'Nicki Minaj: Rod Laver Area' – Everguide

Before the lights went down and Nicki Minaj emerged from her neon spaceship (or is it technically a starship?) at Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday night, my concert companion laid out his expectations for the evening. He wanted to hear the solid rap tracks ‘Monster’, ‘Super Bass’, ‘Beez in the Trap’, ‘Stupid Hoe’ and ‘Roman Holiday’ and he wanted to observe four weave changes.

In some senses he was disappointed - Nicki switched between only three different wigs over the course of the night, and the latter two songs weren’t included in her chockablock set list. But considering ‘Stupid Hoe’s kinda anti-lady message and the height of the wigs in question, there was really no reason for a Barb to leave the show feeling anything but overjoyed.

Nicki knew what her fans wanted, and knew how to give it to them.

Opening with ‘I Am Your Leader’, she sat in her tiny spaceship, observing her empire. The crowd was full of Barbs – both those she won over through her early mixtapes and spitfire rap verses, and the pop fans who prefer the more accessible (and parent-approved) ‘Starships’ or ‘Marilyn Monroe’. Neon pink wigs were in abundance, young boys hung desperately to the barriers singing every word to every song, and a trio of tiny girls sat atop one another’s shoulders waving a Trinidadian flag at their hero.

She offered them a show that was hyper and camp and silly. She revisited the songs that made her famous - even if just to perform her stand-out rap verses from tracks like Kanye’s cameo-packed ‘Monster’, Drake’s ‘Make Me Proud’ and Young Money’s 2009 all-star ensemble ‘Bedrock’.

Nicki’s come a long way since her days of guesting on tracks by her ice-covered male counterparts. As she reminisces in ‘I’m the Best’ (one of my personal favourites that didn’t make the setlist for this show, which is a shame, as the track’s dedicated Australian shoutout would’ve gone down a treat): “It was back in ’07, did a couple of tapes.” In the five years since then, she’s gone from bit player to headlining star of the rap world.

When she aggressively air humped her crystal-encrusted microphone as the crowd chanted, “Dick in your face, put my dick in your face,” it was not hard to see why. Even the parents of the tiny girls who filled the arena could see the value in this hyper sexual, cartoonish woman, and didn’t seem to mind what their kids were hearing. Because while Nicki can occasionally be shocking, there’s a greater purpose behind her aggressive sexuality. She uses her worldly, sexy, ‘cool older sister’ role in her fans’ lives to offer sweet nuggets of advice, like, “Barbs, if you’re still in school, make sure that you’re being smart and not giving your cookies away to every Tom, Dick and Harry.” Cue cheeky air humps (from Nicki) and insane squeals of delight (from me).

The show was split into four distinct chapters (each with its own dedicated wardrobe, obvi). First was the rap portion, for which she whipped her long, platinum blonde wig and jiggled showbiz’s best booty through much-loved tracks ‘I Am Your Leader’, ‘Come on a Cone’, ‘Beez in the Trap’ and ‘Make Me Proud’, before disappearing through a trapdoor on the second storey of her elaborate stage set-up during the closing notes of ‘Moment For Life’. When she returned with ‘The Boys’ for pop portion of the proceedings, she had slipped into a bizarre denim bustier and strode around the stage in a pair of Timbalands with a crystal heel. Obviously. She followed with Big Sean’s ‘A$$’ (Sean was absent, which was preferable, as Nicki’s verse is the only worthy part), before waxing lyrical on an Australian boy she lost last time she was in the country, which lead into the saucy ‘Va Va Voom’ and the standout crowd favourite ‘Super Bass’.

Costume change #2 saw her reappear in a pink mink-lined bathgown and matching curled wig that would make Dolores Van Cartier proud, wheeled out in a silver glitter bathtub. The ballad section kicked off with ‘Fire Burns’ (things got literal when bursts of fire shot out of the stage as she sang the word). As the background visuals channeled Warhol (a tower of his famous Brillo boxes became boxes of “Nicki”), she asked the crowd if they’d ever felt like Marilyn Monroe. Judging by the screams, thousands of Melbourne teens have dangerous pill dependencies and struggle to be taken seriously in Hollywood. Nicki’s real strength in this whole silly music biz is rapping – a fact that she’s acutely aware of – which is why a duo of soulful ladies took on most of the warbling duties for ‘Marilyn Monroe’. And you know what? I’m totally cool with that. These ladies got their credit and Nicki didn’t pretend for a second that she could’ve hit the notes they did. She’d be criticised for trying, and will probably be criticised for palming the duties off on these two as well, but I’m 100% down with her decision to replicate, on stage, what would’ve gone on in the recording studio.

Shit got real in the final leg of the night, when Nicki bounced back on stage atop an enormous inflatable pink car, inside which she rave danced with her two shirtless male dancers. It looked like a Mardi Gras after party in Ibiza. She launched into her bombastic, frenetic dance anthems ‘Automatic’ and ‘Pound the Alarm’, as well as David Guetta’s ‘Turn Me On’. To be honest, this was the least interesting section song-wise, but her tropical print top and mismatched neon platforms completely made up for that.

She was back quick-smart in a cropped bob version of her sleek platinum wig from earlier, with tape covering her nipples that would’ve otherwise been on show in the glittery dominatrix ensemble. After launching into a sample of ‘Monster’ she called upon her diehard fans in the front row, and made the dreams of “Jack from the Mornington Peninsula” come true when she called him on stage to twerk and sing to ‘Freedom’ with him. I saw him leaving the arena later, as people pointed and took photos of the freshly minted celeb.

Nicki’s final costume change resulted in a white pleather tutu and captain’s hat; a bizarre mix of Sophia Grace and Julie from the Love Boat. Only with more booty-poppin’. All that was left was ‘Starships’, a perfect conclusion to a night of silliness and support (both the emotional and brassiere varieties - sister’s got some knockers). The track might not showcase the deft lyrical ability that made Nicki famous, but the message of, “Fuck who you want and fuck who you like, dance all night, there’s no end in sight,” says all that can be said of a night in the presence of the King of Hip Pop.

Published on Everguide, 7 December, 2012.