It was a lot of sequins and gyrating last night as pop-star, media provocateur and good girl gone bad Rihanna hit the Staples Center as part of her Diamonds World Tour. RiRi was all hair, lips and hips as she brought an unabashedly sexual swagger. Although a lot of critics have criticized her live performance, and her public image is built on a wild child premise, ultimately, she is a pop star of the highest caliber, able to embrace her touch-of-crazy persona while delivering a tight, high-level stadium filling performance.
9:00pm: A$AP Rocky warms up the crowd, intermittently performing from a massive and ostentatious throne at the center of the stage. Fan are dressed to the nines in a thousand variation of sequins, leather, fur and flat brims. Out by the bathrooms, girls carrying impractical heels are already walking around the periphery of Staples barefoot.
9:45pm: The curtain masking the stage finally comes down, revealing a solo Rihanna on her knees in a black choir robe. The production picks up in a flash, revealing a fleet of backup dancers dressed a bit like Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard and posing like antiquity-era statues. The visual aesthetic is an urban interpretation of School of Athens, perhaps.
Rihanna re-appears at the back of the stage, wearing over-the-knee studded leather boots, a sheer blouse and a heavily bejeweled jacket that comes off quick. The woman standing next to me is recording all of this with both her camera and her phone.9:50pm: RiRi maybe doesn't get much credit as a dancer the same way that Beyonce et al do, but she should because she pulls off all of her choreography with an easy, light on her feet swagger that is at once sharp and loose. She smiles as she kicks off a run of new jams including "Fresh Off the Runway" and "Birthday Cake," that altogether have a dirty-in-the-right-way Eric Nies-era MTV Grind vibe.
10:00pm: The undeniable thing here is that Rihanna is really fucking sexy as she prowls the stage singing synth-backed come ons such as "I know you wanna bite this/Imma make you my bitch." Unlike pop stars who rely and have relied on the maintenance of a clean image and faux virginity as a marketing tactic (Britney) while simultaneously promoting a highly sexual image, Rihanna knows and owns the fact that she is sex personified, putting it all out there in her songs, her videos, her interviews, her Instagram and onstage right now, as she body rolls and drops it low to the floor and back up again with her legs spread. Rare is the mainstream music icon in so full awareness and possession of her sexuality. This is probably why she freaks some people out; it's also why we love her.