Nicki Minaj is a star, whether you want to admit it or not. More than that, she is on the brink of ascending to new heights of celebrity. Television is the platform that will cement her “Icon of the Moment” status. An E! three-episode series, Nicki Minaj: My Truth will debut on Sunday, November 4 at 10:30 pm, preceding her debut as a judge on American Idol next year.
Her endorsements with Pepsi and Adidas, and the product deals with MAC and Elizabeth Arden fragrance are cute. But, her foray into television is a different ballgame. After being declared the clear winner in female rap, Minaj is working on pulling ahead of the pop star pack.
The next level of stardom for Nicki – true mainstream success, where parents and grandparents know your name – will require the star to face her most common criticism.
Minaj bristles at the mention of the dividing line between rap and pop in her image. She told Vibe magazine when promoting Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, “I cannot break my album down into how the normal person like yourself would break an album down and say, well this is rap and this is pop. There is no rap or pop for me. It’s Nicki Minaj. It’s one collective body of amazing work.”
But, her collective body of work debunks her point. Both of Minaj’s album releases can be divided into separate rap and pop discs, and have been criticized for “exploring her musical identity… rather than perfecting one.” She even employs a two-face strategy to music videos, releasing them in pop- and rap-themed pairs.
Minaj’s decision to embrace her inner theater geek and follow the larger than life path Gaga paved has paid off for her. But, the wigs, makeup, outfits, and personalities could also be her undoing. To those who aren’t firmly in her fan base, and some who are, she can come off as a screaming wall of color. She makes an entertaining spectacle, but is hard to connect with.
For all the personalities in Minaj’s arsenal, we have yet to be introduced to the one that really matters. Even her fans debate her true identity. Is she “old Nicki,” the mixtape diva whose return was called for before her debut album could settle on the charts, or the opportunistic pop princess that rose out of a Taylor Swift co-sign? Minaj has gotten away with being two stars at once. But, creating a brand with universal appeal requires a cohesive image.
The hallmark of an American icon is having something real – whether it is a captivating story or sheer talent – that fans from all walks of life can connect to. Minaj’s decision to invite E! cameras into her life and set up shop in America’s living rooms every week is a sign that she is ready to forge that connection. The only question is, which Barbie will we get? It’s time for the real Nicki Minaj to stand up.
Her performance on E! and American Idol will give a hint of who Minaj wants us to believe she is. She may opt to appeal to a broader audience and risk alienating her hip hop base beyond repair. Her on-set feud with fellow Idol judge Mariah Carey shows Minaj brought Queens with her, but too much attitude could alienate the parents of the kids who love her.
Minaj has another option, one that she rarely manages sonically. She could find a balance between her two sides, and meld them together into some type of the-hood-meets-Candyland concoction that leaves everyone craving more.
Whatever direction she chooses, Minaj’s next moves will be among the most important she has made. Watching her find herself should make for good television. Her performance will be an important determinate of how much longer we’ll be seeing her around.