From the moment I saw that Nicki Minaj was headlining Billboard’s first-ever Hot 100 Festival, I was determined to go. I would show up, see her, and get my life from it all because — Meek Mill vs. Drake drama and Madame Tussauds wax figures aside — I firmly believe that Nicki is the type of girl who just wants to have fun. And so am I.
Loyal and questioning Barbz alike flooded to the main stage at the Hot 100 fest to see Nicki. She had a late start to her set, but when opening song “Feeling Myself” came on, no one had a chance. Nicki strutted out in a lace zip-up jumpsuit to perform the song that had many of us downloading Tidal for the sole purpose of watching its video. Club bangers “Only” and “Truffle Butter” followed, and you can imagine the scene at this point. All hands were raised. Hips gyrated. The middle school-aged girls next to me (more likely there for the “Super Bass” and “Starships” bops) were screaming their heads off. But then Nicki’s sound went out. Her crew experienced some technical difficulties, which continued throughout the set, and though she left the stage briefly, she came back ready to give us more.
Nicki’s versatility became clearer than ever last night. She is, and has been, both a pop star and a rapper. Some think she’s a rapper on the occasion of being a pop star. The girls next to me last night might have argued the opposite. People concern themselves with which Nicki is better, and after seeing her live for the first time at Billboard Hot 100, I have to ask: Why?
Nicki changed costumes in the middle of the set from her black getup to a gold, sparkly bra top and skirt combo you might otherwise see on a professional ice skater. This change in clothes also came with a shift in song choice. Nicki went from her “Beez In The Trap”-rapping, “Flawless”-remixing self to the pop icon who sings bright pink radio-friendly jams like “Super Bass” and “Hey Mama.” Perhaps this was all unintentional on her part, and we can debate which of these Nickis is the better one. But seeing her up on the stage working the crowd, I thought that anyone who compares these two sides of her is missing it all.
When it comes down to it, Nicki Minaj is a performer. Her repertoire is varied, and that works for her. Neither pop Nicki nor rap Nicki suffers at the expense of the other. If anything, her versatility allows her to reach a wider audience. The girls to the left of my 23-year-old self looked like they couldn’t have already finished middle school. To my right was a middle-aged mother with her teen-aged son. The crowd was predominantly college-aged adults sprinkled with parents, pre-teens, twentysomethings, and thirtysomethings. All were there to enjoy whatever side of Nicki she would let us see that night, and despite the obvious shift mid-way through, I can say for sure I only saw one Nicki.
So while she’s getting criticized for not being more vocal about her Madame Tussauds wax figure and social injustices, and getting dragged into her boyfriend’s beef with Drake, Nicki is still doing her thing — and that’s having fun. Sometimes, it really is as simple as that.