You don't expect someone like Nicki Minaj to kick off a gig in sombre form, taking the stage in a lace dress and veil that a risqué 19th-century widow might have worn. As Minaj has proven over the last few years, however, appearances can be deceptive. She may have become tabloid fodder thanks to her aversion for any sort of substantial clothing, but don't be fooled by the boobs 'n' bum; the New Yorker is one smart - not to mention capable - cookie.
We're at the 3Arena for Minaj's first Dublin gig in several years – as part of her 'Pinkprint' album tour - and the venue is packed with a predominantly young crowd fired up on fizzy drinks and hormones, safe in the knowledge that there's no school tomorrow. Midterm breaks were made for gigs like this. There are tough tunes like 'Va Va Voom' and 'Pound the Alarm', Minaj allowing herself a smile as she realises that her legion of Irish fans are just as devoted here as they are around the world; there are dancefloor fillers like 'Feeling Myself' and there's even a cover of Beyoncé's 'Flawless'.
And of course, there are the hits: 'Anaconda' and 'Super Bass' in particular cause the floor of the 3Arena to judder while Minaj's troupe of impressive (and similarly scantily-clad) dancers weave around the stage. At one point, she plucks a young fan from Skerries in Dublin to be her 'hype man' on one song (pictured below), and his unbridled/somewhat terrified joy is a sight to behold.
Of course, the adults in the audience are enjoying it too, particularly the star's ability to dart between free-flowing rap, r'n'b and balladry, although the latter – particularly during a dreary piano-led section later in the gig – are cues for a mass exodus to the toilets and bar. The costume/wig changes are welcomed, too, although the silence and darkened stage between each one does nothing to sustain the gig's momentum; even a video insert, or a musical interlude might have keep the audience engaged.
Nevertheless, as the strains of uber-hit 'Starships' ring out around the 3Arena and glitter cannons rain sparkled paper on ecstatic onlookers, it's hard to feel disgruntled. Minaj's show may yet need a bit of spit 'n' polish to make it unforgettable, but her giant, feel-good grin is impossibly infectious and her vocal dexterity is indisputable. By all accounts, it seems that hip-hop's found a new superstar.
Before the gig, we spent time in Bar Neon at 3Arena (which is available to 3Ireland customers by pre-registering online) as well as the exclusive invite-only Kaleidoscope Bar. See three.ie/music for more details.