Nicki Minaj Proved Divas Aren't Dead at Bayfront Park Amphitheatre

Nicki Minaj
With Meek Mill, Tinashe, and Dej Loaf
Bayfront Park Amphitheatre
Monday, July 20, 2015

It’s been about 45 minutes. The DJ is doing his best to quell the “We want Nicki!” chants with bizarre Phil Collins mashups, but he can hold them back for only so long. Just as anticipation starts to give way to irritation, the curtain drops, revealing the two-story stage.

The crowd erupts, but still, no Nicki. The beat drops for “All Things Go,” the opening track on Pinkprint and one of the album’s most emotional songs. Then, suddenly, there she is. She’s rising from underneath the stage, blossoming like a flower. But just as her chin passes the floor, she stops. It could be a mechanical error. It’s hard to tell.

She’s just a head now, floating there like a suspicious prairie dog. The crowd is going insane. It doesn’t care. It loves that head. It’s the same head responsible for some of fans' favorite songs, like, ever. The same head that once got fired from Red Lobster for chasing a couple into the parking lot after they stole a pen, then giving them a big middle finger.

It’s been a solid two and a half seconds. Minaj reaches up and puts her hands on the stage. Is she going to climb out of there?

Finally, she's moving again. Slowly, her body is revealed, covered in black lace.

After a verse of “All Things Go,” her platform lifts even higher. Now her feet are level with the rest of the band’s heads. Will she ever stop? Is this how we’ll lose Nicki Minaj? Taken from us by an unruly platform that rose so high it eventually launched the award-winning megastar into orbit?

To the crowd’s delight, she eventually comes down. And there she is. All hair and teeth and curves. She’s wearing a wireless mic so her hands are free to do whatever the hell they want (a lot of triumphant and elegant gestures with the occasional hint of attitude).

The audience, whose proudest and loudest members are made up of women, shout along to every word. This is adoration bordering on worship — a mass of hungry little piglets climbing over one another to find a vacant teat.

By the time she gets to “Feeling Myself,” I am doing just that. Her supreme confidence is infectious and everyone within earshot is slowly transforming into a diva. Nicki is the full moon to our werewolf. 

When Nicki makes her way down the flight of stairs to the front of the stage, her floor-length skirt is gone, melted down to just a black lace bodysuit over a thong. 

We’re all waiting for it. Whenever Nicki’s onstage, there’s always the threat of butt. It’s in the back of our minds. And in that sense, it’s a bit like the zombies on Walking Dead. Even in a scene with no zombies in sight, the viewer is bracing for zombies. A seemingly quiet moment retains tension because, any second, an undead grandmother might round the corner to nibble on your jugular. And even when Minaj’s rear end is hiding behind fabric or facing away from the crowd, we’re all just waiting for it to pop out and bite us.

And she knows this. Later she’ll ask Bayfront Park: “Are you an ass man or a breast man?” pausing briefly before answering her own question. “Well, you’re at a Nicki Minaj concert, so lemme think…”

When she finally does turn and show it to us, it’s magic. There’s no way around it. It’s beautiful.

It's an ass that could stop wars. It's an ass that could reach across the aisle to unite Republican and Democrat. It's a bipartisan ass.

In 1977, NASA launched the Voyager spacecraft toward no planet in particular. Inside, it included a few samples of things that might highlight the beauty and diversity of life on Earth should aliens ever find our space trash. There were recordings of whale songs, spoken greetings in 55 languages, and songs by Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, among others.

If we ever get a chance to do that again, we gotta put a picture of that butt in there.

This feels weird, putting so much emphasis on a body part, especially as a man doing it to a woman. I’m objectifying her. Right? Or is she the one taking advantage of us and our more primal instincts?

After all, Sir Mix-a-Lot — whose song “Baby Got Back” Minaj sampled on her ode to the wagon she’s draggin’, “Anaconda” — made a fortune off the butts of others. And you bet your pretty little behind that male rappers are still cashing in on female glutes to this day. Why shouldn't Nicki do the same?   

And sure, the butt was there, but Minaj didn’t use it as a crutch. She didn’t need to.

She could have came out looking like a Boxtroll or Cousin Itt. The crowd still would have loved her. I know I did.

When her two male dancers lift her briefly onto their shoulders, I whisper to myself, "You better not fucking drop her."

I actually go awww when she steps onstage with her boyfriend, Meek Mill (who had the pleasure of standing backstage listening to Nicki talk about how she'd let Drake and Lil Wayne eat her ass "like a cupcake" when she sang the song “Only").

During a particularly tender rendition of “Grand Piano,” I farted and immediately felt like rushing the stage to apologize.

About three-quarters of the way through her show, Minaj picks two fans to come up and join her. When she asked one where she was from, the girl couldn’t even finish the word “Ohio” before bursting into tears of joy.

These people didn’t pay to see an ass. They paid to see Nicki. The ass is just an added bonus, like Cheddar Bay Biscuits at Red Lobster.

She’s gotten a lot of flack for going “mainstream” through the years, and, in most ways, she has. Her latest album (and the name of the tour) The Pinkprint, was an attempt for Nicki to return to the musical roots from where she came, a throwback to "Mixtape Nicki," some said. It was certainly a harder and more hip-hop-focused album than her more poppy efforts. Yet, the show certainly felt mainstream — all colorful and meticulously produced and expensive.

Sometimes I imagine myself onstage in front of adoring fans, one hand on my cherry-red guitar, one hand shooting a middle finger at everyone who wronged me in high school, and I wonder: What would I do? Would I stay true to my roots, say fuck the label, and make the music I wanted to make? Or would I burst through the doors at Sony and scream, "Make me famous, bitches!”

I tell myself I'd do the former, picking up critical praise from Noisey and Pitchfork as I sulked from intimate gig to intimate gig. And then I look at Adam Levine. And I see him huddled in the middle of a vortex of cash and supermodels, like the way those Antarctic penguins stay warm, and I say, Fuck it. Show me where that “sell out” button is and I'll push that thing faster than you can say “Moves Like Jagger.”

But if I ever do sell out, I hope I can do it like Minaj, reaping all the benefits while, somehow, finding a way to hold on to the most essential parts of myself. It’s a testament to her talent that she can stay mainstream while rhyming about tossing salads and other things you literally couldn’t pay Taylor Swift to say. She brought both elementary-aged girls and gold-grilled hip-hop heads to Bayfront Park, and they all had a blast.

How can you not? Look at her go. She’s a diva, just as pure and true as any out there. She’s got an ego the size of the Empire State Building, hair just as tall, and she won’t apologize for a damned thing, because she never pretended to be anything else.

No one at Bayfront Park Amphitheatre could tell you what the fuck a Starship is, but if Nicki is the captain, you best believe we’re hopping aboard.

Follow Ryan Pfeffer on Twitter. 

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