Nicki Minaj's Rolling Loud Headlining Set Brought Plenty Of Frosting But Forgot The Cake

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Nicki eventually delivered show-stopping moments, but it took a while.

Last year, Nicki Minaj made a pretty triumphant return with Pink Friday 2, her first new album in 5 years. The record came on the back of numerous hit singles, most notably the smash hit "Super Freaky Girl." It also spawned some new beloved hits of its own like "FTCU" and "Everybody." Unsurprisingly, she followed it up with a tour announcement on the back of the record. But far from just a celebration of Pink Friday 2, the resulting tour has turned out to be a career-long victory lap for one of rap's premiere hitmakers.

In a similar fashion to mega-tours in 2023 like the Eras and Renaissance tours, Nicki delivered visuals, set pieces, outfits, and set lists that span her entire 15 years of hitmaking. The potential for her to unpack nearly any song she's ever recorded clicks perfectly with her rabidly devoted fanbase of Barbz. The pink-clad stan army fundamentally change anywhere they arrive in bulk and Rolling Loud was no different. One main stage act after another during the festival's Friday schedule couldn't help but notice the seas of pink overtaking the grounds. All of the built and built into a fevered anticipation for Nicki herself to take the stage. While she delivered all of the bells and whistles fans could hope for, it was delivered in an impersonal and over-rehearsed package that felt far more concerned with seeming grand and elaborate than actually putting on a dynamic performance.

Nicki Minaj Takes The Rolling Loud Stage

Credit: Frankie Perez @sketchyfrankie

Rolling Loud Los Angeles was officially the 6th stop on the Pink Friday 2 tour. The set got underway 40 minutes late, though that was the case throughout the weekend-long festival and didn't necessarily have much to do with Nicki. But she did give fans lucky enough to have cellphone service a QR code to explore her Gag City website while they waited. When it was finally time for her to take the stage, she was preceded by a flashy introduction video. The clip features an animated Nicki in the image of her Chun-Li character gearing up to take the stage.

Videos like that one were played repeatedly throughout the performance. Alongside the numerous shifting stage elements, that meant there was quite a substantial portion of the show where Nicki was entirely absent. In fact, multiple entire songs from the set were played while she was nowhere to be found on stage. The combination of constantly shifting set design and repeated outfit changes gave the impression that they were condensing an entire concert into the compacted festival timeline. While the elaborate presentation was larger than life, it came at the expense of some of the intimacy that makes live music so great in the first place.

Nicki Bounces Between Eras

Credit: Frankie Perez @sketchyfrankie

The jittery pace of the show had a lot to do with the ever-changing design of the set. Nicki brought with her numerous props that helped accentuate her various characters. As she jumped between different eras backup dancers wheeled her on stage in boxes labeled "Chun-Li," "Barbie," and "Roman." Those almost always came with outfit changes. While the looks are often the biggest part of a tour of this caliber, the shortened time span meant that a substantial chunk of her time was spent off-stage changing clothes.

If the recapping sounds repetitive, that's how it felt. Watching Nicki elaborately redesign the entire stage amid a lengthy outfit change was exciting at first. But as she continued to only unpack shortened versions of one or two songs before redesigning everything again, it lost its shine. It was only after she blew through one era after another that the show finally shed its theatrics and opened up the opportunity for Nicki to be the forceful entertainer she's always been capable of.

Nicki Minaj Finally Hits Her Stride

Credit: Frankie Perez @sketchyfrankie

Across the final run of songs the show finally slowed down, took a breath, and lived up to everything it was capable of. Shockingly, it took this long into the show for Nicki to address the crowd at all. In fact, it was the first time she actually said anything between songs when she asked the crowd to applaud for themselves. In the lead-up to her sentimental classic "Moment 4 Life," she gave a speech to the audience about living in the moment and seeking out happiness every day.

For her second to last song, she gave the Barbz in attendance an incredible treat. During a New Year's performance a few months ago Nicki passed on performing her smash hit "Starships." She later claimed that she doesn't perform the song anymore, something that disappointed fans craving to hear it live. That made her surprise performance of the song one of the most special moments of the entire Rolling Loud weekend. Punctuating it by crushing her go-to closer for every tour stop so far "Everybody" ended the set on a massive bright spot despite its frantic start.

Nicki Minaj is a once-in-a-generation performer who has withstood one controversy after another for decades. In moments during her Rolling Loud Headlining Set, she showed exactly why. With bright, fiery, intense performances and a back catalog that can go toe to toe with anybody, Nicki is still an iconoclast. But under the pressure to deliver the grandest moment possible, she turned in a performance that paid more attention to elaborate theatrics than the powerful voice at the center of it all.

About The Author
Lavender Alexandria is a music and culture journalist based in Los Angeles, California. She’s covered dozens of musical genres and styles from the most mainstream to the most experimental and underground on her blog and accompanying YouTube channel that looks at music, pop culture, and Billboard charts since 2017: Lav’s Music Corner. Lavender has produced editorial and listicle content both in written and video form over the past far years and has also interviewed up-and-coming artists like Censored Dialogue. Her experiences covering culture have taken her from Hyperpop parties in LA to underground rap shows in Atlanta, to DIY punk shows in Charlotte. Lavender has also written for iHeartRadio, covering some of the biggest artists in Hip Hop such as Ice Spice, Drake, Doja Cat and Cardi B. She also has bylines with ScreenRant and continues to write for Ringtone magazine. Lavender is a lifelong Charlotte Hornets fan and her favorite rap artists include Clipping, Little Simz, Earl Sweatshirt, and Kendrick Lamar.