“I don’t want you texting your boyfriends, your girlfriends or your baby mommas. You only wanna be taking pictures of me.” Rihanna’s vainglory – one part tongue-in-cheek, two parts deadly serious - has always been a joy to behold. Tonight at Wembley Stadium is no exception.
It’s lucky, though, that her presence is so electrifying, because there’s not much else in the way of visual theatrics. For one of the biggest stars on the planet, her stage is strangely barren – a misstep exacerbated by the sheer size of the stadium surrounding her. Flanked by a backdrop of empty seats, and plonked in the middle of one of the biggest venues in the country, the stage feels oddly small. That it makes no effort to stand out is even stranger.
No matter though. As soon as Rihanna arrives, hood up on her all-white outfit, pacing slowly and dramatically along a walkway as if she’s the leader of some cultish ceremony, what’s around her doesn’t seem to matter. Besides, trying too hard never was her thing.
That’s not to say there isn’t the occasional dramatic flourish. Though she doesn’t say as much, ‘We Found Love’ reads like a nod to Orlando, and to Pride. Rainbow colours are beamed across the stage, while men in gold body-suits vogue around her. Her own dancing is sensual and playful in equal parts, her singing more powerful than she’s often given credit for. When she feels like it, that is.
When she doesn’t, she lets the crowd do the work for her, or – as is the case with ‘Umbrella’ and ‘Stay’ - rattles out a minute-long version before bringing it to a somewhat abrupt end. Other older material is given its lavish due. Amidst what feels like a pretty bleak day for the country’s future, ‘Diamonds’ is a shimmering respite, the reaction to which prompts a moment of sincere gratitude.
It doesn’t last long. “Enough of that soft shit,” she announces, to herself as much as it is to us. “I’ve got a reputation.”