The first lady of Young Money kicked off with show with a half-mimed, half-rapped version of “Roman Holiday”. She appeared majestically on a pyramid of stairs wearing a long, hooded robe and blond wig, reminiscent of her infamous Grammy performance. But in the context of a pop concert, the song got the sea of rabid Barbz fired up. Nicki ditched the robe to display her trademark behind in lime-green leggings and delivered a smattering of hip-hop tracks including “Did It On’em”, “Stupid Hoe” and “Beez In The Trap”. The game’s hottest feature-creature even threw in her memorable verse on Big Sean‘s “Dance (Ass)”. Onika was clearly in her element, exuding confidence and control as she spat rhymes and interacted with the crowd.
Next up were solo renditions of “Right By My Side”, “Champion” and “Moment 4 Life”. Nicki doesn’t need her male collaborators to make these songs work, and her dancers impressed with crisp choreography. The concert was starting to build a real sense of momentum until the Trinidadian diva left the stage for her first costume change. A DJ spun records in her absence but the transition between segments was labored and became increasingly awkward as the night progressed. At one point she had to climb down a staircase in front of the audience while the lights were on. It might have had something to do with the tiny venue — the Hordern Pavilion only has a 6,000 person capacity.
From the moment Nicki returned to the stage in a flowing white dress, the concert veered into Lady Gaga dance/pop territory and never looked back. The only thing missing was a flaming piano and Mother Monster’s powerful pipes. Her Billboard Hot 100 smash “Starships” sounded a little ragged but was winningly presented with a cute dance routine and those aforementioned gold lamé costumes. “Pound The Alarm” and “Whip It”, two of the most traditionally “pop” songs from the Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded‘s tracklist, came next. Though both bangers have been tagged as future singles, Nicki struggles when performing this kind of material live. Vocally it wasn’t there — she mimed sections of both tracks — and the choreography was slapdash. She barely made it through, while shirtless male dancers vogued on stage.
The David Guetta-assisted dance anthem “Where Dem Girls At” kept the nightclub atmosphere going strong until Onika switched things up by throwing in the briefest of ballad sections. The highlight was the bitter slow jam “Fire Burns”, which the singer said was about someone she really hates. No kidding, we thought, as she hissed lyrics: “I pray you burn in hell and never find the ocean.”
After that moving number, it was time for some audience participation. Nicki called on volunteers to come on stage to sing “Bottoms Up” with her. Unfortunately, the hapless girls she chose didn’t know the words and were soon dispatched. Much to everyone’s embarrassment. A super fan in the front row saved the day by recounting the lyrics line by line and the recent Ellen performer rewarded him with $500. There was one hitch: She only had US dollars.
Pink Friday’s opening night ended with more of a whimper than a bang. Ms. Minaj went through the motions of her Australian Top 5 hit “Turn Me On”, wearing a rainbow tutu, before closing the show with her pop crossover megahit “Super Bass”.
Perhaps it’s time for Nicki to return to that rap-meets-pop blueprint for inspiration. Mixing genres is one thing; turning into a completely different performer is another. The first quarter of the show felt real and authentic. The rest was a lot of fun but divas like Ke$ha and Katy Perry simply do it better.