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."

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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. Fred Hafner

    I am praying for her.

    February 13, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      I'm sure that'll help. Like world peace and "curing" gay.

      February 13, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  2. LawnSausage

    I will take any performance or any act that busts down the religions of the world more, and further marginalizes those ignorant people who continue to use religion and faith as a tool for control of people, politicians, economies. Religion is crap.

    February 13, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • lonestarst8

      well put, Religion is RAN by men. Man is flawed, end of sentence.

      February 13, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  3. concerned in cleveland

    Hip hop flavor of the month/year. She'll join a long list of hot new things in the rap world that don't last very long. Is it because of infidelity in the African American community that aspiring female rap artists don't last? Is it some sort of odd cultural extension of a deeper societal problem within the African American sub culture that black female artists burn out so quickly, abandoned, and forgotten?

    February 13, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  4. J.W

    I didn't know so many people on the belief blog had bad taste in music.

    February 13, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  5. Steve

    She has us talking. That is all this person wants.

    February 13, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  6. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    Her outfit and pope date was funny. Her performance was pathetic.

    February 13, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  7. Miles

    Please DO NOT give Nicki too much credit beyond wanting attention. This had Madonna (Like a Prayer) and alter ego Roman (Lady Gaga) all over it. Nothing original. So when you want attention in America you tap the religion – in a costume rental way.

    February 13, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  8. JohnUSA

    I wasn't offended, though I may have been if I were Catholic. At the same time, it was an unbearably awful performance.

    February 13, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  9. Danny

    phewww... there are alot of Catholics here.. aren't there?

    February 13, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  10. Laurie

    That was not up to the standards that one would expect at Grammy's...I'm not sure what it was but it wasn't worth watching or listening too – I'll take Lady Gaga's outrageous over that any day!

    February 13, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  11. Mike

    OK seriously, I still don't know who this is. She was with Madonaa at the SB half time show and I said "who?" and now she is at the Grammy's. I have never heard of this chick in my life.
    What has she done recently to deserve all this sudden press?

    February 13, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  12. wr

    Nicki who?

    February 13, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  13. 49cents&change

    When her 15 minuets are up . She'll end up un recognised , broke, druggie like 51 cents. crack is whack

    February 13, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  14. BOOBY

    shees uglier than a bucket of smashed @$$wholes

    February 13, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin


      February 13, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  15. Hum Hum

    Total trash! She should focus on content rather than insulting a faith.

    February 13, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  16. Brittany

    I thought it was good! Its Nicki Minaj, its not unusual for her do an outrageous performance like this. If it was someone like Lady Gaga who did it nobody would question it. She is a really good and successful rapper.

    February 13, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Your bar is obviously pretty low. Using gaga as a comparison doesn't help your case.

      February 13, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  17. u2canC

    Ooops! Meant to say "real talent does NOT need" to put on a show.

    February 13, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  18. u2canC

    Adele doesn't dress like a tramp or put on a "show" during her concerts. Yet she swept the Grammys. Real talent does need anything else but the voice.

    February 13, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • autueristic

      yeah and adele's performance last night was BORING...she definitely has the voice but no stage presence. her shows will of course do well, but she should keep them to quaint spots. an arena show with adele will be like listening to her album over loud speakers. minaj took creative time to create an EXPERIENCE. cant knock her for providing ENTERTAINMENT, thats what entertainers are supposed to do..

      February 13, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  19. BOOBY

    Stupidest, most worthless phukkn thing ever...usless, talentless !d!0tic debacle that has no value

    February 13, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  20. Getoverit!

    I thought it was an odd but great perforamance–aside from Adelle's peformance though in a totally different category, the best of the night. The catholic church has been dishing out and been taking hits for centuries, I heard someone say that it's like a car with four flat tires but still going–here to stay. Stop being victims!

    February 13, 2012 at 5:30 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.