Entertainment » Music

With A New Look, Nicki Minaj Evolves

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Sunday Jun 1, 2014

There was a time when Nicki Minaj rivaled Lady Gaga when it came to makeup, hair and costume. But since the rapper became a judge on season 12 of "American Idol" in 2013, and infamously went head-to-head with Mariah Carey, Nicki, 31, has dialed back the pink wigs, Lisa Frank outfits and even curbed her cartoonish behavior.

Nicki's "makeunder" became blatantly apparent with the one-two-punch release of "The Other Woman," where she had a small part as Cameron Diaz's down-to-earth secretary, and her appearance on the 2014 Billboard Awards. The music award show aired just a little over three weeks after Nicki made her acting debut in the rom-com, which saw the hip-hop star donning simple chicly styled hair and outfits that may be a bit too risqué for corporate New York, but are certainly some of her most conservative looks to date.

When Nicki turned heads at the Billboard Awards earlier this month, it marked a new beginning. Gone were the bright neon dresses, even brighter makeup and whacky accessories and in their places was a refreshingly sexy Alexander McQueen black dress, minimal makeup and her natural locks. And it was at the Billboard Awards where Nicki announced her new single, the lead off her highly anticipated third album "The Pink Print."

The track, "Pills N Potions" perfectly soundtracks her new streamlined and sophisticated look -- even single's artwork shows she's ready to switch things up to a mainstream style.

Over the last few months, Nicki released a steady stream of one-off singles that sounded like they would be at home on her early day mixtapes, like the track "Lookin Ass," which may also appear on "The Pink Print." Though it's a hard hip-hop song, the music video is another example of her transformation: the black-and-white clip features Nicki spitting hot fire with a vibrant makeup-free face and natural hair, which she twirls and caresses throughout the three-minute song.

But "Pills N Potions" is a large leap musically when compared to "Lookin Ass" and her other recent tracks, like "Yasss Bish" and her verse on Young Thug's "Danny Glover." Still, it's a pop song unlike her mega jams "Super Bass," "Starships" or "Pound the Alarm."

There are no gimmicks here and her alter egos, like her gay lunatic "twin brother" Roman Zolanski, are no where to be found; it's just Nicki. The song opens up with a light drumbeat and a piano riff with Nicki sounding as soft as ever, recalling one of her first big singles, "Moment 4 Life," featuring Drake. But listening to those songs back-to-back shows striking differences: "Moment 4 Life" details living in the now, and enjoying the present but is full of dark synths and trap beats over a creepy music box tune. "Pills N Potions," on the other hand, never gets aggressive: "Pills 'n potions / We're overdosing / Can't stand it but I still love you," Nicki coos.

The infectious hook finds Nicki chanting, "I still love" over and over until she erupts into a sensitive rap. Nicki is being her most mature self, rising above her haters and proudly announcing she loves them. "They could never make me hate you / Even though what you was doin' wasn't tasteful / Even though you out here looking so ungrateful / I'mma keep it movin' be classy and graceful," she sings.

At its core, "Pills N Potions" is a slow-burning piano ballad, accented by string arrangements that would make Lana Del Rey jealous. Though it's a touching and new side of Nicki, it's not an instant No. 1. It'll take some months before the song gets traction on the radio, if it gets much at all. It debuted at No. 47 on Billboard Hot 100, and No. 5 on Billboard's Hot Rap Songs.

It has all the parts to top the charts, though: the King Midas of pop, Dr. Luke, along with Cirkut, Luke's right-hand-man, produced it and co-wrote it with Nicki and Ester Dean, who has penned tracks for nearly every A-list pop star imaginable. But as fans demand more hip-hop from Nicki "Pills N Potions" may find itself falling behind on the charts -- at least when Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" reigns as the No. 1 song in America.

But just like "Pills N Potions," Nicki is taking the high road. In a recent interview, she had this to say about the success of the song and Iggy:

I think that congratulations is in order. Her single is doing really, really well and I think that's a good thing. One thing I'm not is a hater. If somebody is doing something and they did it well, and their song is charting well, then congratulations. I just want female rappers to understand that I've kicked in a lot of doors for them and I just would appreciate if they would acknowledge that... If somebody has a song that's doing well, then I think that's a great thing. I think that's a great thing for women and we're gonna keep it moving.

Nicki's fresh new look and attitude will most likely appeal to Middle America, as she's become more accessible and approachable to moms who shutdown when they hear the words "female rap star." This will also benefit her on the silver screen, since Nicki has expressed interest in acting again.

"Absolutely, I'm going to do other stuff in acting," she told MTV. "I was super nervous, I'm not usually nervous with my music, so that was the only difference. But other than that it's still about trying to do your best."


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