Superstardom is ultramodern. Define superstardom today and textbook examples would be long lost Motown songstress Alicia Keys, world pop phenomenon Beyoncé Knowles and post-Warhol shock art fashionista Lady Gaga. All of those women have changed views of feminism, sex appeal and physical lyricism in one way or another. Alicia Keys encourages women to be superwomen. Superwoman Beyoncé is the biggest sex symbol since Farrah Fawcett and Janet Jackson. Lady Gaga has reinvigorated the meaning of life imitating art. Amidst their peers, Barbadian chanteuse Rihanna is a hard sell.
Finalizing her first headlining world tour, Rihanna had some thing to prove: that Miss Sunshine could let her freak flag fly high. With Travis “Travie” McCoy nowhere insight to open for her and with glitter brat Ke$ha also M.I.A., there was no warm up for her tour kiss-off on Saturday, August 28. She was also at the Great New York State Fair in Syracuse, which meant a lot of distraction, considering the buzzing lights of Ferris wheels in the backdrop.
Opening instead was DJ Ross Rosco who played the grand-slam list of 80s and 90s Top 40 club anthems who kept the place jumping, while up-and-comer J Brazil sang a 10-minute set of three songs, drawing a mix of cheers and jeers for scream-belting like an Adam Lambert hopeful.
With face-melting guitar licks, lipstick lez-ploitation strappado swinging, and some kinetic chick-chick-kaboom pyrotechnics, Ri Ri kicked off the show with moxie. Introduced by a sci-fi silver screens and a dream machine motif, the dreamscape nirvana and nightmare underbelly of Rihanna’s world is perplexing and at the same time, visually stunning presentation.
Wearing a cascading, floor-length black ball gown, she preformed “Russian Roulette,” the first single of her recent Rated R album, to the images of nude, burning mannequins. Gunned down by pink rifles held by her shirtless male backup dancers, she is lit up like a red Christmas tree, as a platform below her rose to the heavens. ‘Dead,’ she began to the first of six costume changes, stripping into a tiny pink leotard with padded shoulders.
There were many highlights: From her epic straddling of a florescent life-size pink tank in “Hard,” to her take-no-prisoners flouncing amidst outer space tarantulas on stilts in “Disturbia.” Her vandalizing a graffiti-ed car to hell with a slugger in “Shut Up and Drive” to her gas-masked backup dancers hitting their marks on “S.O.S.” to the pair of tightlacer aerial Cirque Du Soliel vixens dangling like autumn leaves from two colossal machine guns in “Te Amo.” Ri Ri produced the goods. Even more surprising, she actually sang most of her songs—with few signs of miming—belting out notes yet experienced via recording on a shrink’s chair, adorned with sham disembodied limbs.
The tour highlighted why Rihanna is cherished today. She’s not a dancer per se and with contagious earwigs like “Rude Boy” and “Don’t Stop the Music,” she let the backup handle it. Which is wise: she played to her strengths. The only weakness in the nigh two-hour spectacle was the awful air guitar “solo” she did on “Rockstar 101.” Couldn’t they have given her a few cords to play? But at last, all was forgiven when she actually did some awesome banging on the drums when she covered Sheila E.’s “Glamourous Life.” She even performed the cameo performances that built her celebrity such as “Love the Way You Lie” and “Live Your Life.”
Finishing up with her signature “Umbrella,” red confetti blasted into the crowd, as a grungy distorted guitar howled, she left a barrage of images in one’s head by the end of the show: crash test dummies, mushroom clouds, creepy claws crushing a heart. She may not be playing with the big girls, but this girl knows how to leave a lasting impression.
Rihanna Set List:
“Shut Up and Drive”
“Hate That I Love You”
“Stupid in Love”
“Pon de Replay”
“Don’t Stop the Music”
“Breakin’ Dishes”/”The Glamorous Life”
“Take a Bow”
“Love the Way You Lie”
“Wait Your Turn”
“Live Your Life”
“Run This Town”