Nicki Minaj’s Pink Friday concert ran hot and cold

by Admin
Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday concert ran hot and cold

No, Nicki Minaj did not hurl any objects at the crowd Wednesday at the first of a sold-out two-night stand at the United Center. The feisty rapper, who made national news for forcefully throwing a bracelet back in the direction of a fan who chucked it at her head at a Sunday concert in Detroit, wisely limited her quarterback practice to tossing free T-shirts to enthusiastic admirers.

Apart from ice-cold stares and hard scans that accompanied some of her aggressive material, Minaj appeared to be in a jovial mood for most of the 140-minute event. The Queen of Rap cycled through multiple personas, organized mini-sets around loose themes and, by and large, demonstrated that her skills as a rapper still rank among the top echelon. Her aptitude as a balladeer and sense of pacing failed to match that elevated standard. Woefully so.

Accompanied by a drummer and keyboardist, Minaj performed the bulk of the show with a dance ensemble that added to the visual bling. A three-tier stage with a tall multi-screen backdrop, catwalk and dizzying array of lights matched the glam of the outfits seen throughout the audience. Dry-ice fog, fireballs, sparks, lasers and numerous props accentuated an atmosphere that suggested a cross between bougie nightclub and theme park attraction.

Or, in Minaj’s eyes, Gag City — the alternate moniker for her current Pink Friday 2 tour. The name comes from the LGBTQ+ term “gag,” which means to be awestruck. Her costumes alone gave such an impression. Metallic breastplate, formal gown, revealing bodysuit, cheerleader apparel, pink dress, robe, hooded jacket: Paired with various wigs and high-heeled boots, Minaj wore them all with sass and style.

Of course, changing into all those clothes required time and transitions. Though brief interludes are customary at arena and stadium shows, the four video-based breaks that allowed Minaj opportunities to strut her around as a fashion icon felt overly protracted. For the first half of the concert, anyway, Minaj’s engaging flow and slippery phrasing defeated those obstacles.

She kept rescuing the momentum that built from the outset on “I’m the Best.” The opening autobiographical declaration contained a blend of brashness, boldness and hubris that infused the songs Minaj sounded the most persuasive presenting — and epitomized the take-on-all-comers identity the rapper most naturally adopted. The very approach that transformed her into an international phenomenon.

During the past 15 years, few artists have dominated popular culture and influenced trends like Minaj. The Trinidadian native’s commercial feats encompass multiple firsts and reported global sales of more than 100 million units (singles, albums and features). Recognizing that her name often translates into automatic success, plenty of famous artists — Drake, Doja Cat, Post Malone, Rihanna, Ariana Grande, Lil Wayne, Ye, Madonna and Elton John among them — have sought out Minaj for collaborations.

Often one of the only women in a field crowded with men, she has won or been nominated for nearly every type of major music award imaginable. Minaj belongs to an exclusive club of musicians who count eight videos that have been streamed more than one billion times each. In addition to television and film appearances, her branding reach extends to an entrepreneurial portfolio with fragrances, snacks, clothing and accessories.

The 41-year-old rapper also maintains a robust social media presence — Minaj boasts a staggering 229 million followers on Instagram — that helps account for her ability to stay relevant amid a pop landscape that changes by the day. As does her outspokenness, which includes highly publicized feuds with hip hop contemporaries.

“You either love me or (expletive) hate me, right?” Minaj asked Wednesday, drawing attention to her polarizing reputation and hinting at the bad-girl guise she seemingly loves to embrace. Physically, Minaj used body language to project toughness, infallibility and royalty. Sonically, the rapper unloaded on enemies and wannabes with diss tracks (“FTCU,” “Beep Beep”), torrents of clever one-liners (“Barbie Dangerous,” “Big Difference”) and battle-ready braggadocio (“Win Again”).

Minaj’s forceful tones, animated deliveries and alter-ego accents translated her intent as well as the meaning of the words. Her control — she seamlessly shifted from patient, slow elocution to rapid-fire clips in a blink, machine-gunning syllables in manners that created their own rhythms — backed up her talk. The technique compensated for the fact she seldom played songs in their entirety. Covering up for an over-reliance on backing tracks proved more difficult.

However determined to stake out her territory, Minaj also indulged in risque fun and conveyed it with a wink. She struck suggestive poses on the synth-heavy “Pink Birthday.” Male members of her dance team sported cowboy hats and holster belts for the sexual “Cowgirl.” Minaj leaned on recognizable samples from Rick James and Sir Mix-a-Lot hits, respectively, to send up the exaggerated raunch of “Super Freaky Girl” and “Anaconda.”

And she shared the spotlight and provided a surprise by duetting with Chicago rapper G Herbo on “Chi-Raq.” Not to be outdone, the local singer-songwriter joined Minaj on “Favorite” and “Want Some More” — the first time the pair performed those songs together on stage. Further impact, slam and sneer arrived with the warrior-minded “Chun-Li,” trap-laden “Red Ruby Da Sleeze” and tribal pound of “Monster.” If Minaj would have only retained that sharp focus and attack.

Superstar rapper Nicki Minaj performs the first of two nights at the United Center in Chicago on her Pink Friday 2 tour on April 24, 2024. (Bob Gendron)

Instead, she morphed into a singer during a solo stretch that attempted emotional vulnerability but landed on formula and blandness. “Right Thru Me” and “Save Me” came across as anonymous pop lacking grit and charisma. Abbreviated renditions of “Here I Am” and “Let Me Calm Down” fared just slightly better. Then things really nose-dived.

When Minaj departed for another anticipated interlude, R&B vocalist Monica (who opened the show) filled what amounted to a nearly half-hour intermission. The head-scratching decision to pause that far into the concert drained the energy. The prolonged setup of a prop that resembled an illuminated monorail car sapped any spirit that remained. Note to Minaj: If something causes that long of a delay, it doesn’t belong onstage. Refer to the unofficial Spinal Tap rule.

At least Minaj would re-emerge and race to a breathless finish, right? Not exactly. The rapper drifted, detouring into a monologue during which she spouted armchair psychology and motivational platitudes. Well-intended, maybe. But did everyone then deserve to endure tone-deaf fans holding Minaj’s microphone and singing the chorus of “The Night Is Still Young”?

Besides, that song’s sentiment no longer applied. By the time the rapper recalibrated her direction via the electro-pulsing bounce of “Starships” and hybrid hip-hop of the celebratory “Everybody,” midnight on a school night beckoned.

Setlist from the United Center April 24:
Part 1
“I’m the Best”
“Barbie Dangerous”
“Beep Beep”
“Hard White”
“Press Play”
“Win Again”
“Big Difference”
“Beez in the Trap”
“Pink Birthday”
“Feeling Myself”
“Want Some More”
“High School”
“Red Ruby Da Sleeze”
“Barbie World”
“Roman’s Revenge”
“Monster” (Ye cover)
“Fallin 4 U”
“Right Thru Me”
“Save Me”
“Here I Am”
“Let Me Calm Down”

Part 2
“Super Freaky Girl”
“Super Bass”
“The Night Is Still Young”
“Moment 4 Life”


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