Staying up on today’s pop music requires us to care about too many tempests in too many teapots. Any superstar worth her weight in Twitter followers has an assortment of dramas brewing at any given moment, and this year, Nicki Minaj’s oolong boiled hotter than most.
An incomprehensive recap: In August, she was scolded for showing too much booty in her yuk-yuk video for “Anaconda.” In November, the Anti-Defamation League criticized her use of Nazi imagery in the not-so-yuk-yuk lyric video for “Only.” Along the way, there were whispery keystrokes about an alleged split between the rapper and her secret 10-year-husband. And there were some new songs on the radio, too.
If you’re a fan, these little sagas can be bent into a heroic narrative arc. If you’re a skeptic, they’re pseudo-controversies posing as hype. And if you’re somewhere in between, they slowly accumulate into a weird tumor of anticipation, a hurdle that Minaj’s music must eventually clear.
Which means that her third album, “The Pinkprint,” arrives with an unfair amount of work to do — and that’s too bad, because the woman sounds exhausted. She’s a pop star capable of wielding her charisma like a Taser, but here, she’s muddling through a pile of messy feelings, suddenly unaware of her own strengths.
“I still love,” Minaj sings repeatedly on the power ballad “Pills N Potions,” as if trying to talk her heart back into functioning properly. Or perhaps she’s just trying to talk the song up the charts. The refrain is mawkish and the rapping that surrounds it is worse — enough to rekindle the debate over whether Minaj should be channeling her life force to nasty rhymes or sweetly sung pop hooks.
The suggestion that she must choose, a notion perpetuated by her beef with New York radio host Peter Rosenberg two summers ago, has always seemed ridiculous. Today, pop’s boundaries are more fluid than ever, and Minaj is entitled to represent the complexity of her creativity however she sees fit.