The L.A. Times has a review of Nicki Minaj’s L.A. show that criticizes the singer for having too many personas, which I think misses the point. What Nicki Minaj is is too many personas. Nicki Minaj is a bunch of unrealized, scattershot ideas. Nicki Minaj is a schizophrenic 12-year-old with tourettes who’s drank three mochas and has been handed a mic. Because of this—this barrage of short, quick information blasts one experiences while listening to the 29-year-old’s music—Nicki Minaj mirrors the 21st century and its nonstop information overload. It’s a genius, prescient presentation, that happens to fill the important role in teenage pop music of driving older people crazy.
Nicki Minaj is also Katy Perry for the fuckups, evinced by the crowd at the Paramount Theater in Oakland on Thursday night for Minaj’s first-ever headlining tour. In every direction: neon wigs, tight dresses, high heels, high hems, low necklines, lace tutus and gratuitous cleavage, but, like, with intentionally messed-up makeup, or ripped fishnets, or tattoo sleeves. One could easily people-watch in the lobby and feel like the $100 tickets were already money well spent.
2 Chainz, the opener, didn’t show up, and no announcement was made as to why, but checking his Twitter seems to show that he blew off Oakland to stay in L.A. and watch the Lakers game:
Suck it, 2 Chainz.
Minaj hit the stage with a barrage of hits, one after the other. “Roman’s Revenge,” “Did It On ‘Em,” “I Am Your Leader,” “Beez in the Trap,” “Stupid Hoe”: If you know Nicki Minaj, you know this is a strong opening. (If you don’t know Nicki Minaj, you probably at least know “Stupid Hoe” for the dumb meme which compares its lyrics to those of “Stairway to Heaven,” as if to say “pop lyrics suck these days,” as if the lyrics to “Stairway to Heaven” don’t suck, and as if songs like “Da Doo Run Run” and “Be Bop-a-Lula” and “Surfin’ Bird,” which, like “Stupid Hoe,” rely on simple, repetitive phrases, never existed, sheesh.) After “Moment for Life,” Minaj took one of several costume-change breaks while the DJ played some YMCMB filler, which wasn’t nearly as annoying as it sounds because at least it gave everyone a chance to update their Instagram and anyway, winded brains needed to catch a mental breath.
The Paramount Theater is among the smaller venues Minaj is playing on this current tour, and as such, provided the fun spectacle of her set—steam guns, backup dancers, confetti, stairs and multiple LED screens—crammed into the stage. But similarly crammed in were the songs. “Sound the Alarm,” “Save Me,” “Itty Bitty Piggy,” “Come On a Cone” and many, many more were all separated into themed mini-sets, and all flew right by in a blur of abstract insanity. In Minaj’s “very special portion of the show,” she sang “Fire Burns” and “Save Me,” taking her best Gloria Swanson bow at the end. During her mixtape set, she took note of those rapping along and said “These songs are so old I don’t even remember ’em—how do you remember ’em?”
But it was at the finale, while running through a series of her best-known guest verses, that Nicki Minaj’s best came through. Not in an artistic sense (though “My Chick Bad” and “Bottoms Up” are both legendary), but in the sort of accessibility that makes Nicki Minaj special. One by one, she pointed to fans she’d taken note of throughout the night and brought them on stage, hugging and talking to all twelve of them. And then she did something quintessentially her. She launched into “Bedrock,” and handed the mic to a guy from the Fillmore in a red sleeveless shirt and white shorts. She let him perform her entire verse, and the crowd went nuts.
Last song: “Super Bass.” No encore, but nobody left unsatisfied, for real.
Some Nicki knowledge from the night:
“I been all around the motherfuckin’ world—ain’t nobody fuckin’ with the Bay! Tyga told us last night, when you get to the Bay, you gonna see a different kind of energy!”
“Being a loser is not cool. Giving your goodies to every Tom, Dick & Harry is not cool. Being intelligent and ambitious is where it’s at. Men are attracted to ambitious women. Ain’t I right, guys?”
“Not that I condone violence you guys, but sometimes I just feel like killin’ someone. A man. A man who broke my heart.”
“I love you. I wish I could hug you and kiss you and hump you, I love you so much.”