Nicki Minaj appeared on Saturday Night Live this weekend, performing one of her least good/most popular songs, "Right Through Me" wearing an impossibly ridiculous layered wedding dress topped with a lopside upside down cake shaped wig. There was a lot of pink smoke and no hint of the word "shit" in the refrain. Even, apparently, "ish" is too suggestive for 12:30AM Sunday morning on NBC. She sauntered, pulling up the skirt so it didn't drag too much, faux-dramatizing the song she's performed a million times. A minute or so into the performance, she let off a little grunt, as she often does, but right after, you could catch a smirk, seemingly at her own spectacle.
Last week Minaj released the video for her song "Moment 4 Life," which she also performed on SNL. The video, framed as a fairytale, includes a long, music-less preamble where Minaj plays both a king (no explanation for the gender shifting—she is dressed like Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra) and her own fairy godmother. They exchange a brief moral about moment savoring, but mostly hum and buzz at each other, bug out their eyes and make funny faces. It is, by far, the best part of the video, the rest of which is her rapping in front of a Liberace-style mantle and a long lead up to a dull wedding with Drake. "Moment 4 Life," with more actual rapping than "Right Through Me," was more entertaining on SNL, though its somewhat straight ahead rapping and singing, involving little of the wild showmanship, that is, in song or otherwise, undeniably her strong suit. Minaj is most compelling on verse when she's gruffly bonkers, like in her spot on Kanye West's "Monster" when she roars after pummeling, or when she schizophrenically skips through characters like on "Roman's Revenge." Clearly, she can rap. Beyond that, she can entertain, and its those vaudevillian tendencies that make her so beguiling.
If we're lucky, Minaj won't have to settle for a single-tiered career. In addition to performing live on SNL, she participated in an animated short where she played a nerdy peeping lady-tom and a live skit where she was the bride of Blackenstein, a cooked up mummy lady with a beguiling behind. She was funny! As a comedian, she is heavily compelling performer, communicating with anything from tie dye wigs to ass jiggling. Maybe being able to rap is just how she got our attention, now she wants to tell us some jokes. This isn't a new path, though it is a treacherous one. Think of Ice Cube, member of NWA, one of the most powerful and vicious political voices of our time. And now he is the dude in Are We There Yet?. Though that's not a swipe, arguably one made a heavier social impact than the other. Regardless of message, they're both platforms. Can you say Barbershop is less valuable than "Check Yo Self"? He might not. Granted Cube's career has almost 25 years on Minaj's, but seizing two extra spots on SNL (she also played a lady-peeping tom in the digital short) in addition to her more typical music guest spot, shows she's learned quick that most opportunities are worth taking. How she navigates her surely coming ubiquity will be fun to watch, nerve-wracking for some who only want tongue twisters, celebratory who want People magazine outfit rundowns. Who knows, maybe a live action Futurama movie is in her future and maybe it'll be good. Or maybe she'll actually put out the album we hoped Pink Friday would be. Here's hoping it's both.