At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Sunday, August 12
Nicki Minaj is not just one person. The voluptuous, Barbie-inspired rapper has got a multitude of personalities, and she unleashed them all at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Sunday.
Originally born Onika Tanya Maraj in Trinidad and raised in Queens, the 29-year-old superstar has not only risen to become one of the world’s most intriguing pop divas, but has also been called the most important female rapper of her generation.
Minaj grew up in a violent household (her parents fought and her father battled a crack addiction) and hid from the turmoil by burying herself in characters she invented. Her albums Pink Friday (2010) and Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (2012) as well as her electric, pink-spattered live show feature all her childhood fantasy characters. Everything about Minaj is larger than life, including her hips and thighs.
After a short set by opener 2 Chainz, the packed house waited anxiously for its queen. Any time there was the slightest bit of movement near the stage shrill screams erupted from the audience, which reacted like a bunch of overzealous virgins unable to play it cool. They were too excited. Over half the crowd showed its love by dressing exactly like Minaj (complete with Barbie necklaces, pink wigs, and neon tutus). One teenage boy in a homemade Minaj shirt and pink shorts had even stuffed his behind to replicate her infamous ass. True fandom.
Minaj arrived to a blast of sound and lights, the tiny rapper—sporting faux-blond curls— dropping a black cloak to reveal a pink leopard leotard, Daisy Dukes, and a Boy London half-top. The castle-like stage setup featured two staircases and a whole lot of video screens.
One minute Minaj was perched at the top of the stairs, looking like a Sunday morning preacher, the monitors projecting images of stained-glass church windows. The next she was repping the ’hood, bringing it in front of video-generated brick walls emblazoned with pop-art graffiti.
Minaj bounced around the stage, smiling, coiling her body, and hollering into her pink-crystal-encrusted microphone. She blasted through hits like “Beez in the Trap”, “Did It On ‘Em”, and “Right By My Side” with precision, completely on her game.
Accompanied by a modest six dancers (all dressed in theatrical street-style costumes to match the stage set and her look), Minaj moved effortlessly amongst them. Her voice was strong, energetic, and passionate on candy-sweet club favourites like “Pound the Alarm” and “Starships”. Just like her beloved Barbie, Minaj too had a permanent smile on her face.
The best part of the glitter-dusted performance came near the end (after the fourth costume change), when Minaj put on a black dress and wig and went back to her beginnings, before she was a pop star. She rapped a medley of tracks from her early Young Money mix tapes, blasted through verses at lightning speed, throwing her hips and bending at them like a doll. There is a reason Minaj isn’t still working at that Red Lobster in Queens and pissing off her employers. She’s incredibly talented and the woman has drive.
The rapper then pulled audience members up on-stage and took photos with them, telling them she loved and appreciated them like a gracious superstar should. Then, acknowledging her impressionable demographic, she poured her heart about the importance of education, perseverance, and choosing careers over men. “Because ladies, once you earn it it’s yours to keep.” Minaj announced before her mega-hit “Super Bass”. It was an obvious closer. As she walked off-stage, she turned around, saluted the audience and launched a loud kiss into the microphone. It was a perfect, doll-like exit.