Review: Nicki Minaj's many faces are a distraction at Nokia concert
A host of costume changes, alter egos and music created an oddly disjointed set in the performer's first headlining tour.
By the final act of Nicki Minaj's set at the Nokia Theatre on Wednesday night, she'd rolled out nearly all her alter egos.
"You've seen Harajuku Barbie, Pop Nicki … did you see Mixtape Nicki come out yet?" asked the 29-year-old rapper from New York City, twirling a finger through her black and pink wig (her third of the evening).
It was one of many moments during the performer's 80-minute set in which her need to please both her teenage pop audience and her early, loyal rap fans resulted in a frustratingly disjointed set.
The tour — her first headlining trek — is in support of her sophomore disc, the spring release "Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded." The album has proven a bone of contention among critics and rap purists, many of whom feel the platinum-selling "femcee" has turned her back on hip-hop.
The Trinidadian American rapper started in Queens as an edgy, underground act; her bawdy, razor-sharp raps easily eclipsed those of her male peers and collaborators.
By last year she dominated the charts with a slew of ubiquitous smashes: the Drake-assisted "Moment 4 Life," "Super Bass" and two David Guetta collaborations, "Turn Me On" and "Where Them Girls At?" The rapid-fire delivery and snappy choruses of the first two showed her ability to appeal to the streets and pop radio, while "Turn Me On" felt like a fun, and temporary, attempt at conjuring up pop tartness.
But a couple of months ago she pulled out of the mega-hip-hop festival Hot 97's Summer Jam hours before her set time after a DJ for the station dismissed her new single, "Starships," as something only "chicks" would want to sing along to.
And earlier in the year she was also criticized for trying too hard to be controversial à la Lady Gaga with a provocative "Exorcist"-themed Grammy performance (Minaj was up for new artist). It raised hackles among Catholics and conservative Christians.
During her performance Wednesday it became painfully obvious that Minaj is a long way from making all the controversy and alter egos work in her favor — or her fans'.
When her grade-school and tween fans were jumping on their seats and shouting every word of bubbly tunes such as "Pound the Alarm," "Automatic" and "Whip It,"— songs with generic lyrics dedicated to 128-beat-per-minute rhythms — her hardcore rap fans took bathroom breaks or texted friends. When she busted out her early mixtape material, brazen underground freestyles such as "Itty Bitty Piggy" and "Wanna Minaj?," younger fans knew only the hookiest, most popular guest verses she lent to hits from Ludacris and Trey Songz.
Her fans, known as Barbz (Ken Barbz for the fellas), of all ages screamed for every costume and competed for her attention.
Minaj and label mate Tyga, one of three surprise guests, pulled a diminutive fan onstage for the anthem "BedRock." The 8-year-old, wearing a Young Money Cash Money hat and T-shirt (the label Minaj's boss and mentor Lil Wayne signed her to) knew every word of the song and Minaj had to cover his mouth before he uttered one of the track's profane lyrics.
The show was at its best when Minaj's venomous and unapologetic braggadocio filled the theater. During "Roman's Revenge," "Did It On Em," "I Am Your Leader" and the bouncy anthem "Beez in the Trap," her collaboration with show opener 2 Chainz, proved that when focused she can move old and new fans alike.
For all of Minaj's ambitions as an artist — and her massive triumphs these past few years — the show was proof she's not quite ready to be a headlining act. But somewhere beneath all the costume changes, alter egos and genre-hopping is a creative force just waiting to be unified.
if Anyone believes i need rehab thats their own stupidity lol I'm 19 with 5 number one albums, 19 and I've seen the whole world. 19 and I've accomplished more than I could've ever dreamed of, i'm 19 and it must be scary to some people to think that this is just the beginning. I know my talent level and i know i got my head on straight.
She really needs to decide what she's doing. Rap or pop. She's clearly going to lose her rap fanbase if she doesn't move back to that direction, and she'll lose the tweens + their parents $$$$$$$$ if she drops the pop half.