It’s the year 2019 and Nicki Minaj is currently the top selling solo female rapper on the iTunes hip hop chart. It’s not for Queen, or rather anything she’s released in the past five years. Instead, it’s the opening track to her 2012 album Pink Friday … Roman Reloaded that’s suddenly vaulted up the chart. If by chance you don’t remember what “Roman Holiday” sounds like, you’re about to: the song is currently soundtracking what may be Twitter’s most chaotic meme right now.
Back in 2012, all eyes were on Nicki as she plotted the follow-up to her debut album Pink Friday. She planned to premiere its first single at the Grammys, making history as the first female rapper to ever take the prestigious stage for a solo performance. Nicki styled the entire night as a pseudo-religious awakening of sorts, arriving to the red carpet with a Pope-like figure in tow.
Opening the performance from a confessional booth, Nicki yowled an unsettling rendition of “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story before launching into the new single as her alter ego, Roman Zolanski. She’d been developing the character of Zolanski in a few songs by this point, detailed as a volatile gay man just barely placated by his mother, Martha Zolanski. Both were performed with cartoonish faux British accents.
The song “Roman Holiday” tells the loose story of Roman’s gay conversion therapy, punctuated by an extremely wonky hook where Martha tells Roman to “take his medication.” If that premise sounds at all distasteful, it’s because it definitely is. But nobody could possibly take “Roman Holiday” seriously enough to be offended by it; most were just baffled. For its erratic debut performance, Nicki staged a full exorcism. She was just short of frothing at the mouth.