Everybody seems to know what’s best for Nicki Minaj. She should ditch her pop crossover aspirations and stick to the rapid rapping that first made her famous. She should quit trying to turn herself into a constant walking spectacle like Lady Gaga. As famous and successful as Minaj has become over the last few years, with only a few fixes, she’d really be on to something.
And maybe people are right. Minaj’s two albums, including this year’s “Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded,” have topped the charts but displayed a surprising lack of personality. Reactions to her over-the-top appearance at February’s Grammys generally ranged from “train wreck” to “worst performance ever.” The notion of any alterations seems laughable, though, after witnessing Minaj’s endlessly fun concert at a sold-out Constitution Hall on Saturday night. Once your brain was able to process a single thought after 80 straight minutes of fanatical screaming from audience members and a bass-heavy assault from the stage, that first thought was, “Why would anybody want to change a single thing about her?”
It was neither sensory overload nor an inspiring stage presence that made the frenetic show such a success, but rather an unlimited supply of hits and a rapturous reception that was impossible not to be swept up in. The giant LED screens that served as backdrops didn’t offer much to look at, but they were barely needed. The songs were stimulation enough — between her own songs and guest spots on others’, Minaj has a stranglehold on Top 40 and hip-hop airwaves. It was like living inside a radio as she blasted through a handful of these — “Did It on ’Em,” “Beez in the Trap,” “Moment 4 Life” — while wearing the first of four outfits of the night, this one highlighted (quite literally) by a studded neon green top and blond wig. (A pair of different pink dresses and pink wigs would follow, with a black leotard/black wig/pink hat combo closing things out. Costume changes were treated like timeouts at sporting events, as Minaj’s DJ blasted music and tossed dozens of T-shirts into the audience.)
Those tacky fashion choices were reflected throughout the capacity crowd. There are few singers who can connect so fully with an equally diverse and devoted fan base. Grown men wore neon wigs. Preteen girls sported shirts emblazoned with one of Minaj’s more unprintable song titles. Everyone seemed to know all the words — and there are lots of them — to every song, even ones dating back to Minaj’s early mix tapes.
This was not lost on her. Raining superlatives upon that night’s audience and city is Rock Stardom 101, but D.C. has long been a special market for Minaj, one of the first to propel her to stardom. “I used to drive down from New York and perform at little tiny clubs for 200 people,” she said, her natural Queens accent temporarily displacing the staccato growl she often employs. She transformed back into her fire-breathing self when she spat her awe-inspiring verse on Kanye West’s “Monster,” a one-minute tour de force that is arguably the highlight of the most critically revered album of the past few years.
Minaj ended with “Super Bass,” her biggest crossover hit and one that sent the crowd to the highest level of delirium yet. Not code red, but definitely code hot pink.