I’ll admit, I had mixed feelings prior to Nicki Minaj’s Australian concert debut last night, mainly due to the musical identity crisis the rapper-turned-pop star has suffered lately — if ‘suffered’ can be the right word for an artist whose current triple-platinum single is sitting pretty in the ARIA top five, three months after release.
Which Nicki would we get? The heavy hitter of old or the bubblegum pop star of her new album?
Before finding out, we enjoyed a tight opening set from homegrown dance/R&B star Timomatic, whose between-song audience shout-outs (“Who here listens to the RADIO?”) rivalled Celine Dion’s famous “This next song is for all the parents and all the children of the world” in terms of box-ticking and base-covering.
Finishing with an energetic rendition of his single Set It Off, the stage was set for Nicki, giving this writer just a few minutes to take in the young crowd — multitudes of duckfacing Snooki-lookalikes (Snookilikes?), all clad in wet-look leggings that may have started life as tracksuit pants.
Minaj burst onto the stage amidst deafening screaming with bonkers Pink Friday: Roman’s Revenge opener Roman Holiday, spitting rapid-fire rap verses that almost distracted from the fact she didn’t even attempt to sing the chorus of her own song. Like, at all.
She dispensed with all of her best rap tracks early — Did It On ’Em, I Am Your Leader, Beez In The Trap. With each song, the elephant in the room grew bigger: Nicki’s sold herself as a rapper/singer, but didn’t even attempt to sing the hooks of any of her songs.
After the frenetic rap-heavy opening half-hour, we got our first breather with the Chris Brown AVO slow jam Right By Your Side. Resplendent in a blonde wig, lime green bodystocking and pink leotard, Minaj resembled the offspring of Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy as she performed one of her finest songs, the triumphant Drake collaboration Moment for Life.
As she left the stage for another extended costume change, we were treated to one of the modern rap concert’s more annoying tropes: the DJ/hype man filling in time. In this case it was a female DJ at the side of the stage, quickly dispensing with many of Nicki’s best songs — Muny, Va Va Voom, Wave Ya Hand — in between brainless shout-outs like “All my ladies here to party! All my dudes making money!” Luckily Nicki returned to the stage before she gave a “Holla for traditional gender roles!”
Minaj launched straight into the undeniably effective Starships. Let’s be honest here, while it may have signposted her inexorable slide into mediocrity, the song itself is great. It gets in and it GETS THE JOB DONE.
Following it with soundalike album tracks Pound the Alarm and Whip It was less wise, particularly as these vocal-focused tracks meant Minaj spent much of her stage time with the microphone nowhere near her face. Indeed, given her choice of outfit (pink ballerina tutu), it gave the concert the disconcerting air of a Sophia Grace Nicki Minaj tribute show.
Between slowing it down with two of her best ballads, Fire Burns and Save Me, and finishing on a high with the one-two sucker punch of Turn Me On and Super Bass, Nicki tried to get all 8 Mile on us. She plucked three excitable teen girls on stage for a rap battle, each charged with delivering her hyper guest rap from Trey Songz 2010 single Bottoms Up. Trouble is, none of them knew it, offering little more than “Bottoms up … um … yeah …” when offered the mike.
Leave it to the enthusiastic, camp young boy in the front row who delivered Nicki’s verse with ease and earned himself $500 American dollars for his efforts. Until someone assumedly rolled him in the car park after the show, that is.