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Nicki Minaj did what?
Hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj arrives at the Grammy Awards on Sunday.
February 13th, 2012
02:31 PM ET

Nicki Minaj did what?

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) - Even with a superstar memorialized and a Beach Boys reunion, it was a confusing high church sendup, complete with exorcisms, that stole the show at Sunday night's Grammy Awards.

When Nicki Minaj walked the red carpet in a red shawl that harkened back to Little Red Riding Hood, along with a man dressed as the pope in a white cassock and pointed white miter hat, it was a foreshadowing of what was to come on the stage at the Staples Center for the 54th Grammys.

Minaj hits the red carpet with a man dressed as the pope.

Minaj is a hip-hop artist who was nominated, in part or in full, for four Grammys, including best new artist and best rap album of the year.

She walked away from the evening empty-handed but stirred a hornets' nest with a live performance of her new song "Roman Reloaded."

CNN's Belief Blog – all the faith angles to the day's top stories

It began with Minaj sitting with a priest in a confessional. If the song is an allusion to the Catholic Church, the priest's costume collar was an odd choice, because his vestments were distinctively Anglican.

Neva Rae Fox, a spokeswoman for the Episcopal Church, said the choice of collar probably "was more of a wardrobe inaccuracy," as she suspects the intent was to portray a Catholic confessional.

"It's an Anglican collar, and the priest is wearing a white stole.  In a confession, you'd wear a purple stole," the scarf-like clothing priests wear, said Danielle Tumminio, an Episcopal priest in Massachusetts. "That seemed a bit odd."

The performance continued with a video spoof of the classic horror film "The Exorcist," stained-glass windows, dancing monks, an altar boy in a seductive position on a kneeler with a female dancer and a choir singing "O Come All Ye Faithful." It ended with Minaj levitating, stiff as a board, off the stage.

"People just didn't get it," said Nischelle Turner, a CNN entertainment correspondent who was on the red carpet at the Grammys. "Nobody really got it at all.  More so, people were just saying, 'I get artistic expression but this was just odd.' "

In a statement, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League said the performance was probably approved by the Recording Academy, which is responsible for the Grammys.

"Whether Minaj is possessed is surely an open question, but what is not in doubt is the irresponsibility of The Recording Academy. Never would they allow an artist to insult Judaism or Islam," he wrote.

"The video reminded me a lot of Madonna's 'Like a Prayer,' being provocative with religious imagery," Tumminio said.  What surprised her, though, was, " 'Like a Prayer' has religious lyrics, whereas this [Minaj] song really doesn't."

Tumminio echoed some of Donohue's concerns that Christianity, and in particular the Catholic Church, was being maligned. "Roman Catholicism, more than other Christian denominations, has really got a heightened awareness of sexual abuse perpetuated by clergy.  It's damaged the reputation of the church and the idea the church is an institution that gives hope to people."

But it was the exorcism scenes that raised the most eyebrows.

"It's a performance," author Matt Baglio said.  "Any artist is going to touch on the most sensational and well-known kind of iconic images associated with exorcism.  She captured them pretty well, climbing up on the wall and levitation; just being aggressive, and her voice was changing."

Baglio is the author of The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist, which followed Father Gary Thomas, an American Catholic priest who trained to be a exorcist in Rome.  (We profiled Thomas here last year.)

Baglio says that as he wrote the book, he observed 30 exorcisms.

"I didn't see anything like that.  The real world exorcism is nothing like that.  It's much more boring," he said. "The exorcisms I saw were much less spectacular.  That made it much more creepy for me."

Minaj did not respond to CNN's request for comment on the performance.

But she has spoken before about having many alter egos, including the character of Roman Zolanski, whom she has described as a crazed gay male. Spin.com explained it this way: "Roman allows Minaj to tap into the fire-breathing, giddily nihilistic spirit that drew so many rap heads to her mixtapes ..."

Having the character out in public on music's biggest stage and drawing the ire of religious critics probably won't hurt sales. "Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded," Minaj's sophomore album, is expected to be released in April.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Music

soundoff (437 Responses)
  1. HappyValleYMan

    Hey look Nicky Man-ji and Jerry Sandusky were at the Grammy's!

    February 13, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  2. Karen

    What about those two little girls that were on Ellen who thought she was a role model...hmmm wonder what their parents have to say now! She is NO role model for anything good!

    February 13, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • jo

      if everyone worried about being a little girls role model everything would be rather tame and bland don't you think?

      February 13, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  3. derp

    I guess this is what you have to do when you lack any discernible talent.

    February 13, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • ro1ro

      hey critics have some sort of talent, they can write a full page (or a sentence)

      February 13, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  4. Freedom of Expression

    FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION, Get over yourselves, religious junkies!

    February 13, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  5. Amused420Chick

    Haters gonna Hate.....
    Love Nikki Minaj <3

    February 13, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  6. alemap

    Apparently those like Perry and Minja couldn't make it just standing at a mic and need all the theatrics to survive. After a while its all sooo boring..even the Madonna superbowl act...ah so what else is new..just more fire and brimstone and near naked bodies. Thank God for Adele. That's why the death of Whitney Houston is such a shame.She didn't rely on anything but her voice. Poor Perry and Minja...go get a degree in something

    February 13, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  7. Nova703

    Adele and the Boss were terrific. Nicky and Katie, not so much.

    February 13, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  8. jon doe

    all the trolls above can suck it

    February 13, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  9. Bill

    Donohue – "Whether Minaj is possessed is surely an open question, but what is not in doubt is the irresponsibility of The Recording Academy. Never would they allow an artist to insult Judaism or Islam."

    They also wouldn't allow their leaders to bugger little boys.

    February 13, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • Intheknow

      No buggering in Islam? Ha! How little you know.

      February 13, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • Cathy

      Right on! I really tire of the hypocrisy of the catholic church.

      February 13, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  10. cjphil08

    I enjoyed it... I guess I'm the only one. lol

    February 13, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  11. Woman

    Religious imagery is only interesting if you have something to say. She didn't seem to have anything to say but gibberish. I am not Catholic but found it boring, insulting to anyone with a brain, and a waste of 5 minutes.

    February 13, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  12. LoveMatters

    Hey, did you know that Dream Theater had an appearance at the Grammys? I wish they would have gotten an award.

    February 13, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  13. azDave

    I have no problem with spoofing or criticizing religion (any religion), but it's pretty lame when you can't be clever about it on such a grand stage.

    February 13, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  14. Christine

    Why cant good music be enough anymore. Instead they act like two year olds...Needy and desperate for attention. How completely insulting and it definitely crossed the line beyond creative expression. Makes me angry and I will not buy her music.

    February 13, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  15. Cheeka

    NICKI MINAJ is talentless and her career is on its last thread. But I know she will be around for a long time because the public likes this nonsense. Point being we follow talentless individuals #KimKardashian...

    February 13, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  16. LarryW

    The performance that stole the show for me was Taylor Swifts's "Mean". I'm not particularly a fan of hers, not a fan of country western either, and had never heard "Mean" before.

    I don't feel I was too far off either. Unlike for many other acts in which the Grammy audience politely clapped their approval, Swift and company got a standing ovation from the crowd, and she seemed quite taken aback by it. But, she and the rest of her ensemble deserved it.

    February 13, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Mike

      I didn't like it. The lyrics sounds like they came from a 12 year old girl. She laid an egg.

      February 13, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • Mike

      I didn't like it. The lyrics sounded like they came from a 12 year old girl. She laid an egg.

      February 13, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • countryfan

      The duo that opened for her – the Civil Wars – were far and away better than Swift. Should've let them perform a longer set!

      February 13, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  17. Genia

    I didn't like that Niki either, she sounds horrible and looks horrible-she was not a class act, and is an insect in Whitney Houston's catagory.

    February 13, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  18. TDiddy

    S k A N k!!!!

    February 13, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  19. TK

    I turned it off! Not only because it was insulting and confusing. If that is what she calls music, I think she should look it up in the dictionary. "Music – an art of sound ." It was not art or sound it was just noise! It got a bad rap from her.

    February 13, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  20. catholic

    Burn that witch! If that would have been the prophet M. there would be a fatwa out for her.

    February 13, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Dude you don't get it

      SHE IS MOHAMMED IN DRAG.

      February 13, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.