On the Scene: Nicki Minaj and the Roots play Times Square and geek out hard
Last night, Nicki Minaj painted Times Square pink.
Accompanied by the Roots, hip-hop’s most fluorescent femme fatale gave a concert at Manhattan’s Best Buy Theatre to launch Casio’s new Tryx camera. It was a fun, unpretentious 11-song set, culled mostly from tracks off her debut album, Pink Friday.
The Roots kicked off the affair, blasting their comically schizophrenic, funkadelic sounds. After nearly 20 years, the Roots still remain one of the most immersive live acts to witness in person. The sheer number of bodies on stage can be overwhelming—I mean, where do you look? (Okay, to be fair, you’re probably looking at the Muppet antics of the ever mesmerizing ?uestlove on drums.)
Their particular wall of sound remains nearly orchestral in its breadth, facilitating both generic and instrumental cross-pollination (that trademark sousaphone!). Live, their concerts come across more as soundscapes than as a collection of individual songs, though they peppered their set with snippets of Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” and Kool & the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie.” Clearly, they remain one of the most exciting fusion acts out there—and a go-to opening act more interesting than most headlining performers.
But not this headlining performer. I can’t tell if she was being ironic or sincere, but Minaj made her entrance to Enya’s soaring, Far and Away-capping “Book of Days.” (Talk about musical cross-pollination!) In a way, it worked, because her 11-song set was a decidedly girlie affair.
In her patchwork pastel getup and Poppin’ Fresh hairdo, she flitted about the stage like a rapping Katy Perry. On the red carpet before the show, though mum on such hot topics as whether she’ll tour with Britney Spears or be a judge on Simon Cowell’s The X Factor, she did take time to answer the all important question “Are you pastel or neon?” She identified herself as the former. Let’s face it, pastels aren’t typically colors you associate with hip-hop.
But even if she is trying to reconstitute hip-hop as Hello Kitty-chic, her concert didn’t overly linger on Cinderella fantasy songs like “Moment 4 Life.” She also belted out “My Chick Bad” sans Ludacris. When Mr. ‘Cris krunks out “My Chick Bad,” it’s unavoidably tainted with female objectification. But when Minaj upgrades herself from featured performer to headliner, it becomes an empowerment anthem that doubles as a threat.
Following her comments to Interview magazine, in which she announced her intention to project a less sexualized stage persona for herself, Minaj has clearly turned herself from object to subject. That’s not to say she’s not sexy. But like Lady Gaga, her sexual impulses seem directed towards her own fulfillment rather than for the flattery of leering men. Her leotard-clad backup dancers also provide a Sapphic touch.
And she’s certainly not interested enough in being sexy to compromise her geek proclivities. She motormouthed lyrics about Terminators and Romulans in “Did It On ‘Em”—remember, one of her early mixtapes was called “Beam Me Up, Scotty!”—a shamelessly nerdy indulgence I suppose we should expect by now from someone who’s worn Freddy Krueger pincers in her music videos.
Still, in a genre marked by its rigid adherence to affected cool, watching her perform is like a cleansing splash of raktajino. What a Pink Thursday!
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