Rihanna @ The Aviva banner (1 of 1)-2

Rihanna at The Aviva on the 21st of June 2013

Whether she’s hitting her own fans in the head with a microphone or being somewhat subtly told that not everyone approves of her image (we’ve all seen the photo), there’s no shortage of Rihanna these days. Is it a case of good girl gone bad or a few master strokes of well placed PR? Well, we’ll let you decide for yourselves but when you’re playing to a sold-out Aviva stadium, you can’t really argue with results.

Tonight had all the elements for the perfect gig: it was on a Friday night, the stadium is packed to the rafters and with seven albums under her belt, Rihanna is sitting atop a treasure chest filled to the brim with hit singles.

It all started so well. Coming out to a deafening applause with Phresh Out the Runway, we see Rihanna trying to break some sort of record for the amount of times she can name drop Dublin in a single song. The first of numerous costumes sees her dressed as what can only be described as a halfway point between a boxer en-route to the ring and a stripper. Flanked by backing dancers Rihanna leads the charge with moves so risque, they should carry a parental warning sticker. It’s slick, polished, raunchy, brazen and incredibly adult. Any nuance of subtlety has been blown clear off.

Rihanna plays the tramp card for a few more songs but with no big singles until the lukewarm, slow reggae jam of Man Down – it’s about now that we’re starting to lose momentum. A poncho filled stadium is not the best outlet for slow-burning reggae it seems. It takes the splatter-synth singalong Rude Boy to pick things up again; it’s Friday and this crowd are here to hear the hits. This routine is repeated for the rest of the gig: costume change, two or three album tracks, hit single, album track and then another costume change to start the cycle all over again.

After the roaring mass-singalong to Umbrella (the unofficial anthem to Ireland’s very wet 2007 summer) we’re back into a handful of mid-tempo RnB tracks like ROCKSTAR 101 (which loses all the vocal subtleties found on the album). With just the opening synth jabs of We Found Love, the gig turns into an entirely different beast altogether. Five or so songs until the end, it finally feels like there are 60,000 crammed into the stadium. By following it up with S&M, this means that nobody has any time at all to catch their breath.

Wrapping up the night is 2012’s single-de-force Diamonds. A well-chosen song but not one to close the show with. The chugging tempo means it sits awkwardly between ballad’esque singalong or something more upbeat.

Having released over thirty singles in her career to date, it’s disappointing that so many album tracks got an airing. Am I asking Rihanna to shut up and play the hits? No. But when every lull in the set comes during an album track, then I think the problem’s clear. Especially when the unplayed songs include such gems as California King Bed, Disturbia, Shut Up and Drive and SOS, to name but a few.

All in all a very middle of the road show from the controversial Rihanna. The questionable setlist and staggered-pacing stops any real momentum from building. Unfortunately the whole thing comes across as more of a rock gig with backing dancers and an egotistical frontwoman than a jaw-dropping, polished pop performance.

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Photos: Owen Humphreys