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Rihanna brought her Diamonds World Tour to Staples Center on Monday night, offering the celebrity-studded crowd a two-hour barrage of hits and glossy, sex-driven production. The performance, presented in six “acts,” showcased the many facets of the singer, who is currently supporting her recent seventh album Unapologetic. Accompanied by 15 dancers, backup singers and musicians, Rihanna focused on her singles, occasionally unearthing a deeper album cut, sorting the set list into categorical song types.
The set, which opened with “Mother Mary,” revealed lush, lavish sets, the video screen reflecting gold and marble imagery and Rihanna herself draped in gold — and no pants (a theme that would continually reveal itself throughout the evening). Accompanied by taut backup dancers, the singer gyrated and strutted around the stage, quickly diving through Unapologetic standout “Phresh Out The Runway and past hits “Birthday Cake” and “Talk That Talk.”
“Los Angeles, what the f–k?!” Rihanna yelled, her thighs glistening in the lights. “Y’all like that? Y’all want some more of that? I live here now. I know y’all can get ratchet. This next song is just for you!”
The next tune, so thoughtfully dedicated to LA, was current radio charter “Pour It Up,” an edgy number about strippers. If this first segment was about anything, it was about sex, particularly Rihanna’s inherent desire to have it, a sentiment amplified by the significant number of times she grabbed her crotch. In many ways, A$AP Rocky’s bombastic opening performance, which featured appearances by A$AP Ferg and Schoolboy Q, as well as a very drunk friend who swayed onstage sans microphone, was an apt lead-in. A$AP, who spent much of his set sitting on a white throne, was centered on his song-led motto of “Pussy Money Weed.” Those desires, augmented when the words “Sleaze Please” appeared on the video screens during “F—in Problems,” aren’t that far off from Rihanna’s own, it seems.
But Rihanna, ever the chameleon seven albums into her career, bounded offstage and reappeared in a black jersey, thigh-high boots and no pants to offer a few reggae-inspired tunes, including “Man Down” and “Rude Boy.” And so the rest of the evening followed. Rihanna would perform a medley of loosely connected tunes — some not in their entirety — after a lengthy instrumental interlude and a costume- and set-change.
The best acts were those featuring the more dynamic songs — “Umbrella,” “Rockstar 101,” et al. The worst was no better than a nightclub lounge act with Rihanna dressed in a red, midriff baring evening gown as sunsets and pastel colors danced across the video screens. If there is a weak point endemic to all pop shows, it’s that singers spend too long showcasing ballads, particularly those that were never singles. A pop-loving audience, driven to purchase a ticket largely because of radio exposure, tends to have little patience for ballads or acoustic numbers. And for good reason. Rihanna’s voice, however, lovely when not muddled the frequent by backing tracks, is truly best showcased on quietly evocative numbers like “Stay.”
The boisterous crowd, which included Elton John, Julia Roberts, Big Sean, Christina Aguilera, Tyga and several members of the Kardashian clan, was most enlivened toward the end of the performance, when Rihanna, now wearing silver sneakers and a silver dress, fast-forwarded through hit after hit. “We Found Love” segued into “S&M” into “Only Girl (In The World)” into “Don’t Stop The Music,” climaxing on an exuberant rendition of “Where Have You Been.” The effect was monstrous, a gleaming, sexy onslaught of pop perfection, aptly showcasing just why Rihanna has been able to sell seven albums and their subsequent world tours.
Rihanna, as her Diamonds World Tour reveals, may have enough personalities to warrant six acts, but in the end it all boils down to one artist selling libido-inducing hooks. She may have faltered on the extended interludes (slipping into skin-tight latex takes time, apparently) and could benefit from singing more and stroking her crotch less, but in the two hours it was nearly impossible to remember anything but the buoyant pop spectacular enveloping all.
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