Leading into Nicki Minaj's first concert in Australia, there was a lot of anticipation. The hyper-publicised, over-the-top pop star- cum -rapper has been at the forefront of pop culture the last six months, whether it was through her lascivious costume choices that could run Katy Perry out of cleavage-baring-Barbie- wig town or her equally attention-grabbing, provocative rap verses.
Her slippery silver tongue has worked its magic though- Minaj is the first female solo artist to have seven singles on the Billboard Hot 100 charts at the same time, had critics lauding her verse on last year's mega-hit, "Monster", where she arguably out-rapped hip hop titans Jay Z and Kanye, and is the first bona fide woman rapper to take on hip-hop's boys' club and tilt for the throne of top-dog.
So in front of a capacity crowd at the Hordern Pavillion on Wednesday night, how did she shape up?
Well it depends on whether we're talking about Nicki Minaj, the pin-up girl of hip-hop, who has forged a meteoric rise to fame on the Top 40 dance-pop charts with crossover hits like "Superbad" and "Starships" that get the thumbs up from pop princesses like Taylor Swift.
Or whether we're talking about the fierce talking, bitch-calling Nicki Minaj, aka Roman Zolanski (only one of her many alter-egos, but certainly her most prominent) who opened the show with an exhilarating "Roman Holiday". Cloaked in hooded monk robes and flanked by similarly dressed 'fighting monk' male dancers, Nicki as Roman blew the first verse out of the water, before dropping the robes to reveal your typical eye-wateringly bright Minaj get-up: bubblegum pink hotpants, skintight graffiti jacket over lime-green tights and heels complete with bouncy blonde wig and a bug-eyed expression. (And the crowd goes wild!)With her core group of excellent dancers physically hitting home each assertion, Minaj stomped through hard-hitting numbers like "I Am Your Leader", "Roman Reloaded" and "Stupid Hoe", releasing a torrent of syllabic trip-ups, all the while stirring the crowd of die-hards up the front into a fist-pumping frenzy. That first half an hour was a display of pure grunt and swagger- here was Minaj as the aggressive, self-aggrandising braggart, beating the boys at their own game. In celebratory mode she launched into "Champion", calling on the crowd to join her in tipping her hat and paying her dues to the past "bitches" who had paved the path: "This one is for This one is for Tee-Tee, Tweety, Viola, Sharika Candice, Temby, Lauren, Aiesha."Ending the first act on a high note with "Moment 4 Life", she was off to a costume change (the first of four). As DJ Diamond Kuts cranked up her set though, you wouldn't realise at the time, but looking back and reflecting- this is the moment where the switch was turned off. That bad ass mofo' Roman was gone, and in his place a full five minutes later (another criticism- the costume changes were laborious and the stage all but bare for intervals that lapsed well beyond five minutes) was a dolled-up, corset-and-tutu wearing Minaj who launched into her dance-pop chart hits with decidedly less conviction.
There had already been a fair bit of lip-syncing and miming early on in the night, but the girl had pulled through in the key verses with vigor. Now she just seemed uncertain with generic pop tunes like "Whip It" and "Marilyn Monroe",veering into territory marked by the Rihannas and Lady Gagas of the world, but missing their slick pop stylings and dance-hook panache. Even the gold lame short shorts and neon bustiers worn by the dancers on stage didn't do much. Same goes for the conga line Minaj led on stage during the floor-burning "Pound the Alarm". As fun as everything was, this second half of the show just didn't quite hit home. Chart-topper "Starships" was always going to be a winner though. As she kicked into the first verse of the crowd-favourite (which is totally a contender for a Katy Perry/Ke$ha song), the audience was deliriously happy, waving hands in the air and fist-pumps as they tried to "touch the sky" and get "higher than a muthaf***er".
Pausing for a moment, she gushed to the still raucous crowd,"I love you guys. This is my first time ever in Australia and you guys are giving me so much love. You guys have really outdone yourselves tonight. Thank you."After giving away a cool US$500 to a true fan who rapped word-for-word her verse from "Bottoms Up", Minaj greased the machine one last time, closing out the opening night of her 'Pink Friday' tour with top hits, "Turn Me On" and the thumping "Super Bass". One thing's for certain: she's got that super bass.