It wasn't easy dodging the throngs of young girls in pairs -- all dressed like Rihanna, compulsively documenting their every step with selfies -- at the Diamonds World Tour show at BB&T Center on this Day of Stoners, 2013. Meanwhile, Instagram indicated Rihanna was toking away, 4/20-style, backstage, peacefully enjoying the serene, smiling face of a big leafy pot cake made by a super fan. This fan was likely one of the ladies I was standing behind, or in front of while waiting to go through a metal detector.
Almost to the freedom of my seat, a security guard rushed me, hysterically motioning to my purse -- which looks like a small book bag -- yelling: "You can't bring that bag in here!" I ignored him, because, was he kidding? Another security guard came over. "You can't come in here with that," he ushered me outside. My press pass was useless, and I was suddenly banned from the Rihanna show before it even started.
When I petitioned at the security desk, they said they were on high alert because of the Boston Marathon bombings... Well, that cleared it up! A Rihanna concert in remote Sunrise, Florida, is totally like the same thing as the Boston Marathon, a national treasure established in 1897. Why wouldn't I, the music editor at the local alt weekly stash a pressure cooker explosive in my tiny book bag? Didn't matter that I readily opened every single compartment to show every single guard it contained not much more than my business cards and ear plugs?
Perhaps it was because even my mother admitted I look like I could be the sister of that piece of shit bomber number two?
After the awesome profiling experience, I made my way to my genuinely awesome seat. I was so close, I could see Rihanna's belly button. It was some consolation after being treated like a national threat. Never mind that A$AP Rocky's set featured the sounds of guns being cocked and Rihanna had a whole "Wanted by the FBI" bit.
Now on the to the review.
Seizure-inducing lights lit the room, and A$AP Rocky bounced on the stage. He was backed by an MC, live guitar, drums, and keys. This trend of playing to a live band -- one which was echoed by Rihanna -- at times, gets the sound moving in a very corny direction. This fashionista of the hip-hop world got off to a slow start, but hit hard with a rowdy finish.
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He was, a vision in white, his socks or baggy leggings were pulled up to the bottom edge of his Pyrex shorts. It's a daring look, and only a dude like A$AP Rocky -- with his clean style with a gold grill edge -- can pull it off. Hats off to you, sir.
Rocky sat on a literal throne, yelling, "Came to this motherfucker to party." He seemed intent on bringing back Will Smith's word "jiggy." No doubt, Rocky's got the ability to make rhymes that stick, talent to deliver them, and a cool image, but last night, his story about a girl's "titty" on South Beach wasn't exactly fitting for the teenaged crowd. Just sayin'.
His new song with Skrillex, "Wild for the Night," spewed dubstep all over the beautiful, pure 99 Jamz as I drove up. This is a station that I consider sacred in its loyalty to hip-hop, R&B, and gospel music. And honestly, if there were a place to go to avoid any form of "EDM," it was 99.1 FM. But in the flashing white lights of the arena, the song lit a fire under a lazy crowd's ass.
And nobody forgot it was 4/20. Before segueing into "Hands on the Wheel" -- singing the hook himself -- he asked: "How many weed smokers we got in this building tonight?" Lots. We could tell by unusually green aromas in the bathroom. His set closed out with a spirited "Fuckin' Problems" which really did have people partying, jiggy-like.
Showered in yellow light and swathed in a black sheet, Rihanna kicked off her show with a moment of "intimacy," singing "Mother Mary" alone onstage.
The singer has an audience with diverse tastes, and with the Diamonds tour, it seemed that she catered to the entirety of them. Let's break the show down into each of its parts: There was the Street Radio Stripper Party portion, which was followed by the Caribbean Vibes period, then there was the Whatever time, which was all rounded out by the Gay closer.
Street Radio Stripper Party
The reason I'm calling the beginning of RiRi's set the Street Radio Stripper Party portion isn't to insult anyone or degrade women. It was sort of defined by "Birthday Cake" and "Talk That Talk." She was dressed in a mesh top that showed ornate booty shorts underneath. Her black boots reached mid-thigh. The choreography brought a lot of attention to the area just above the top of those boots. The sort of crotch grabbing she and her dancers did lacks the irony and humor of crotch-grabbers that came before her (see: Madonna). It's a little too "sexy" and at the same time less actually sexy.
Rihanna is one of those people who comes across as innocent no matter how filthy she's acting. Maybe it's her baby face. She also seems like a tomboy at times. This allows her to dance like a straight up stripper and dress any way she wants and still come across as not trashy.
It wasn't until I got there and saw all the camouflage and short haircuts that I realized how many young girls actually imitate the pop star. And not all of them have her innocent charm. In no way is Rihanna responsible for how her audience reacts to her, but it's clear the whole slutty-cute thing is a trend that resonates beyond the stage and, seriously, girls, doesn't work for everyone.
The Caribbean period brought out a goofier Rihanna. She bounced around kind of dorky in sunglasses singing "Man Down." It made me wonder why she doesn't have a Bajan accent when she yelled out, "Fort Lauderdale, what you all know about this reggae shit?" And the answer is: a fucking lot! Broward is filled with Caribbeans, and they are who this "Rude Boy" singer engineered this part of her set to please.
After a "What's My Name" singalong, the room went dark and a weird electronic version of Metallica's "Wherever I May Roam" intro played, leading us to the Whatever portion.
Dancers in black and white checkered weirdo, Dick Tracy, '90s getups came out. Rihanna was wearing a fabulous futuristic cutout bustier body suit reminiscent of what Azealia Banks donned at Ultra. There was a moment of dubstep, then pyrotechnics, then "Umbrella," and horror movie clips. Whatever.
It seemed the dude wailing away on the cheesy guitar was accompanied every time by bursts of red fire blowing toward the ceiling. It's fine to have a live band, but please, no guitar solos. Lord 'a mercy, as they say.
Then RiRi got deep. To all the "rock stars in love," she said on the topic, "that's some complicated shit." She included her self in the equation. "Like me" she said, but not with misery, more with just honesty and like she was really relating to her people. She asked everyone to singalong with "What Now."
Then I got distracted because a medic came to tell the family in front of me, with two like 8 year old girls, that their mom or something was taken to the hospital. The whiniest guitar sounds I've maybe every heard dragged me back to the stage. Rihanna rose from the floor in a flowing red dress, rotating on a pedestal. Hanging panels changed from one complementary shade to the next. It was the only magical stage set-up moment of the night, which, of course, led us to the closer.
I could tell it was the Gay part of the night because suddenly, I was happy and bouncing with the pushy 15 year old next to me. The place was transformed into a nightclub with green neon lights shooting through the air. "We Found Love" blared, so did "S&M," "Don't Stop the Music," "Where Have You Been" -- all songs I've really only heard played out in Wilton Manors or Mova on South Beach. Suddenly, the usher trying to push me out of my seat even though I was where I was supposed to be didn't phase me! It was what I'd been craving: fun!
Rihanna was dressed in silver, looking like a walking mirror. She made her way right into the crowd; people screamed. This was clearly the end of the concert. But, as we all knew, it wasn't over till the sexy lady sang that dang "Diamonds" song. And when she did, people waved their iPhones like lighters, others were crying. One kid, who I think I love, was there alone, shamelessly and awkwardly jamming to every single tune. God bless him.
Rihanna closed out with a very genuine, but not too overemotional thank you speech. One that made her appear incredibly open and honored. And then, it was sort of (though not entirely) worth the hassle of getting there to see the real person behind the face we all blog and gossip about. Maybe she's all dripping sex for the guys and fashion for the girls, but there on stage in front of thousands, she was just a real human being.
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