Opening a concert with “Stay” sounds like an odd choice for a singer known primarily for her pop bangers, but Rihanna captivated Wembley Stadium with the sheer power of her vocal through her haunting live rendition of the 2013 ballad.
And in a way it was very much a move that showcased the evolution of pop princess Bad Gal RiRi to a fully rounded creative artist.
Ending on the line “I want you to stay”, the Barbadian singer triumphantly removes the hood of her white boxing robe and treats the cheering crowd to the first verse and hook of “Love the Way You Lie (Part II)”, the song that saw her in tears just a few days earlier.
No tears this time, and it’s back on with the hood as she swaggers up and down a moving suspended glass platform, launching into Anti numbers “Woo” and “Sex with Me” with her trademark attitude and finally ascending the minimalistic stage to properly acknowledge her Navy – “London!” she yells, grinning – and to sing “Pour It Up”, “Numb” and “Consideration”, which are almost psychedelic in their execution.
“Ain’t no party like a Rihanna Navy party.”
For an artist famous for her don’t-give-a-damn attitude, Rihanna is a rare combination of nonchalance and energy; she alternates between smiling contentedly at the audience, dancing casually and singing along whenever she pleases, yet somehow managed to retain command of the stage in spite of her laid-backness. And you know better to mess with her, especially witnessing the high energy “Bitch Better Have My Money”.
White strobe lights, the crowd roaring along, the highlight of the night came with the albeit short-lived medley of some of her greatest hits of “Live Your Life”, “Run This Town” and “All of the Lights”, fading effortlessly into each other. By the time “Umbrella” is ringing across the stadium, it’s as if the crowd had found themselves not at Wembley but inside a club, partying with RiRi herself.
“I only want you on your phones if you’re taking pictures of me!”
Riding off an impressive solo performance of “Desperado” and the incredible energy of “Man Down”, Rihanna proceeds to reel off a string of her most recognisable hits, from “Rude Boy”, which featured a sexy glittery one-piece and dance moves to match, Drake collabs “Work” and “Take Care” (sadly without the 6 God himself, who Rihanna is rumored to be again dating) to a mash-up of her biggest single with Calvin Harris “We Found Love” with the Scottish DJ’s “How Deep Is Your Love” that is basically a fan singalong. As the seated crowd leaps off their seats to scream along to the lyrics of “Where Have You Been,” the lights turn off and the pace slows down as RiRi does an atmospheric cover of Tame Impala’s “Same Ol’ Mistake”, building up to the iconic “Diamonds”. Wembley is lit – quite literally and figuratively – flashlights and a dancing Navy, a vision of ecstasy.
“Thank you for inspiring us to do what we want to do,” she says, visibly moved in a moment of emotion, before remembering herself and declaring, “We’re fucking up our reputation in London with this soft shit”.
“Enough with the soft shit!”
And “soft shit” her performance of the catchy “FourFiveSeconds” is not. Juxtaposed against the song’s simple acoustic line, her vocal prowess is on full display now, with the R&B Princess triumphantly belting out the final verse in true diva style.
Those who were expecting of her most popular bangers for an encore would have certainly forgotten that they had gone to see a Rihanna gig. The songstress ended the night not with “Only Girl” and “What’s My Name” – both noticeably missing, although hardly to blame for a megastar who, at 28, already has a whopping eight albums to her name – but two of her personal favourites from Anti. “Love on the Brain” gets the full treatment it deserves: as a majestic ballad that has the audience swaying in unison, indulging in the music, lost in the romance of the moment. Concluding with “Kiss It Better”, RiRi, smile on her face, takes her victory lap – striding up and down the length of the stage, waving and blowing kisses at the audience, who for just 90 minutes escaped the surprise, shock, and in some cases, horror of waking up to the news of Brexit just earlier that day.
As Rihanna takes a bow, it’s clear just how far she has come as an artist, but that’s not to say that she can’t have a good time while doing it, which she did, and London certainly did too.
- Love the Way You Lie (Part II)
- Sex with Me
- Birthday Cake
- Pour It Up
- Bitch Better Have My Money
- Live Your Life / Run This Town / All of the Lights
- Man Down
- Rude Boy
- Take Care
- We Found Love / How Deep Is Your Love
- Where Have You Been
- Needed Me
- Same Ol’ Mistakes
- Love on the Brain
- Kiss It Better