Report: Nicki Minaj, Melbourne 2012

Report: Nicki Minaj, Melbourne 2012

Nicki Minaj
Rod Laver, Melbourne
Wednesday 5th December 2012 

“Nicki Minaj”, I ponder out loud to friends in the lead up to tonight’s show. “Know much about her?” Come the replies:

“She’s sort of a cartoon gangster.”

“I think she’s fighting with Mariah Carey!”

“She must be a great business person. So many genres equals a bigger audience…”

Come show time, I look around the not-quite-full Rod Laver Arena and guess that half the crowd is made up of minors and their guardians. I wonder: do great business people mind who their business comes from?

Ruby Rose, who's holding down the support slot in DJ mode on this tour, is unsuccessfully trying for anonymity in the sparse General Admission crowd. She tells me her concerns about adult content in her support DJ set were quelled by Minaj thrusting on stage while delivering the line "dick in your face, put my dick in your face". I throw a glance at the father nearby holding a tiny daughter when Minaj opens with a burst of hard-edged tracks—the explicit and excellent 'Come On A Cone' and 'Beez In The Trap' amongst them—but everyone’s cool.

This scowling, hypersexual Minaj is the Minaj I know best. It’s this particular alter-ego—known to fans as Roman Zolanski—who delivers that ferocious verse in Kanye’s 'Monster' and who holds another of her characters hostage in the accompanying video.

Minaj airs numerous alter-egos during tonight’s show—each one appearing after awkward breaks for wig and costume changes—and, honestly, it gives the show a musical theatre vibe. The set-like double story backdrop doesn’t help; nor does the troupe of dancers-cum-actors, who at one point mime something that looks like attempted sexual assault (hello, children!).

It’s Minaj’s friendlier characters (Harajuku Barbie? Wiki Minaj can only help so much) that spend most time on stage tonight though, performing the tracks that sit at the pop and dance end of Minaj’s broad genre spectrum; the ones ('Starships', 'Superbass', 'Automatic', 'Va Va Voom') that convinced parents this was a good show for six year olds. The stage background panels morph from graffiti'd ghetto walls into an appropriate bubbly seascape. “C’mon!” cries Nicki. “We’re gonna miss the submarine!” The affixed stripper poles remain stripper poles.

Minaj is vocally very impressive and a pleasure to hear live, despite the moderate pain of a loud, shrill mix atop pre-teen squeals. The campiness of these mega-pop tunes encourages a heap of on-stage fun, including the backdrop opening to reveal a pink blow-up Bentley (reminiscent of Erwin Wurm’s Fat Car sculptures) housing a fist-pumping Minaj and two ripped, shirtless male dancers. Kitsch = maximum. Show highlight.

Alternately, another highlight arrives in the stage being stripped of props and dancers, leaving Minaj and two extraordinarily talented backing vocalists to perform a trio of power ballads ('Save Me', 'Marilyn Monroe', 'Fire Burns'). Those who insist Minaj’s talent lies solely in her rapping are wrong – this is powerful and affecting. In fact, she doesn’t miss a beat ever, in any mode.

There’s a lot going on in this show, and within the Minaj persona. It must be tough trying to be all things to all people, as she points out in this eloquent rant on rap and femininity: “You have to be dope at what you, do but you have to be super sweet and you have to be sexy...and you have to be nice. It’s like, ‘I can’t be all those things at once. I’m a human being.’” A fascinating, talented one.

(Words and photos: Leah Robertson)

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