For a debut UK performance, a show like the one witnessed tonight was, to put it bluntly, slightly disheartening. It wasn’t just the fact that the artist had never headlined in the UK before, but the fact that tonight it was time for “I’m a bad bitch, I’m a c***”, megastar Miss Onika Tanya Maraj or as we all know her, Miss Nicki Minaj. The very controversial female rapper was in Birmingham tonight but surprisingly there was nothing controversial about Minaj’s performance. The fast rapping star’s set list was all over the place and massively stripped back. With the many looks Nicki has gone for over the years you would think that the 29 year old would pick the most provocative outfit she could but tonight it varied from Dunder Mifflin worker to 90s techno-dress. It would be understandable if the costume changes worked but at times they didn’t. Just when the momentum was building it was time for a costume change and a quick DJ set to pass the time which completely destroyed the mood. The almost amateur DJ seemed like he didn’t know what he was doing. The show was a traditional hip-hop show with a DJ, a few dancers and a minimal hype man. This would’ve been alright if the set list hadn’t ruined it. Tonight was strong in parts but the mix tapes took a lot away from the show. Now I’ve finally grasped what Odd Future were going on about, as there is little “Worse than a Nicki Minaj Mix Tape.”
Before Nicki could appear tensions were rising as to who the support act would be. As it’s Nicki we’re talking about it could’ve been anyone! Tonight’s support was – drum roll please – ’not your typical girl band’, Stooshe and in my opinion a very commendable choice. The three appealing characters strutted out and really took to the stage like distinguished professionals. Each song was vocally sound, from previous work like “Betty Was Gone” to Ed Sheeran’s “Lego House.” The group were having fun on stage. The feisty Londoners received a very positive response for their biggest gig to date. My and everyone’s highlight was the fantastic “Love Me.” What’s different about the trio is their off-the-hook rapport which made Alex, Karis and Courtney really easy to enjoy. It shows when you turn down Simon Cowell (as Stooshe did) but Nicki Minaj wouldn’t have your typical girl band here tonight supporting her.
Now it was time for Nicki: darkness filled the room, out came the cameras, the deafening shriek from the teenage ‘barbz’ was almost unbearable as a pre-recorded voiceover of Nicki trying to give her fans words of wisdom presided. Then faster than you can say “Young Money” it stopped as Nicki casually strolled on stage with her ones in the air. It was a very promising start as Nicki casually tore through “Roman’s Revenge” to the more recent “Beez In The Trap.” Even with the amount of rapping that went on tonight there were still well choreographed routines and only snippets of pre-recorded vocals to help the singer-songwriter out. The routines were very impressive, and so were the hits until it was time for another costume change, during which the DJ tried his best to keep the audience entertained for five or more minutes at a time. After the first awkward silence Nicki popped out sporting a rather unusual concealed outfit and changed the mood from fast and energetic to sincere. Nicki asks “Has anyone ever broken someone’s heart?” before meaningfully lulling the audience with “Save Me.”
The strange thing about tonight were the costume changes. They seemed very unnecessary as each outfit didn’t go with each array of songs. The first was understandable, as the luminous track suit was vibrant like the first part of the set list. But as the night was drawing to an end the mix tapes began and Nicki took to the stage in the most unrevealing office-wear imaginable. As perverse as this sounds the thousands of teenage girls who would do anything to look like Nicki didn’t pay £40 to see her dressed in such a way. With cosmetically enhanced buttocks and hundreds of different looks who wants to see Nicki Minaj dressed as a politician? This is one reason among others why I believe Nicki was holding back tonight and I can’t figure out why…
Outfits aside the unprofessionalism of the mix tape section was really starting to drone on. If the audience didn’t know the tape, the song would change to the next one. This cycle was tedious and unnecessary; it’s not the mix tapes we want to hear, it’s the mainstream anthems that the fans were after. Surely the amount of times the tape was changed was a good indication to stop doing them?
However, the ludicrous mix tape section was saved tonight; if there’s one thing I can’t criticise is Nicki’s love for her fans. The t-shirts continuously flew into the crowd and Nicki involved the fans right from the off. So much so that members of the front row could go up and get their pictures taken with the star. The show was so off track by then but the song choice “Bed Rock” slightly saved it (apart from the fact that four out of the five volunteers didn’t know the lyrics!). The last song revived the crowd and injected the enthusiasm back into the hoards of ‘Barbz’ and the odd ‘Ken.’ The bottom line here is, where can you go wrong with a musically sound ‘Super Bass’ and a confetti cannon?
Tonight all the hits were there, the platform that appeared at Hackney Weekend was there and so were the talented dancers. It wasn’t just the music, but the interaction with the fans worked well for obvious reasons. Another notable reason to turn up tonight was Minaj’s English accent, which the star had been “practicing since she was six.”
Better outfits, fewer mix tapes, less talking and more rapping will be the winning combination for when Nicki returns in October to the LG Arena, but until then love, stick at it and you might get it right in a couple of months.
Review: John Kirby
Photos: Andy Watson