When I spotted Nicki Minaj on the Grammy red carpet last night, I wondered if she got the dates wrong in her calendar and forgot that the Disney Villains Ball was next Sunday. Minaj, dressed in a red riding hood that only a big bad wolf could love, was obviously drawing inspiration from Lady Gaga – who made her way onto last year’s Grammy red carpet enclosed in amassive egg. While a few like me were tickled-albeit baffled-by Nicki’s ensemble and the “Pope” who she brought with her as an accessory, others took to Twitter to spread the shade like sundown.
The scrutiny got even worse once the Queens-bred rapper hit the stage to perform a new track from her upcoming sophomore album, “Roman Holiday.” The act combined one of her alter egos, Roman Zolanski, with references to films like The Exorcist and The Craft to create a peculiar performance that I’m not completely sure had any real meaning. Yes, I got that there was a pre-taped segment discussing an exorcism, loads of religious imagery on set, and Minaj levitating in the air, but eh.
Yet, I’m not sure Nicki needed some sort of symbolic larger point, as I managed to be amused by the show all the same. I think much of the Grammy audience can boast a similar claim considering “Roman Holiday” drew one of the loudest applauses of the night. By no means was it a perfect performance, but it was at least interesting – an attribution I can’t make for that many other portions of the show.
I do occasionally question if Nicki, like Gaga over the last year, is testing her luck with these rampant and painfully transparent stunts intended to keep audiences transfixed. Her most recent video, “Stupid Hoe,” might have broken Vevo records for generating the largest amount of hits in a single day, but that feat came with a wave of negative reviews and was even banned from BET. Then again, many of Nicki’s critics, similar to those who loathed her Grammy fit and on stage shtick, continue to judge Nicki Minaj through the wrong lenses.
It’s silly to bash Nicki and cite her to peddle an argument that hip-hop is dead when she’s been vocal about having no interest in being your typical emcee. That rap purist sentiment is arguably why she’s so adamant on letting her inner theater geek (and pop star) take precedent and send her places the lion’s share of female rappers outside of Missy Elliott ever frequent.
Complaining that the emphasis for a female rapper to keep a sexy image “boring,” Nicki told The Telegraph recently, “Right before my album came out I felt like I had been hiding my personality – my comedic side. I had to ask myself, ‘Why am I only showing one facet of who I am?’” In a separate Q&A with New York magazine, Nicki noted, “I’ve always been experimenting. Cyndi Lauper’s videos—that’s what intrigued me.”
Her intentions are apparent, but she has a way to go when it comes to effectively executing her grandiose ideas. Conceptually the “Roman Holiday” unveiling could’ve been a little tighter, but it is an improvement from the sad little two-step and off-kilter body roll she was doing when she first started to gain national prominence not long ago. And if nothing else, she committed to that performance, which in hindsight explains why Little Red Minaj showed up on the carpet with Pope John Paul the Phony.
Nicki Minaj, and her stunt queen antics, might be too much to bear for some people. And that’s entirely fair. I, however, gladly will take an ambitious entertainer with ample personality – so long as she continues to grow as a performer.
Michael Arceneaux is a Houston-bred, Howard-educated writer currently based in Los Angeles. You can read more of his work on his site, The Cynical Ones. Follow him on Twitter: @youngsinick