After a "Tik Tok" dance party and a brief interlude, the time everyone was waiting for had come -- Rihanna! A prerecorded voice welcomed us to "the madhouse," and Rihanna appeared on stage looking like a gothic prom queen from Vegas. Perched on an approaching pedestal in a long black dress covered in red lights, she started her 90-minute set with "Wait Your Turn," a song off her newest album, Rated R. The album may have received mixed reviews when it was first released last November, but that didn't stop her in the slightest from belting her way through two-thirds of the album.
Yes, belting. Plenty of negative things have been said about the pop star in the past, criticizing her from outfit choices being too similar to Gaga to song choices that dwelled too much on her experiences with ex-boyfriend Chris Brown, but no one can deny the girl can sing. I was pleasantly surprised by her live performance; stripped down and free of studio "magic," she sounded better than she does on record. She hardly dances, but I guess the singing makes up for it?
Regardless, I loved this for the epic pop concert that it was. Rihanna strutted around in an array of fierce outfits, at one point straddling a huge pink cannon (!!!!) reminiscent of her "Hard" music video. I can see how people would criticize this show for relying too much on theatrics (the acrobats were a bit much), but what else can you expect? Pop music is all about being larger-than-life, and Rihanna's fans love her for being just that.
In a way, she has come to represent female strength. After her horrifying (and extremely public) experience with domestic abuse last February, she has risen from the ashes and regained her former ferocity. And she is worshipped for it, as was evident this last Saturday. Personally, I was less excited about seeing Rihanna the survivor than I was about seeing Rihanna the pop star. I feel for her and have a great deal of respect for her, but I think she has allowed herself and her imagery to tend a little too much toward the violent. Stylized violence (as in her pre-abuse "Disturbia" and more recent "Hard" music videos) can be well done, and it gives her the freedom to present herself as the strong and steadfast diva that we all wish her to be. But when we get to the point of having larger-than-life machine guns on stage it becomes a bit much.
Rihanna can be a fiercely determined survivor on her own. Her theatrical tendencies are great, especially in the form of the pink cannon (once again, !!!!), but I wish she'd lean more in that direction than toward the darkness we first saw in her "Russian Roulette" music video. Rather than making her powerful and steadfast, that kind of imagery in a way weakens her and perpetuates her status as a victim.
-- ANDREW WAILES
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