Any discussion about major pop stars of the past decade has to include Rihanna.
She’s sold more than 200 million albums worldwide – although actual sales of her current album, “Anti,” have been a matter of debate – nabbed eight Grammy Awards, graced the covers of major magazines from Vogue to Rolling Stone and ingrained herself in the fashion industry.
She’s even collaborated with Paul McCartney, further inflating her stock.
On Wednesday, she rode her “Anti” tour into Philips Arena with Travis Scott opening.
Here are five things we learned.
Atlanta was originally scheduled as one of the early shows on the tour , but production delays bumped the launch and the city wound up as the final U.S. date of the three-month run . Rihanna acknowledged the postponement, and thanked the boisterous crowd for still showing up (as if her acolytes would ever abandon her). Usually, Rihanna tends to be more apathetic than engaged in concert, but at Wednesday’s show, the adrenaline rush from the completion of a major accomplishment – at least for now, since the tour resumes in Europe next month – was evident. She playfully strutted across the flying Lucite walkway that carried her from the back of Philips Arena to the stage during “Woo” and “Sex with Me,” shook her shoulders to the beat of “Consideration” and led the sold-out audience in a sway-along to a medley of her pure pop trilogy, “Live Your Life,” “Run This Town” and “All of the Lights.” She also looked genuinely surprised – and happy – when the crowd started singing “Take Care” – her 2012 collaboration with Drake -- at the first strains of the song.
With nearly 50 chart-toppers of her own and a few dozen with other artists, Rihanna’s catalog is staggering. Trying to satiate fans with the perfect set list is an impossibility – not to mention, she has a new album to promote. So while a clubby remix of her most tuneful hit, “We Found Love” – mashed up with “How Deep is Your Love” – gave the song its due in the spotlight, if you were hoping to sing along to “Umbrella,” well, you got a verse and a chorus. Ditto the exotic “Rude Boy.” At least the grating “Work,” which was accompanied by much rump shaking, was also presented in abbreviated form.
Some wondered why Rihanna would start her concert with the poignant balladry of “Stay” and the midtempo “Love the Way You Lie (Part II)” rather than her more vivacious offerings. I wondered why she was wearing what looked like a white bathrobe, giant diaper and thigh-high boots for her opening sequence of songs. Some of her other outfits – a brown hooded cape that made her look like a Jawa princess, a beige body suit that showed off her enviable physique but was otherwise blah, a fringed, near-transparent jumpsuit and an oversized olive-brown suit – were all more “huh?” than “wow!”
Rihanna possesses a strong, unique voice. She’s not quite the powerhouse as Beyonce or Lady Gaga, but when she lays into a ballad such as “Stay” or her dreamy cover of Tame Impala’s “Same Ol’ Mistakes,” performed in the latter part of Wednesday’s concert, she can be mesmerizing. But, as with most arena-scale pop shows that focus more on the accoutrements than the substance, there was plenty of support from backing tracks during her show, even with a six-piece band and three backup singers sharing the stage (speaking of the stage, can anyone explain those bizarre inflatables during “We Found Love”?). She’s far from the only high-profile singer who gets a recorded assist and her fans don’t care, so, at 28, she can continue with being one of the biggest pop stars in the world.
The rapper-songwriter-producer who opened the show has worked with a diverse array of artists including T.I., The Weeknd, The 1975 and Future. No doubt he and Future are kindred spirits considering their shared love of Auto-Tune. Nearly all of Scott’s songs, from “Upper Echelon” to “90210” to his smash “Antidote” were coated with the hazy vocal effect, which tended to make every song sound the same. But Texas-native Scott, who performed in a camouflage outfit and baseball cap, was an energetic presence and attracted nearly the entire arena for his opening set. Scott also just announced that his upcoming third album will be called “Astroworld.”
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