  9. many varieties of bros in the broverse