Nicki Minaj probably envisioned her 2012 Grammy performance was going to be a game changer, and a lot of people went along for the ride. Grammy announcers hyped it up to be an unforgettable performance. Show producers placed it towards the end of the Grammys, the dangling carrot luring viewers to stay tuned.
However, Minaj’s big gamble failed to pay off. Her “Exorcism of Roman” routine was panned by critics and viewers. Could the pop star be losing her artistic direction and risking her career?
The “Exorcism of Roman” was supposed to be an epic introduction of Minaj’s oft-mentioned alter ego, Roman Zolanski. Rapping her song “Roman Holiday,” Minaj opened her performance with a confession to a priest, then cut to a video of a priest attempting to perform an exorcism on the pop star, and then finished with her levitating high above the stage.
It was as confusing as it sounds. Minaj’s description sheds a little more light on the frenetic performance. “I had this vision for Roman. I had this vision for him to be sort of exorcised,” she told Ryan Seacrest on his radio show. “People around tell him he’s not good enough because he’s not normal. So his mother is scared and the people around him are afraid. He wanted to show that not only is he amazing, but he’s never going to be exorcised, even when they throw holy water on him, he still rises above.”
That’s a highbrow concept for a show that aired to 39.9 million viewers across the country, many of whom barely know who Nicki Minaj is, let alone any of her alter egos.
She claims those who know her will get it — she explained to Seacrest. “My fanbase, they understand every single thing… [the performance] just was very literal and streamlined if you know who Roman is and if you don’t know the Roman character, you have to digest it.”
And yet there are so many who just couldn’t digest it. Many viewers were offended by the ‘controversial’ performance. But I think the backlash is trite — exploiting religious symbolism to incite a reaction is a tired performance gimmick, a common trap targeted towards conservatives (naturally, the Catholic League is pissed).
What was disappointing about Minaj’s performance was that it didn’t make sense — the plot was erratic, the song wasn’t exactly catchy, and the entire performance lacked artistic depth. It felt sophomoric and forced, hardly a work of genius.
But the performance just seems to continue Minaj’s creative misdirection. Her current single “Stupid Hoe” is languishing in the mid-50s on the Billboard charts. BET opted to ban the video, and its YouTube incarnation lives a very conflicted life: nearly 30 million views, but a majority of negative reviews, totaling over 300,000 dislikes.
Nicki Minaj’s determination to establish herself in pop music is understandable — we live in a time where smearing yourself with a blood-like substance is de rigueur for a stage performance. But focusing on this possessed alter ego isn’t the way. Most artists can’t pull off alter ego acts (ask Garth Brooks and even Lady Gaga). Multiple personalities and acts tend to confuse fans and distract from an artist’s true talent. Minaj’s ambition admirable, but letting this Roman character direct her creative trajectory is a mistake. People want pop music fun from Minaj, not an exorcism.
Follow Kia Miakka Natisse on Twitter at @miakka_natisse