Nicki Minaj is a phenomenon for the digital music age. The facts speak for themselves. Discovered on MySpace, 13 million followers on Twitter, 20 million likes on Facebook. Videos with several million hits on YouTube. A debut album that went platinum within a month of its release with thousands of downloads in the first week. An online army of devotees, Team Minaj, self styled as 'Barbz' (after one of Nicki's multiple alter egos - more of which later) who prowl the net spreading the word in exchange for the kudos of a tweet or message from their idol.
Tonight, thousands of them are snaking around the Apollo before the show, some pink haired, many pink attired in homage to Nicki's undisputed favourite colour. They queue before the doors open to take advantage of seeing her in what will be surely be the smallest venue she plays in the UK for a very long time.
It's that sense of intimacy, unusual for a multi-million selling pop star's show that whips the mainly teenage crowd in the Apollo into hysteria before Nicki Minaj comes on stage. When she does arrive, after the industry standard dramatic curtain collapse, she doesn't disappoint. Resplendent in pink shorts which show off her often talked about curves, she's blonde (for now) atop a castle themed video wall and hyped up for Roman's Revenge, an aggressive slice of Missy Elliott styled hip-pop.
Pop music shows are about performance as much as music, so it comes as no surprise that as Nicki performs Beez In The Trap and Moment 4 Life, few notice through the screaming that the backing track is doing most of the work. Her dancers, strangely uncoordinated, don't add the usual panache to proceedings, which don't seem to have the budget you might expect from a US über pop starlet. Still, no-one here has eyes for anyone or anything but Ms Minaj, so much so that they are willing to forgive the equally bizarre DJ interludes that take place whenever she goes offstage for a new outfit - where he plays Nicki's own songs and tries to work the crowd like he's in a city centre chain bar.
When she returns in a tutu (no prizes for guessing the colour) she assaults the first few hundred at the front of the Apollo with a smoke gun and tells her fans (in a Norma Jean style voice) about one of her many personalities, Marilyn. She then plays Marilyn Monroe from her second album Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. It's both utterly bizarre and strangely compelling. Later in the night we'll meet 'Martha', Nicki's British persona which will involve a three way conversation between the crowd, Nicki and herself. Minaj explains that these characters have been with her for years and interchange at will and the crowd lap it up, especially when whichever is speaking reminds them how "awesome" it is to be in London.
Accents dispatched for now, she returns glammed up for Starship which is a high point - Nicki's dancers, having being given a brief respite return bare-chested and turn on the camp for some pure, unadulterated pop at a breakneck pace. Pound The Alarm sounds like a particularly catchy Eurovision entry and is equally frenetic as the Apollo rapidly turns from youth club disco to G.A.Y, from screaming fans to a mass of dancing divas.
But the best is yet to come for Team Minaj. She selects four at random to come on stage and 'perform' with her, sending the throng over the edge at the prospect of being picked. As they depart, she keeps one back to tell us how they met on Twitter and she promised to meet her - which is about as groupie as it gets in 2012. Said Tweeter is beside herself, at least some of the crowd have a tear in their eye at this act of interaction with one of their own and Nicki seems genuinely grateful for the adulation.
She finishes tonight's show with her biggest hit Superbass in its entirety, not subject to the haphazard cutting after a couple of minutes that most the tracks tonight have faced. Confetti canons blast the audience and many take advantage of the extra room provided by those who have already left (we're running over time now) to dance along.
Nicki thanks the crowd and her fans, or at least the small number that made it into the Apollo tonight. Later, about fifteen minutes after coming off stage she'll tweet that the "show in London tonite was another #moment4life". The vast majority of her fans lucky enough to see her at the Apollo will no doubt agree, but there are surely bigger, bolder and more polished shows ahead for her if she continues on the path to pop superstardom.