On Sunday, the singer Beyoncé released a new single, a growling, mechanized thing that strongly urged those she deemed lesser to bow down.
On Monday, Rihanna, the hip-cocking Barbadian with more number-one hits than fingers on her two hands, did not submit. Granted, her first of two concerts at Air Canada Centre did begin with the singer on her knees, her body draped in a long, thin black robe. She shortly disappeared, returning with a stage full of posing dancers and a band that included flash guitarist Nuno Bettencourt.
“We’re going to rock the building tonight,” Rihanna said. And she did do that.
She hit the multilevel stage a good hour after her appointed set time, but excuses or explanations from her were as likely a prospect as finding empty seats in the electrified arena. After all, her recent album is Unapologetic, an adjective and a state of mind from the brash lady with heavy eyelids and heavier swagger.
With her golden-brown hair swooped long to the right, the 25-year-old singer sashayed in thigh-high black boots to the deep-bottomed, rocked-out hip hop of Phresh Out the Runway, followed by the aggressive, rugged sexuality of Birthday Cake.
“Anybody in the building have my new album?” Rihanna asked early on, showing no signs of the laryngitis that caused her to cancel two shows of her current Diamonds Tour in the United States last week. The question about her album was no doubt rhetorical: Unapologetic debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, though sales dropped sharply in the following weeks. RiRi is more about the singles than the (seven) LPs.
Some of the hits were offered, including the skittering island-pop sing-along What’s My Name? and the highly recognizable Umbrella.
Furnaces blasted fire during Jump, raising the temperature for a wobbling smash of electro-rock that was hot enough – “My saddle is waiting” – already.
Rockstar 101 was not complete without Rihanna’s air-guitar lesson and an outro of the Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again (complete with the same lighting pattern used by that unfoolable English band).
Costumes changes happened, often preceded by the disappearance of Rihanna by way of hydraulic stage-parts that lowered the superstar into the stage.
The 100-minute thrill ride included a two-tune encore, comprised of the bluesy ballad Stay – the woman can sing – and the sky-gazing, swirling, upswooping single Diamonds.
Nearly 10 years ago, a teenaged Robyn Rihanna Fenty auditioned for (and was signed to a multi-album deal by) Jay-Z, now the husband of Beyoncé. That singer’s just-out single Bow Down/ I Been On can be interpreted as a (wacky) warning shot to younger artists with usurping ideas. Rihanna’s star is hot and still on the rise – Beyoncé’s Sasha Fierce is now Sasha Fears.