Nicki Minaj | NICKI WRLD TOUR | Manchester Arena, March 18, 2019

Opening Acts: RAY BLK and Juice WRLD
Special Guests: Lady Leshurr, YXNG BANE, Lisa Mercedez, and Ms Banks

Nicki Minaj gave us a night of intimate spectacle that made Manchester arena feel somehow cozy. The costume changes, set pieces, backup dancers, special guests, lighting, musicians and DJs all added up to some tight magic under the flag of a true entertainer. Her latest album, Queen, was released last August but tracks from that album only accounted for about a fifth of the set list, with a special set and costume change just for Chun-Li during the back half of the set.

RAY BLK warmed up the crowd and was so casual and comfortable that she took off her shoes to dance. Juice WRLD also took off his shoes, but no one was sure whether that was a reference to RAY or just a coincidence. His retro CGI visuals included a cup of juice pouring onto a world surrounded by floating pills, a flaming, flying skeleton, and a meme-heavy treatment of the song ‘Wasted’ (anyone who has seen the bounty of .gifs featuring a dog failing to catch a frisbee will understand). He brought out his girlfriend and autotune-serenaded her before pumping up the crowd for Nicki. Minaj made us wait about an extra half-hour, which wouldn’t have mattered if Manchester didn’t have a punishingly early Monday-night tram schedule.

Out she came, glittering in gold atop a Pegasus for the opening song, ‘Majesty’. The crowd knew every word of every bar and Nicki’s vocals were impeccable throughout her demanding tracks and seemingly endless list of medleys, covers, and guested songs. Nicki did not take off her shoes. Well, except to change them multiple times backstage. Her costumes went from mythic gold, to pink spandex, to space-age, to bridelike, to neon yellow iridescence. Every time I thought the performance was settling down, she did something to shift the energy.

The UK artists Nicki brought onstage included Lady Leshurr, YXNG BANE, Lisa Mercedez, and Ms Banks. They sang, danced, twerked, and graciously shared the stage. Nicki couldn’t resist attempting a Manchester accent, but all that came out was a Mockney mess that was charming nevertheless.

One lucky young man from North Wales named Mat was plucked from the audience and placed inside the Tron-lit plastic tube from which Nicki had recently emerged. It’s impossible to prepare for that kind of experience, but he was a good sport, awkwardly dancing inside the blue-lit pod and politely giving Nicki a kiss when she asked. The mix of envy and second-hand embarrassment felt by everyone in the stadium culminated in the fantastic joke of him being wheeled backward in the pod, right offstage and into unknown territory.

Apart from ‘Anaconda’ in the first half, most of the major hits were saved for the last section with ‘Pound the Alarm’, ‘Starships’, and finally ‘Super Bass’ to close. If Nicki was worn out by the end of the extensive set list, it never showed. Her energy, talent, and high regard for her fans was at the forefront of every moment, but her humility showed especially during the time she held for the victims of the 2017 terror attack during the Ariana Grande concert that took the lives of 22 people. The stadium, lit just by torches from audience cell phones, was charged with energy and solemn attention.

It was a night so good that I spilled my arena-priced gin and didn’t even care.

by Marsha Courneya

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