Nicki Minaj at 3Arena, Dublin – Review
Arriving in the capital in the midst of her European tour – it’s hard to say what I expected from Nicki Minaj’s only Irish performance during “Pinkprint” tour. Her outlandish nature, wild wigs, and bizarre outfits have made her name synonymous with the eccentric and almost garish, nearly outshining her impressive rapping skills at times. Yet the 32-year-old rapper is not one to become complacent, continuously changing her style and working on various collaborations, it’s easy to see why Minaj is the only woman to feature on the Forbes Hip-Hop Cash Kings list. She has a boss like attitude, seemingly exuding this air of self-confidence and pride, the very least I expected from this show was a lesson in female empowerment and powerhouse vocals, combined with candyfloss pink wigs and lots of quick fire rapping.
This album has notably demonstrated classic “Nicki” with her unapologetically tongue-in-cheek tracks like ‘Anaconda’ and ‘Truffle Butter’, yet there was also a considerably softer side to her sound, with the singer herself admitting she drew inspiration from close family grievances, the breakdown of a 14-year relationship, and her own emotional recovery in the wake of these mounting personal difficulties. Little over thirty minutes after she is due to begin performing, the stage cracks to life with a montage of black and white moments from Minaj’s life, explaining that this is her “most personal album to date” however, this never seems to truly translate to her stage performance for some reason. Emerging on stage in a sheer black outfit that conjures up images of a classic Disney villain, her face is shielded from the crowd with a black lace veil as she begins her set with ‘All Things Go’ and ‘I Lied’. The set is far less dramatic than I had expected with the odd visual appearing behind her on the large screen. Yet there are no traces of the usual flamboyancy we’ve come to associate with her. There’s a demure element to the first fifteen minutes or so of her performance; pared back elements with the occasional pulsing rap that she has become renowned for, it’s impressive and shows a far more human and vulnerable side to her, but it’s still somewhat less vibrant than anticipated.
Admittedly, the set seems to pick up after a costume change with Minaj enlisting her dancers to inject some much-needed adrenaline into the set. With them by her side one gets the occasional flash of that trademark smile as she dances along to ‘Feeling Myself’ and ‘Only’, there’s a visible vibrancy starting to appear in her set, moving from the almost meandering quality that the first segment seemed to be weighed down by. However, it feels as if Minaj is somewhat distant with her audience, less concerned about engagement initially, it takes her a full thirty minutes to acknowledge the fact that the 3Arena is packed to the rafters, waiting for her to do the usual cackling laugh and let the crowd know the party’s begun. In fact, there seems to be an immense reliance on her dances to keep the crowd amused as ‘Bang Bang’ is played over the sound system as dancers hand out t-shirts to fans but no sign of Minaj to perform one of the biggest tracks of summer last year. Although she does eventually interact with the audience, even picking out to members to come on stage and perform with her, it never feels as if her whole heart is in the performance. It feels quite segmented, like each costume change is reflective of a change in emotion and we should elastically move with that. There’s no rapid interchange of emotions or range of highs and lows, everything has been carefully scripted to, on paper, provide the audience with this perfectly rounded performance but in reality it comes across quite stilted at times.
However, in saying that, she has the sort of vocal elasticity that works well in live performances. She does her own tracks justice as she moves from her booming vocals to her spitfire rounds of rapping, particularly during ‘Flawless’ and ‘Pills n’ Potions’, one can easily see why she is the top female rapper, she translate her vocals well from track to stage. Moreover, she appears set on bringing her message of female empowerment and celebration of female attitude to her shows, encouraging her fans to “stay in school” and telling her female followers “not to depend on any man”. She seems to come alive when performing chart-topping tracks such as ‘Starships’ and ‘Pound the Alarm’, practically feeding off the energy of the pulsing crowd in the pit and in the tiers.
Minaj is a performer, no doubt. She’s got the attitude, the vocals, catchy hooks and glitter explosions galore, all the ideal conditions to make a great live performance, particularly if this is her most personal album to date. Sadly, it just never truly translates on stage.
Review by Elaine McDonald