When you've recorded seven albums in seven years before your 25th birthday, and racked up a record 10 #1 songs in that span, the question of a set list can be a real problem when it comes time to tour. But Rihanna managed to electrify during the Brooklyn stop of her Unapologetic run on Sunday night, dipping generously into the 2012 release with graceful pivots to her older hits.
And never mind that she took the stage nearly an hour late, right? In a comic twist, concert organizers screened part of her "777" special, which documents her promotional, seven-city, seven-day concert gig and debuts tonight (May 6) on Fox at 8 p.m. Barclays Center fans got a preview of the doc, including angry sound bites from journalists (MTV News and MTV Style were there!) who flew around the globe with the star wailing about Rihanna's consistent ... lateness, among other mishaps. Needless to say, we were prepared, but also very much rewarded for our patience. Read on for a few highlights.
The Rihanna Navy Reports For Duty.
From Little Monsters to Swifties to the shade-and-you-might-get-stung BeyHive, a true pop diva is nothing without her loyal fan army. But while others may lay claim to a larger or more mobilized base, it's hard to box with Rih's camp when it comes to style. Yes, the Rihanna Navy apparently takes "Phresh out the Runway" literally, as scores of girls (and boys!) turned up on Atlantic Avenue in their beauty-blog best, from their black beanie-topped heads to their cage-strapped feet.
"Fi, Fo, Fum Like The Sky Is Falling Down On Me"
She didn't play her 2005 breakout single "Pon de Replay," but the Barbados beauty turned the Barclays to bashment, dousing her dancehall-inspired tracks, from "Man Down" to "No Love Allowed," with vintage reggae samples. And the Brooklyn crowd, where proud West Indians are always well-represented, went wild. By now, Rihanna, who had slipped into a black tee and thigh-grazing white boots, was fully in her element, gyrating and strutting across the stage. "Where my rude boys? Where my rude girls at?" she asked as video projections showed the 25-year-old posing for (the most glamorous) mug shot. Her crime? Being a badgal, of course.
No, I'm Not Trippin', You Remind Me Of A Rhythm Nation.
By now anyone who can double-click knows that the '90s are having a momentLike, a "we brought "House of Style" back, and let's binge-watch "Dawson's Creek" on NetFlix" moment. And so it was on the Unapologetic Tour. Rihanna outfitted her super-agile dancers in full Janet Jackson "Rhythm Nation"-era regalia for the opening numbers, including her wistful "Love Without Tragedy/ Mother Mary" and "Phresh." The youngest Jackson made a signature of dangling-key earrings, boxy black hats and suits adorned in gold hardware for her fourth studio album back in 1989, and the look was recreated with perfect twists onstage in BK.
But the nineties homage didn't end there: RiRi's backups returned after a break decked out in all-black Hood By Air baseball jerseys and caps, echoing Mary J. Blige's beautifully hood-rich "You Remind Me" video, c.1992.
We Don't Always Love The Way You Lie, Rihanna.
Among the points of contention for Rihanna's critics is that she's too prolific and not technically proficient enough a vocalist. But the output has been, inarguably, well-received by fans and as for the voice, it shows itself to best effect when the gutsy singer channels her emotions. She did that on Sunday for selections like "Stay" and the classic "Hate That I Love You," belting as beads of perspiration streamed down her forehead. What was missing, though, was the storytelling, the heartache. "Any lovers in the house? Anybody who hates love? Anybody who doesn't understand that sh--?" she shouted before launching into a plaintive rendition of "What Now." Yes, we know she has a penchant for oversharing, but onstage, she kept far too much to herself.
Where Brooklyn At?
It came as no surprise that performing at the House that Hov built would have special meaning for the Bajan radio-killer. After all, Brooklyn-bred Jay-Z signed the young singer back in 2004 and continues to manage her career under his Roc Nation label. But it turns out Rihanna had other personal connections to the county of Kings. "As a kid, I spent every summer in Brooklyn," she told the crowd before giddily marveling at how far she'd come from those days. "I'm all the way from Barbados and now we're here," she added, brushing back a cascade of Veronica Lake-inspired waves. Throughout the night, she would catch herself and stop again and again to shout out the borough: "I've performed in many other places in the area but Brooklyn? That's f---ed up, that's special!"