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.
9:57pm: “Los Angeles! What the fuck!” Rihanna declares between songs. “Y'all like that? Want some more of that? I live here now so I know y'all like that ratchet.” And with that she goes into another raunchy run of newer material. Her voice is solid, but the real centerpiece of this spectacle is her captivating stage presence as the charismatic proprietress of Club RiRi.
10:10pm: The first of several production transitions happen, and Rihanna's band (two guitarists, a drummer and a keyboard player) jam out while RiRi momentarily disappears. When she returns she's wearing another see through shirt and white thigh high leather Louboutin heels. The visuals during this phase play with the idea of RiRi as an outlaw, showing various tabloid photos, police sketches and a (fake) video of her getting her mugshot taken. In the clip holds up a sign with her real name (Robyn Rihanna Fenty) and stares into the camera like, “I do not give a shit.”
The sound during this segment has a heavy island influence, recalling her native Barbados as she does a run of songs including “You Da One,” “Rude Boy” and “What's My Name.”
10:30pm: The stage transitions feel long, with the energy definitely dropping between segments. Ultimately this one is worth the wait though, because when RiRi re-appears she's dressed in a sort of colorblocked vinyl bondage outfit that honestly would have taken most people much longer to get themselves into. Her eight dancers, meanwhile, all sport checkered suits that look like Joker outfits from Tim Burton's Batman. The best part of this scenario is that RiRi is covering Ginuwine's “Pony.”
The first pyrotechnics of the evening flare up, sending a rush of heat into the crowd as she goes into “Umbrella,” which is a clear and obvious crowd pleaser. Then she does a few lines from Kanye collaboration “All of the Lights” which obviously makes us all lose our minds.
10:40pm: “How many of you are in love?” RiRi asks. “How many of you hate love? How many if you really don't understand it?” She points at herself with this last question and it's worth nothing that the only ring she's sporting is on her left ring finger. She then sings “What Now” from her most recent LP Unapologetic. Behind her, imagery of speedometers and her wearing a motorcycle helmet flash in the background. Love as a high risk fast game seems to be the idea she's promoting here.
10:45pm: Another outfit change as RiRi rises out of the stage wearing a red two piece gown that reveals her Egyptian-influenced chest piece tattoo. Onstage alone on a revolving platform, she sings “Love the Way You Lie” (minus the Eminem part) and basically does a pole dance on the mic stand. Lots of emphatic chest pumping from the ladies in the crowd right now as we sing along, projecting our own heartbreak into it.
10:57pm: After the lull of this ballad filled segment and another too long transition Rihanna returns in a neon green sunglasses and short sequined dress with a one dollar bill motif. She looks like a high level raver as she does a walk through the crowd singing “Only Girl in the World” as her backup dancers evoke early TLC, with their matching overalls. It's once again an EDM-influenced clubland temple of dance and debauchery as RiRi sings “Please Don't Stop the Music” and “Where Have You Been” before dropping into the stage.
11:15pm: One more outfit change (blue sequined jumper) and then the inevitiable finale “Diamonds.” “You've been such a fucking impeccable audience tonight!” she says, and then she walks offstage without once looking back.
Overheard in the crowd: “Let's go buy some merch!!”
Random Notebook Dump: Rihanna is our collective id.