This bouncy Dance-Pop track is the lead single from New York rapper Nicki Minaj's second studio album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. Originally "Va Va Voom" was earmarked to be the first full release. However, the MC's label changed their minds at the last minute and decided to go with this instead. The song was released on February 14, 2012 after premiering on Ryan Seacrest's radio show.
The song was produced by Moroccan/Swedish producer RedOne, who is best known for being Lady Gaga's collaborator on many of her singles. It is one of four tracks that RedOne helmed for the Queens MC. Regarding this cut, Minaj explained to Seacrest that RedOne sent her a beat, which she was so taken with that she went to the studio and improvised the first verse, "mumbling and just saying the first thing that came into my head, and we recorded it, because I just felt like, let's go to the beach... let's go get away. It was just so good. It feels good!"
Minaj quotes from the English nursery rhyme "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," which was originally an early 19th century poem by Jane Taylor. It was originally published in the 1806 collection Rhymes for the Nursery under the title "The Star" and contains five stanzas. The children's song is sung to the tune of the 1761 French folk song "Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman," which was later arranged by Mozart for a piano composition consisting of twelve variations on the tune.
Minaj is not the first modern performer to borrow from the nursery rhyme. Staten Island doo-wop group The Elegants released a single adapted from it called "Little Star", which made #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1958. Several decades later Scottish rock band Glasvegas recorded a track for their debut album, "S.A.D. Light," which includes the lyrics "Twinkle Little Star/How I wonder what you are." Finally Nashville songwriter Skip Ewing's tune "Someone Else's Star" subtly borrows from the melody of the children's song.
Minaj named both her first two albums after her favorite color. She told UK newspaper The Sun her love affair with pink goes back to her childhood daydreams. "I didn't have my own room, I shared with my brother," she explained, "so I would have this daydream and imagine that one day I could have my own room and it would all be pink - like Cinderella's. So I guess pink takes me back to that time and it just feels euphoric when I wear it. I love it."
The song's music video was filmed in Oahu, Hawaii March 13 - March 15, 2012 and directed by Anthony Mandler, who is best known for his work with Rihanna. We see a neon green-haired Minaj appear out of the sea from a laser beamed down by a UFO before several topless tribal dancers carry her across the island on a platform to a beach party. The scene where Minaj is perched on the edge of a volcano was the most difficult part of the shoot. "That mountain top was freezing," she tweeted. "The wind was blowing so hard (pauz) my ears hurt @ the end."
The song's 21 consecutive weeks in the top 10 of the Hot 100, since its debut at #9 broke the record for most uninterrupted frames in the top 10 for a song that bowed in the region. The Black Eyed Peas originally set the bar with "I Gotta Feeling," which spent its first 20 weeks in the Top 10, including 14 at #1.
The lyric "starships are meant to fly," is a line about reaching one's full potential in life. Minaj explained to The Guardian: "That's what I feel. Just go for it! Stop limiting yourself! And that's a great feeling. It's a great feeling to not box yourself into anyone's limitations or ideas or judgments. That's what it means to me."
Nicki Minaj, producer RedOne and songwriters Carl Falk, Wayne Hector, and Rami Yacoub were all sued by the Chicago artist Clive Tanaka, who claimed that they stole his song "Neu Chicago" to create "Starships."
Tanaka contended in his lawsuit that his Dance track, which appeared on his 2010 album, Jet Set Siempre 1, had received thousands of online streams and substantial airplay in the US by the time Minaj's song was conceived. The Chicago artist added that "Neu Chicago" was used in several television campaigns in Sweden, the native country of some of Minaj's songwriters and producers.