The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue has expressed ire over Nicki Minaj’s Grammy performance which drew heavily on Catholic imagery. Minaj hit the red carpet on the arm of a man dressed as the pope. She wore a striking red ensemble that appeared to reference “the woman arrayed in purple and scarlet color” described in Revelation 17:4.
Her performance of “Roman Holiday” began with a mock confession that led into a taped parody of the film The Exorcist. This segued back to the stage where Minaj was manacled to a column amid a chorus of dancing monks, who briefly sang “Come All Ye Faithful.” The scene ended with another reference to The Exorcist as Minaj levitated toward the ceiling.
The audience seemed confused and some saw the performance as derivative. Minaj’s “exorcism” continues a tradition of transgressive female pop stars, including Madonna and Lady Gaga, who have drawn on Catholic imagery. (Minaj recently rehearsed with Madonna for the Superbowl). Within this genre, offending the Catholic League is almost a badge of honor. (Last year, Bill Donohue was dismissive of Lady Gaga’s music video “Judas.”) Demonic themes and singers flying on wires date back at least to performers such as Gene Simmons of KISS. (Although seeing a young, female, and mainstream performer like Minaj levitate may still hold some shock value).
But, as Minaj explained in an interview with Ryan Seacrest, the Grammys had not asked her to perform one of her pop songs. Instead, they wanted her to perform “Roman Holiday,” which describes the torment of her alter ego “Roman Zolanski.” Minaj describes having several alter egos. These personalities are not a form of dissociative identity disorder, but rather a coping mechanism she developed to deal with a troubled home life. Instead of experiencing her domestic troubles as Onika Maraj (her legal name), she found it more manageable to become a variety of other people including “Cookie,” “Harajuku Barbie,” and “Nicki Minaj.” (In the 70s, David Bowie began performing through his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust.) In 2010, a new alter ego began to emerge called “Roman Zolanski.” This name appears to reference Roman Polanski, who directed Rosemary’s Baby and The Ninth Gate, both films that deal with Christian demonology. Minaj is rumored to be producing a movie about Roman, in which he is an iconoclast whose mother attempts to make him conform through an exorcism.
For Minaj, exorcism appears to be vehicle through which she explores personal themes of identity and social conformity. Fortunately for Bill Donohue and his fundraising efforts, Catholic imagery has been de rigeur in exorcisms since 1973 when The Exorcist hit theaters. However, the Catholic Church has survived much over the centuries and neither Nicki Minaj nor Roman Zolanski poses as great a threat as its handling of the sexual abuse crisis or its refusal to treat men and women as equals.