Nicki Minaj on touring with Britney Spears, wardrobe malfunctions and finding her comfort zone
When Nicki Minaj emerged from a glowing teleporter center stage at Staples Center on Monday night, to the opening hums of her ferocious track “Roman’s Revenge,” she showed her latest ambition: to be a stadium-packing touring act.
It’s the only explanation as to why the rapper, who is hip-hop's reigning it girl, would return a second time in as many months after supporting Lil Wayne on his I Am Still Music tour. For fans who saw that quick set in April, it was apparent she was moving herself into the arena touring landscape where female rappers haven’t been a presence in recent years.
Her music ranges from hardcore to pop friendly, so it's not surprising that her second trek in a year shows her supporting pop royalty Britney Spears on her Femme Fatale tour. Spears was the main dish, of course, but there was a moment at Staples when Minaj ruled the stage with razor-sharp bangs and body-hugging attire on full display.
While she played the true team player role while on the road with Wayne (he likes to bring out his Young Money family during his set), with Spears, she proved to be a serious live player with elaborate staging, a theatrical story line, choreography and costume changes.
Pop & Hiss caught up with Minaj ahead of her stop in Anaheim on Friday for a conversation about the tour so far, wardrobe malfunctions and why she isn’t 100% comfortable onstage.
Talk a little about the creative direction of the show.
I wanted the direction to feel like a few girls from another planet. One of them just happens to be "the chosen one." They embark on a journey to go to a few different cities and search for this person named Nemesis. I wanted it to be really theatrical and fun. And I just wanted to make the audience feel like they were spying on our world.
Lil Wayne and Britney Spears have very different fanbases, and your music sort of treads the line between both. What did you think about jumping on Spears’ tour?
Well, initially, what I thought was I hope this audience will appreciate what I do. What I first dealt with was a bit of the unknown. Is this something that Britney’s crowd will even enjoy? But it all went away the first night. I stood in the transporter, that big prop that we have on the stage, and I could not believe the crowd reaction before they even saw me. It was very emotional for me. I was so shocked. I thought, OK, on the Wayne tour, this is my audience, everyone that knows Wayne, they know Nicki Minaj. When I heard those screams, it was one of the best feelings in the world. It changed overnight. I’m pleasantly surprised with the people coming out on this show; they generally are coming out not to critique, but to have fun. The hip-hop community tends to be more critical. On this stage, I felt a little bit more free.
Wayne’s tour wrapped about a month ago. What type of time did you have to prep for this tour, which is a completely different show for you?
I’m going to be honest: I haven’t even done a dress rehearsal for this tour yet. I know most people wouldn’t come out and say that, but we’ve been really, really pulling this off by the skin of my teeth because like you said, I had just come off a tour, and right after the tour we had to prep for a lot of other things. We really didn’t have a lot of prep time, and then of course I’m not the headlining act so I didn’t get time on the stage, I didn’t get time for my lighting and my cues. We really have been pulling it off.
I wanted more time to nurture the show and get it to the point where I was ready to see it, but unfortunately tick, tick, tick, it was time to go up. So just being honest, I really don’t think the show is where I want it to be as far as preparation. People don’t notice, you’ll never know, but I’m having all these wardrobe malfunctions. [During Monday’s performance] my dress broke, I couldn’t walk down the aisle on “Fly,” for the fight scene my holster didn’t come off in time -- it was a lot of craziness backstage. I really can’t wait for people to see this show after we start to feel comfortable. These three shows have been our dress rehearsals. We’re definitely not in our comfort zone yet.
That didn’t come across at all onstage, so that’s surprising to hear. You squeezed a lot of songs into your set, which was impressive. Is getting the rehearsal time something that’s going to change since the tour is moving so quick, and you’re in Anaheim on Friday?
What we’ve been doing, honestly, is every time we have a show we book rehearsal on our personal time. We’ll book rehearsal at the dance studio that’s in that city, or at the hotel that’s in that city so that we can be running it. But I’m really glad that you see that [about the setlist]. That was one of the big decisions that I made. I was like, I want to squeeze in as many songs as possible because I want people to have a variety. Like on the Wayne tour I had certain songs that I did... but on this one, my way of thinking was I’d rather do more songs so people can hear their favorites somewhere in the middle of that, instead of just a few songs and people are like, ‘Ugh... I didn’t hear any of the ones I do love.’ I wanted to make it a people-pleaser type of show.
People are anticipating your solo tour. What are you going to take from both the Wayne and Britney tours that you can incorporate into your solo headlining tour, which is set to kick off next year?
Let me just say I’m going to take from Britney and Wayne, because they’re both veterans. Being completely honest I’ve learned so much from them, in terms of production. Britney’s production is so amazing. When I sat out there the first night to watch it, I felt like I was a kid at an amusement park. It was so much, the lights, the content and the props. Whereas Wayne, he teaches me how to command a crowd. His comfort level and how he makes people feel like he’s their best friend when he’s onstage. He has that command. If you can put both of those two things into a show, you can really do an amazing show -- that’s my goal. Am I gonna be able to do these humongous venues within the next year? Probably not. But am I gonna put on an amazing show and give everyone something that’s gonna be well worth what they paid? Absolutely yes.
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Twitter.com / gerrickkennedy
Photo: (Top) Nicki Minaj performs onstage during the 2011 Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in May in Las Vegas. (Bottom) Britney Spears joins Minaj during her performance. Credit: Ethan Miller /Getty Images for ABC.