"Roman Holiday" is a song by Trinidadian−born rapper and singer Nicki Minaj, released as the opening track from her second album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. It was written by Minaj, Larry Nacht, Winston Thomas and Safarree Samuels, and produced by Blackout (Thomas) and Pink Friday Productions. Two months prior to the album's official release, Minaj performed what many viewed as a controversial rendition of the song at the 54th Grammy Awards ceremony on February 12, 2012, which received controversy from the Catholic Church for the usage of religious imagery. Minaj was the first solo female rapper to perform at the Grammys.
|Song by Nicki Minaj|
|from the album Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded|
|Released||April 2, 2012|
|Studio||Conway Studios, Los Angeles|
In an interview with MTV, Minaj discussed the fate of her character and alter-ego, Roman Zolanski: "...if you're not familiar with Roman, then you will be familiar with him very soon. He's the boy that lives inside of me. He's a lunatic and he's gay, and he'll be on Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (the new album) a lot." Minaj imagined Roman as having been exiled to Russia. "Well, he was there [in Moscow] secretly because Martha wanted him to go there. So they put him in this thing with monks and nuns; they were trying to rehabilitate him." Minaj debuted the character live during a controversial performance at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards.
"Roman Holiday" is a fast-paced hip-hop and pop rap song influenced by opera music that runs for four minutes and five seconds. It features complex production, utilizing elements such as rattling sound effects, sonic drops, synths, and lasers. The chorus is sung by singer Marissa Bregman. The song also references the traditional hymn "Oh Come All Ye Faithful".
Jessica Hopper, from Spin magazine, called the song "nearly flawless" and "pure theater, the closest hip-hop's gotten to its own 'Bohemian Rhapsody', full of thrilling crescendos and twitchy verses that verge on the ridiculous, but always shift toward the triumphant." She described the song as part of the "gratifying front end (of the album)" and dismissed "subsequent pop tracks as a paying of the piper": "The too-perfect, Dr. Luke-produced songs are her penance for sneaking deranged yodeling ode 'Roman Holiday' in there." Jim Farber of New York Daily News praised the song's style and philosophy: "The peak parts of the star's second CD, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, turn that trend smack on its back. The rhythms, textures and inflections of the best tracks far outfreak, and outwit, any get-up the star has ever sported. Take the opening cut, 'Roman Holiday'. When Minaj previewed this ditty on the Grammys back in February, her zany (some said blasphemous) theatrics obscured the originality of both the beat and of Minaj's rapping attack. On the disk, you can bask in her fitful, stuttering style — a manic cadence informed by its own grace. In the space of one track, Minaj mixes pitches and flows to create as much rhythmic surprise as a top comic. Using the persona of Roman Zolanski — the most amped-up gay man imaginable — Minaj unleashes a great spew of profane humor. She matches that to vocal and percussive rhythms that meld a Trinidadian patois, a New York attitude and a hip hop bounce. Such a pan-cultural swirl shoots Missy Elliott's brand of hip-hop surreality to the moon."
Jody Rosen of Rolling Stone, said "Nicki Minaj is a purist's nightmare. She doesn't just straddle pop categories, she dumps them in a Cuisinart, whips them to a frothy purée, then trains a guided missile at the whole mess." To illustrate his point, Rosen went on to describe "Roman Holiday": "(The album) Roman Reloaded opens with Minaj – a biracial woman from Queens via Trinidad – ranting in the voice of her (Polish?) homosexual 'twin brother' alter ego. In the same song, she takes on the voice of Martha Zolanski, Roman's mother, singing in a cartoon Cockney accent. 'Take your medication, Roman,' counsels Minaj/Martha. 'Quack, quack to a duck and a chicken, too/Put the hyena in a freakin' zoo,' answers Minaj/ Roman. Later, she bursts into 'O Come, All Ye Faithful.'" Al Fox of the BBC said of Minaj: "Few artists in Minaj's position would dare to take risks as bold as this", while citing "Roman Holiday" for its "Major-key, tap-along pop sensibilities; disquieting lyrical content; wide-eyed, over-pronounced Valley Girl patter; a reworking of O Come All Ye Faithful; shuddering, skeletal beats." AllMusic's David Jeffries lists "Roman Holiday" as a "Track Pick", while Rolling Stone named the song a "Key Track" on the album.
54th Grammy Awards performanceEdit
"Roman Holiday" made its debut on February 12, 2012, at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards. It was the first song ever performed on the Grammy stage by a solo female rapper.
Minaj said in an interview with Rap-Up, "the Grammys chose 'Roman Holiday'. The producers of the Grammys came to the studio and I played them 'Roman Holiday', and I could not play them another record after they heard that. They went crazy. I could have chosen to do a no-brainer pop song, but I can't do it anymore. I have to stay true to what I'm doing."
MTV said Minaj's "Roman Holiday" "was the most elaborate of the night's Grammy performances and (had) everyone talking", with AllHipHop founder Chuck Creekmur adding, "I definitely felt like she was reaching out to the mainstream with this performance, trying to make that full leap into the pop world. She'll definitely have people talking. Obviously, we've seen this before with Madonna and Lady Gaga — especially Gaga." Rolling Stone's Steve Knopper called the performance "disturbing, but still somehow great." David Marchese of Spin described it as an "awesomely outlandish phantasmagoria." In 2015, longtime Grammy producer Kenneth Ehrlich called the performance a "disappointment":
I was not proud of what we did with Nicki Minaj three years ago. I thought that was a disappointment both in terms of what we did and to an extent what she did. I'm not going to absolve us of any responsibility, but it just wasn't good. If it had been controversial and good, I think I would have been proud of it. But we probably let out the string a little too much on that one.
However, on February 4, 2019, it was reported that American singer Ariana Grande would not be performing at or attending the 61st Annual Grammy Awards due to a dispute with previously mentioned producer Ehrlich. On February 7, 2019, Grande made a public statement on the matter, she alleged that Ehrlich stifled her creativity and tried to stipulate what song she could perform. She then later went on and alleged that Ehrlich "lied" and she could "pull together a performance over night."
Shortly after, Minaj defended Grande and alleged Ehrilch "bullied" her over the previously mentioned 2012 Roman Holiday performance. Minaj later said in a statement on Twitter: "I was bullied into staying quiet for 7 years out of fear. But I’ll tell my fans the REAL on the next episode of #QueenRadio they deserve the truth."
Minaj elaborated further on Queen Radio, explaining that the Grammy Award Show producers had approved of her performance of "Roman Holiday" and she was being featured heavily during the Recording Academy's ad campaign for the upcoming show. Three days before the show, legendary vocalist Whitney Houston had passed away and for an unknown reason, Ehrlich used this passing for a reason to ask Minaj to cancel her performance, in her dressing room as she was getting ready for the performance. Minaj refused to give up her performance because she didn't want to let her fans down and because of all the ads she was featured in. Because of this disagreement and the backlash to her religious-inspired theatrical performance from the Catholic Church, Minaj believes that she has been blackballed from winning an award and that she has seen similar stories happen to other artists.
Bill Donahue of the conservative watch group, The Catholic League, criticized the performance, stating: "Whether Minaj is possessed is surely an open question, but what is not in doubt is the irresponsibility of The Recording Academy." Choreographer Laurieann Gibson, however, said "I personally chose to stay away from any religious moves. There were no crosses. There were no religious symbols. We made sure we were very respectable. The bishop was a symbolic figurehead. He was not [intended] in a negative light, but in a position of authority."
Minaj told Ryan Seacrest "It's the most comfortable I've ever been onstage in my entire life." She told radio station Power 105.1 "[Roman Holiday] was my best performance ever and if everybody didn't agree you can… That was my best performance ever, ever. But can I say something, I did a skit on my 'Right Thru Me', I did a skit on 'Moment 4 Life' video, I did a fighting scene in my 'Fly' video. That was the skit for the 'Roman Holiday' video, it goes perfectly for the song, what don't y'all understand?".
In popular cultureEdit
From early 2019, "Roman Holiday" became a popular meme on Twitter and TikTok, thanks to Minaj's "animated performance and rapid fire verses" in the song. PopBuzz noted that given how "manic the song is, it's the perfect template for any meme". A typical meme of the song would include any unrelated or sped up video, with "Roman Holiday" playing in the background, mainly if someone is escaping or rushing out. The meme caused a 298% surge in streams, and saw it soar to number one on the iTunes Rap/Hip Hop chart in mid-May.
|US Bubbling Under Hot 100||13|
|US Rap Songs||21|
Credits and personnelEdit
Credits are taken from Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded liner notes.
- Vocals: Nicki Minaj, Marissa Bregman
- Writing: Onika Maraj, Larry Nacht, Safaree Samuels, Winston Thomas
Recorded at: Conway Studios Los Angeles CA
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- Roman Holiday Official Credits, ASCAP, 2012