Nicki Minaj, Hammersmith Apollo, London
Risqué rapper hits high and low notes with a mix of feistiness and filth
Teenage girls, schoolboys, rockers, hip-hop lovers, mums, grandmas, and plenty of grown men: Nicki Minaj's screeching sold-out crowd is as diverse as the characters the Trinidad-born, Queens-raised rapper/singer shape-shifts through during her lengthy set.
"Before I even dreamt of coming here, I knew I would love you," she gushes during one of many emotional outbursts at this, the last night of her first-ever London shows to promote her 2012 album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded.
Cloaked in black, standing on top of dark staircases amid a set lit by flames and TV screens made to look like stained glass, Minaj – real name Onika Tanya Maraj – begins with a cage-rattling rendition of "Roman's Revenge".
In a flash, the random religious imagery is gone and Minaj – now flaunting her petite Barbie-doll figure in sparkling neon pink hot pants – is pure feistiness and filth as she barrels through "Did It On 'Em", "I Am Your Leader" and the spitting razor-sharp curses of "Beez in the Trap". The result is impressive. But when children in the crowd chant the X-rated lyrics from "Come on a Cone" back at a beaming bubblegum-sweet Minaj, the atmosphere turns more grotesque than gutsy. This time, the result is uncomfortable, and is just one of many contradictions in Minaj's performance, which veers wildly between tour de force mixtapes and dull DJ sets during her lengthy costume changes, sublime pop (especially on radio hit "Starships") and wet balladry, fearsome swagger and ridiculously amateurish choreography.
Minaj is also not ashamed of being "weird". The 29-year-old says she began creating alter egos when she was a child to escape from her less-than-rosy home life and is admirably open about her father's alcohol and drug problems. But onstage, the personas, such as her British character, Martha Zolanski (with dodgy accent), seem childish and half-baked.
When Minaj invites a group of her fans to the stage, it is clear she also enjoys her status as an unconventional role model. "It's kids like this that make me love what I do," she says with sudden sincerity.
The appeal of her many peaks and troughs – intriguing to start with – soon wears thin. Minaj – a shrewd businesswoman as well as an entertainer – may offer something potent to everyone, but it dilutes her undeniable charisma.
If she focused her talents, Nicki Minaj has what it takes to become a true superstar.
Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat
Arts & Ents blogs
- 2 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
Mr Selfridge series 3: Actress Kara Tointon says 'We're starting to see his demise'
Benedict Cumberbatch says Hollywood is better for black British actors: 'I think as far as coloured actors go it gets really difficult in the UK'
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
V&A removes depiction of Prophet Mohamed from website amid 'severe security alert'
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
George Galloway condemns 'racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical rag' Charlie Hebdo at freedom of speech rally
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd