Nicki Minaj is one of the least secretive people alive. How could she stay in hiding for even an hour, much less the entire month of Red Bull Sound Select's 30 Days in L.A.?
And yet there she was at the Teragram Ballroom, the secret headliner and last act of the series. Before the show, there wasn't a social media torrent of talk: the surprise was actually a surprise.
Minaj brought this up a few songs after her entrance around 11 p.m. Monday night. "So you guys didn't know who it was? You just had to show up and be like, 'I just hope it's somebody kinda like, I guess.' Well, thank you for your energy," she said, decorously, bending over to slap a few hands.
Just as Sarah Silverman can tell morbid stories and come across like a friendly high school teacher, Minaj can be as dirty as possible in her lyrics and leave you thinking about an elegant person in a killer dress who cracks up sweetly every time her audience shouts her lyrics back at her.
And of course they did. "Yasss kween" is an Internet phrase close to its sell-by date, but it didn't sound wrong when people shouted it at the Teragram.
Minaj is an old-fashioned breed of musician, an entertainer who embraces entertaining without qualifying clauses. Her grace allows her to do what she likes without seeming defensive or full of herself. Minaj pops binaries like bubble wrap. She is regal but doesn't take herself seriously. She swears like a sailor but never feels less than wholesome. (After asking if anybody in the crowd was "knocking boots tonight," she asked to be reassured that everybody was "of age.") She was fully present for a show that didn't physically need her to sound the way it did; almost every song played with a full vocal track in the mix.
But Nicki singing along to Nicki is still Nicki if Nicki is there listening to Nicki with you. When she did rap part of her verse on the "No Flex Zone Remix" without any backing track, she was crisp and hilarious. Perched on a monitor, with her legs crossed, holding her bedazzled wireless microphone, she rapped: "Running this game for five years, guess that's why my feet hurt. Wonder when they bite me, do these bitches' teeth hurt? Yes, I am an icon — that's me on your t-shirt. Thought you knew better. Do your … research."
Nicki enjoying Nicki is one of the best parts of her show. She was dressed in a form-fitting, knee-length teal lace dress (Agent Provocateur, if you're in a gifting mood already) and matching Louboutin blue suede Daffodile platform pumps. She moves and conserves energy at the same time. Her favored time-killing move, the "um" of her body language, is flipping her long, straight black hair over her shoulder, sometimes revealing the white strands buried in the mane. She exudes good cheer without suggesting she is going to get sweaty on your behalf. Nicki seems to like everyone but if there's somebody she likes that much, we don't know about it.
A Minaj show alternates between her own songs, songs she appears on, and songs she happens to like. Everything belongs to her when she plays it. Halfway through the show, she sat stage right and asked her band — two keyboard players and one drummer — to play some things she wanted to hear.
First we heard two Rae Sremmurd songs, and then a third, which she introduced by saying, "This is the most romantic song of all." We can guess she thinks so because the opening and repeating line of Sremmurd's "No Type" is "I don't got no type, bad bitches is the only thing that I like."
Minaj asked the crowd at one point if there were any "bad bitches" among them. Those who yelled back are Minaj's core, the people she was there for, in every current sense of the word. She did address the men, and threatened to give someone a chance to prove their manhood by getting a lap dance from her.
In the end, Minaj never chose a victim and simply went into "Anaconda." She is happy to provide you with the tools for your own fantasy; using them is below her pay grade.
As the show went on, the tempo and feel moved closer to EDM. After playing a David Guetta song she is a guest on, Minaj ended with three uptempo tracks — "The Night Is Young," "Starships" and "Moment 4 Life." Finally breaking her cool and jumping up to sing about touching the sky, Minaj had effectively left hip-hop behind and done a mini-set of club music. But Minaj is bulletproof when it comes to credibility. She enters the stage as one of the moment's best rappers, and leaves it the same way. If you think differently, feel free to approach her.
On Twitter at @sfj
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