RodeoHouston is a hurdle for even the most seasoned performers. The venue is cavernous. The crowd feels miles away. The stage is relatively small.
But RodeoHouston ain’t never seen a party like Cardi B.
The rap superstar made her debut Friday night as the season’s most anticipated show. Tickets sold out in 40 minutes, even faster than George Strait’s closing performance.
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The show drew 75,580, breaking the all-time paid attendance record and beating Garth Brooks’ second 2018 performance by three people. Okurrr?
Cardi took the stage just after 9 p.m. giving Barbie cowgirl fantasy. Her hat, fringe and chaps were pink and blue. Her matching hair cascaded past her waist.
She raced through songs from debut album “Invasion of Privacy,” from “Money Bag” to “Drip” to “Bickenhead.” “She Bad” was dedicated to “all my pretty girls — and the ugly ones, too.” And she slowed things down a bit to take a breath during “Ring.”
The rapper, who is Trinidadian and Dominican, has been wracking up critical acclaim and fan adulation for the last few years. Last month, she became the first solo female artist to win the Grammy for best rap album.
Her performance this year on Black Heritage Day was a direct response to the criticism that plagued last year’s performer Leon Bridges. The Forth Worth native drew 51,870 paid attendance, the lowest of 2018. Black fans argued that his music appeals to a largely white audience.
Cardi, if anything, appeals to everyone. She’s a true crossover star. New single “Please Me” was a welcome surprise. The video featuring “my cousin Bruno” Mars dropped Friday. Cardi posted on Instagram that her look in the clip was inspired by Tejano legend Selena.
Backstage at RodeoHouston, Cardi said she was inspired by Selena.
Onstage, her between-song banter made for some of the best moments of the night.
“The purpose of the rodeo is to collect money, to give scholarships out,” she told the crowd. “Any job you pick, whether it’s a doctor … or a f***ing stripper, you gonna need some education.”
Yes, she cursed, despite assurances from rodeo officials that the show would be family friendly. But anyone even remotely familiar with Cardi B knows what she’s about. Her act has never been for kids. Nothing here should have been a surprise.
She was flanked by 10 dancers and joined by a DJ/hype man, who pumped up the crowd with Travis Scott and Daddy Yankee tunes. But the attention was always on Cardi. She emanates a unique sort of energy, a star power that feels alternately relatable and larger than life. It was unlike anything that’s graced the rotating stage.
“Because of you guys, I get a chance to give my daughter the life that I always wanted to live,” she told the crowd.
She took a quick break to “put some deodorant on ’cause I’m sweatin'” before returning to run through some of her biggest hits: “I Like It,” “Finesse,” “Bodak Yellow.” She was gone in less than an hour, just long enough to leave the record-breaking crowd wanting more. So much more.
Joey Guerra writes about music and pop culture for the Houston Chronicle. He is covering every single RodeoHouston concert. Follow him on Twitter. Send him news tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.