upper waypoint

Live Review: Nicki Minaj Reclaims Her Crown at Pink Friday 2 Tour Kickoff in Oakland

Save ArticleSave Article
Failed to save article

Please try again

a woman in a silvery bodysuit smiles on stage with a microphone in a big arena with pink and purple lighting behind her
Nicki Minaj performs during the opening night of her Pink Friday 2 World Tour at the Oakland Arena on March 1, 2024. (Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Live Nation)

You’d be right to have worried that the first show of Nicki Minaj’s Pink Friday 2 tour in Oakland on Friday might be, well, a mess.

Known more for controversies and feuds in recent years than the immense talent that once made her the world’s most feared rapper, Nicki Minaj victoriously spent two hours at her tour kickoff reminding a sold-out Oakland Arena that she still sings, raps, dances and brings the heat.

Nicki Minaj performs ‘Feelin’ Myself’ during the opening night of her Pink Friday 2 World Tour at the Oakland Arena on March 1, 2024. (Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Live Nation)

This was clear right from the start of the show, when Nicki rose from below the stage rapping with noticeable vigor on the throwback opener “I’m the Best” (key line: “Which world tour should I go on today?”). In one moment, all the Ben Shapiro tweets, COVID conspiracies, irredeemable diss tracks and scattered whisper-rambles on Instagram Live became distant memories. She was not here to play.

We are talking about a 36-song setlist, with smash hits and deep cuts alike. Six costume changes, robot dancers, a subway train, phone booths for her different alter egos. Lots of simulated copulation — group, duo and solo. Nicki, at age 41, coming for vengeance on workouts like “Roman’s Revenge,” and showing off her vocals on “Save Me.” And, just three months after being released, Nicki’s new songs from Pink Friday 2 — a smoldering “Big Difference,” set closer “Everybody” — coming off like classics.

Nicki Minaj performs during the opening night of her Pink Friday 2 World Tour at the Oakland Arena on March 1, 2024. (Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Live Nation)

What’s evident is Nicki is hungry again. Maybe the competition got to her, and she upped her game. Maybe it was always in hiding. While she performed, I found myself wondering if her whole meandering, is-she-on-drugs-or-isn’t-she thing of late has been an elaborate psy-op to hide intense training and rehearsal. Whatever happened, it’s resulted in her giving 100% again. The show (“this magical historic night,” Nicki declared) recalled the first time I saw her headline the Bay Area, in 2012 at the Paramount Theatre — how unstoppable she seemed then, how she gave her all to the crowd.

Sponsored

There have been rough patches in the interim, to be sure. Bay Area fans may remember a fraught Concord Pavilion show in 2015 that suffered from beleaguered choreography and a strange detachment that seemed concerning, especially after The Pinkprint’s multiple references to Percocet. The show ended with a giant brawl in the crowd; as I left I saw one guy face-down, knocked out. The vibes, as they say, were off.

Nicki Minaj performs during the opening night of her Pink Friday 2 World Tour at the Oakland Arena on March 1, 2024. (Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Live Nation)

Friday night, fans got the old Nicki. And not just with older deep cuts like “Favorite” and “Win Again,” which roused diehards but caused the overall energy to dip. One of the show’s early peaks was “FTCU,” and the modern phenomenon of an arena screaming the 30 seconds of a song that are famous on TikTok.

The inspirational Nicki showed up too, during “The Night Is Still Young.” “I wanna tell you guys something right now,” she said. “No matter what is happening right now outside of Gag City, inside here, we are radiating positivity, success, prosperity, intelligence and wisdom” — later telling her audience, many clad in in sequined skirts, pink wigs, fuzzy hats and platform heels, “You still have time to do what you have to do! Don’t waste a minute of your life! Promise me that!”

Nicki Minaj performs ‘Cowgirl’ during the opening night of her Pink Friday 2 World Tour at the Oakland Arena on March 1, 2024. (Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Live Nation)

Fans also got the sex-positive Nicki. After a costume change into a basketball jersey-inspired yellow dress and boxing hoodie, Nicki did her best impression of Prince’s “Darling Nikki” upon the stage floor, complete with 90-degree leg lifts and a strategically positioned microphone. Cue the Beyoncé duet “Feelin’ Myself,” followed by undulating with three leather-clad beefcakes on steel beds (“Cowgirl”) and a straight-up face sit (“RNB”).

Provocative? Sure. But she knows what she’s doing. Nicki is hyper-aware of the meta narratives around her every move — and I’m not sure that’s always a good thing. As a longtime fan, part of my hesitation about this tour is that she’s seemed less interested in being the world’s greatest rapper, and more interested in hearing people say she’s the world’s greatest rapper. It’s been giving self-doubt, and made me hear her music as telegraphing “greatness” instead of embodying it.

Nicki Minaj performs ‘Red Ruby da Sleeze’ during the opening night of her Pink Friday 2 World Tour at the Oakland Arena on March 1, 2024. (Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Live Nation)

But if anyone’s earned the right to rest on her laurels, it’s Nicki. You can hear her carefree flamboyance in Doja Cat, her winking humor in Cardi B, her boss-bitch confidence in — yes — Megan Thee Stallion. But primarily, 24 years into her career, Nicki’s influence is in the fact we are talking about any of these talented women at all.

It is really, really hard to convey to younger fans the unfair reality in which we lived, for years, that allowed for one and only one female rapper at a time. Nicki blew that notion apart. With her many alter egos and endless flows, she paved a multitude of ways for women to make their mark in the industry. On Friday, she also let national treasure Monica perform a simmering set of a half-dozen songs during her headlining set, rather than making her open to a half-full arena.

Nicki Minaj performs ‘FTCU’ during the opening night of her Pink Friday 2 World Tour at the Oakland Arena on March 1, 2024. (Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Live Nation)

During the show, I thought of the prom scene in Mean Girls, where Cady Heron hands out pieces of her crown to the other girls at school. That’s what Nicki did. I don’t think she really wants the crown back. She just wants people to know where it came from.

Sponsored

During her joyous finale in Oakland — with favorites “Moment for Life,” “Starships” and the eternal “Super Bass” — she made a convincing closing argument for that fact. This jury’s verdict is in: Nicki’s resurrected herself.

lower waypoint
next waypoint
The Stud, SF's Oldest Queer Bar, Gears Up for a Grand ReopeningHow a Dumpling Chef Brought Dim Sum to Bay Area Farmers MarketsThis Sleek Taiwanese Street Food Lounge Serves Beef Noodle Soup Until 2:30 a.m.Minnie Bell’s New Soul Food Restaurant in the Fillmore Is a HomecomingSFMOMA Workers Urge the Museum to Support Palestinians in an Open LetterOutside Lands 2024: Tyler, the Creator, The Killers and Sturgill Simpson HeadlineYou Can Get Free Ice Cream on Tuesday — No CatchLarry June to Headline Stanford's Free Blackfest5 New Mysteries and Thrillers for Your Nightstand This SpringA ‘Haunted Mansion’ Once Stood Directly Under Sutro Tower