Rihanna – a bonafide force in Western pop culture – was in Abu Dhabi for the final F1 after-race concert. Nico Rosenberg might’ve won the final race but it was Riri who emerged the real winner of the night.
Highs: Starting the set very low-key with a heartfelt rendition of Stay, Riri made her incredible vocal range clear from the get-go, although she did seem a bit exhausted with her final two songs Four Five Seconds and Love on the Brain. The Bajan songstress felt just as comfortable doing her pop & reggae hits as well with slick choreography on her mega-hits , Where Have You Been, We Found Love (which had been refreshingly mashed up with Calvin Harris’ How Deep Is Your Love) and Rude Boy. The singer would switch seamlessly between choreography and singing – she was clearly the most at home belting out her infectious dancehall jams Work and Rude Boy, gyrating seductively to the music. Anyone who thinks Rihanna is just a pop machine product who can’t sing live seriously need to see her perform.
Lows: Having seen her pop counterparts like Madonna and Katy Perry, the set was sorely missing out on the theatrical element: there was no grand, dramatized entrance, nor were there any visuals to accompany the live music – there were some very talented dancers, though, to allow Riri to get through her three subtle costume changes (her black velvet top and diamond choker stayed put throughout her setlist). The tour also lacked a narrative or story-line and the songs were randomly packaged with the singer floating from heartfelt ballads such as Love the Way You Lie to club bangers such as Birthday Cake. I get that Rihanna wanted to put the emphasis on her music but as one of the biggest pop stars, she sure could’ve brought in some visual pizzazz.
Organization: The concert promoters and the security team did a terrible job of controlling the massive throng of crowds with a mini-stampede occurring outside the venue. I was stuck in a queue outside the venue for almost an hour, which is surprising considering it’s hosted similarly-massive events in the past.
Verdict: Rihanna’s final tour date in Abu Dhabi showed that she’s worthy of being, possibly, the biggest star in contemporary music at the moment. What she lacked in theatrics that her peers use, she made up for with incredible vocals and sharp choreography.
^Image courtesy The National