Rihanna at Barclays Center, May 5, 2013
The most striking thing about Rihanna’s Diamonds World Tour isn’t her singing (competent) or dancing (sufficient) or wardrobes (suitably sexy) or crotch-patting (yadda yadda yadda). It’s how many mind-bogglingly huge hits she has. During her hour-and-a-half show at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Sunday night, she played all or part of 28 of them, leaving aside a handful of her most well-known tracks. But she only broke a sweat once — and it was when pillars of red-hot pyro flames licked the stage behind her.
With seven albums in seven years (her latest, Unapologetic, came out in November) and a practically Bob Dylan-level never-ending tour schedule, you can’t call Rihanna lazy. But onstage, her most prominent quality is adequacy: she comes off about as interested (or disinterested) as a B-minus high school student. She’s become so comfortable with thousands of eyes ogling her, she spends unchoreographed moments dancing like she might in the club (arms up, eyes closed). She sings well live when the mood strikes her, letting backing vocalists and tracks handle the high notes. But what she delivers the entire show is the Rihanna who ran out of fucks to give. And that’s the Rihanna the crowd wants to love.
The Diamonds World Tour doesn’t have a narrative arc like a Madonna or Lady Gaga show would, or show-stopping razzle-dazzle like a Beyoncé concert, but Rihanna by necessity has learned to operate in the spaces Beyoncé can’t or won’t inhabit. The show’s sets vary wildly, from chintzy Greco-Roman lavishness at the start to crime-scene photos during its reggae-heavy middle to a laser-sensory overload for its EDM-heavy finish. The most intriguing moment comes during “Rockstar 101,” which spotlights touring guitarist Nuno Bettencourt and is accompanied by a series of images that imagine The Rockstar as a horror film, its title dripping in ghoulish blood. Surely, that’s how superstardom has felt at times to Rihanna, who has become dulled by the trappings of fame and controversy.
Rihanna broke her seeming perma-chill a few times to marvel that she was playing her first-ever show in Brooklyn (appropriately at the House That Jay-Z Built, the brand-new arena that’s the home of the Roc Nation mogul’s beloved Brooklyn Nets). The singer deemed the accomplishment “fucked up.” That’s probably an appropriate way to describe much of the craziness that’s surrounded her over the years. The show was good. The star was casual. The crowd still loved it.