Plenty at Nicki Minaj's show last night proved to be distractions -- lackluster choreography, tacky costumes that looked straight out of Target and no thematic cohesion. But it was more than that; she's clearly not ready to headline her own show.
Last year, Minaj opened for two touring acts that speak to her increasingly divergent audiences, her Young Money label boss Lil Wayne and former pop queen Britney Spears. Wearing a neon catsuit and her signature two-tone beehive at Lil Wayne's concert, she was cheeky and irresistible. Giving audience members lapdances or spinning around stage like Cinderella on steroids, she was the supporting actress but ended up stealing the show. We were excited to see what she would do with top billing.
Her show was divided into different parts, each dedicated to a different personalities she has cultivated -- like Harajuku Barbie, Roman Zolanski, and Mixtape Nicki.
Her first section was the strongest portion of the show. Roaring through the driving delirium of "Roman's Revenge" and "Did It On'Em's" woozy braggadocio, she was wearing a hot pink leopard-print full body leotard under cut-off jean shorts and a ripped t-shirt. Bouncing like a sorority girl during "Dance (A$$)," she seemed confident and in fighting form.
But then things took a turn for the worse. She re-emerged after a costume change so nominal (a white dress layered over the same bodysuit) we were actually deflated. (Her costumes as a supporting act were far more interesting.) Even weirder was her go-to expression of the night, a wide-eyed look of "astonishment" better suited to naïve Disney princesses who feel lucky to be invited to the ball -- not a bold, self-assured woman who crashed hip hop's boys' club and then moved on this year to dominate as a pop princess as well.
The audience was full of many daddies and their daughters, some who looked as young as 5 or 6 years old. Which is probably why several times last night, Minaj noticeably skipped the curse words in her songs.
On her most recent album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, Minaj dedicated half the songs to pop and half to rap. While her profile, and pockets, have greatly benefited from easing into pop music, there's been much grousing from many in hip hop who wanted her to continue on as the growling emcee who showed up Kanye West and Jay-Z on "Monster." Though the last bit of her show was branded "Mixtape Nicki," she only did a short medley of those early cuts, quickly jumping back into radio-friendly hits like "Bedrock" and "Super Bass."
Maybe straddling that divide is why her show was so scattered. There was no storyline nor any sort of real organization other than the "personalities," none of which were very striking, and her minimal costume changes didn't help the delineation problem.
The t-shirt she wore at the beginning of the night simply read, "Boy." When she came out in the gauzy white dress, we wondered if she was winking at Madonna's infamous "Boy Toy" belt and "Like a Virgin" wedding dress. But she doesn't want to invite those comparisons just yet.
Personal bias: I much prefer Nicki the badass rapper. But I understand why she's branched into pop, even if it feels a little like a cop-out.
The crowd: All ages, and more visually entertaining than any costume onstage. Clown wigs, sequins and tutus and catsuits and every shade of pink imaginable.
Set list below
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