Queen of the Barbz offers a flamboyant show...
Nicki Minaj

As a rap fan attending a Nicki Minaj concert, it's important to leave all those stuffy, purist rules that we fill our heads with at the door.

At this point we all know that Nicki can rap, but she's amassed other responsibilities along the way; she's transcended her position and is now firmly in pop star territory. This isn't a complaint, necessarily, it's just important to remember that by sticking to the rap songs that we want to hear, she wouldn't be doing her fans and herself justice - there's a lot more to consider here than simply bars and beats.

Regardless, it's an interesting juxtaposition. To an audience that react just as well to Taylor Swift's 'Shake It Off' as they do Drake's '0-100' as the roadies prepare the set, she's faced with the difficult task of making the polarised sounds somehow work together. Luckily, the majority of the young attendees are more fans of Nicki Minaj The Icon than any particular genre of music, and they're just here to see the Queen of the Barbz do what she does best: be herself and entertain.

Sectioning off the various sounds that she has explored over the years, the show begins with the opening trilogy of 'The Pinkprint'. Clad in a Tim Burton-esque black wedding dress, a veil covering her face, she performs the very intimate and personal trio that set off the strongest record of her career thus far. As with the album, from the jump it feels as though she is sharing something real with her mesmerised onlookers, a contrast to the fun-house, cartoon-ish nature of her previous tour. 

Split by an intense atmospheric score with various black and white visuals and pre-recorded monologues, she returns for a section that takes us as close to the strip club as we're likely to ever get at an arena tour for a mainstream pop act.

Donning a thong and sheer lingerie, Nicki rips through tracks like 'Only', 'Truffle Butter', 'Did It On Em' and 'Beez In The Trap', surrounded by backing dancers that provide some incredible choreography and composition; a constant reminder that this is a step above and beyond your regular rap show.

After addressing the audience in her infamous Dick Van Dyke style 'British' accent with a request for tea and scones, she performs 'The Pinkprint's lead single 'Anaconda' before another break, this time her voiceover telling the young fans: "If I could tell you one thing that you will remember forever, it would be to believe in yourself, no matter what."

On her return she stands by a piano sporting a long pink dress as she sings ballads like 'Pills & Potions', 'Save Me', 'Marilyn Monroe' and 'Grand Piano'. It's certainly a contrast to the previous section, jumping from the strip club to Disneyland in a single inspirational quote. Again, this goes back to the difficult task she's faced with: being a role model for kids whilst remaining true to her talents as a rapper and utilising her sex appeal.

With acts like Miley Cyrus literally jumping from the Disney channel to being a poster child for ratchet behaviour, the juxtaposition is all part and parcel of today's pop culture. By the time her pink wig has made a come back and everyone is fist-pumping to euphoric Tiger Tiger anthems like 'The Night Is Still Young' and 'Starships' it's somehow all come full circle and makes sense.

Nicki can sing well, and incorporates elements of acting, dance and choreography into the show. But in many cases these are enhanced by the wider cast of the show; it's when she's spitting tracks like 'Want Some More', 'Lookin Ass' and even Beyonce-collab 'Feelin Myself' that she really excels.

Watching her effortlessly switching up flows and packing in syllables is like a rollercoaster ride. Her go-to verse for rap fans - 'Monster', a feature that saw her go back-to-back with Kanye West and Jay Z - is absent, following recent outbursts about how a lot of male rap fans only connected with her after she's been validated by the Watch The Throne duo. But this doesn't hinder the showcasing of her rapping ability, as she has amassed plenty of verses over the years to keep things just as exciting. 

It feels as though balance of rap, pop and EDM laced throughout her discography is always something that is going to leave the Nicki Minaj experience somewhat disjointed musically. Despite 'The Pinkprint' being her most cohesive album, even that still has moments that seem out of place.

Although such versatility could be considered a fault, this is undoubtedly exposing her to a much wider audience, and - witnessing first-hand the way kids worship her - it would be wrong for her to turn her back. If what Nicki Minaj does best is be herself, and affect these kids, then tonight's show has far exceeded what she set off to do.

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Words: Grant Brydon
Photo Credit: Grizz Lee Arts

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