Diamonds is her latest hit, and Rihanna is pop music's best friend. But with her, it's more than the music, it's personal pizzazz – a million-dollar package of natural-born star power is what she is. In Toronto, on the second of her seven secret-venue concerts, the Barbados-born hitmaker dazzled a crowd of contest winners and media at the Danforth Music Hall, an old movie house turned balconied concert room. Hollywood has its publicity tricks, as does the music biz. And, onstage, Rihanna was Marilyn Monroe on the subway grate, with a little singing, shot-slinging and even Santa thrown in.
RiRi is decidedly in rah-rah mode – her 777 tour takes the charismatic singer to seven cities in seven countries for seven shows. With her record label (Def Jam/Universal), she's commissioned a Boeing 777 jumbo jet for a promotional tour that is a mile high at least. Thursday it was Toronto's turn to be the tarmac for a publicity jaunt geared to pump up the noise for Unapologetic, Rihanna's seventh studio album in seven years, out Nov. 19.
But at the tidy, upbeat show itself, the album was not a presence. Other than the lead single Diamonds, the only other new song performed was Phresh Out the Runway, a bustling, whomping electro-thriller to which the midriff-baring babe strutted in stiletto heels, her hips swivelling and slung forward, leaving snakes and everyone else charmed, I'm sure.
Other than that it was rapid-fire hits, rat-a-tat-tat with the undulating Rated R star presenting high-wattage club fare, a brief acoustic set, sultry reggae and affecting ballads. An Umbrella was opened; Only Girl (in the World) happened. In other words, her whole bag of tricks, which also included playing Santa and gifting a personalized smartphone – "the next-level [poop]" – to a child upfront.
As is common in the live presentation of urban music, irritatingly constant localized grandstanding – which passes for a personal connection with an audience – was the hoary default for banter. "What up T-Dot," asked the singer, swooping her mane of hair long to the right, "y'all still here?"
We, if I may speak for T-Dot, were still there.
It was nice of Rihanna to toast us T-Dotters too, though whatever shot she was drinking didn't seem to suit her. (She slurped at it instead of throwing it back sailor-like.)
At one point, she even crowd-sourced her set list. Would we wish to hear something new, or would we prefer Love The Way You Lie? The audience voted – one arm up for a new song; two for the hit (with Eminem) from 2010 – against the new one.
Unapologetically, she disregarded the audience's choice and went ahead with Diamonds, saying that she would get to the other one later. "Shine bright, tonight, you and I," she sang, on an almost-cinematic ballad that Nelly Furtado or Lana Del Rey would appreciate. "We're beautiful like diamonds in the sky." It's a song that shows the singer's limited range and vocal power, but reveals everything else. It's about the sparkle and the spotlight – all eyes are on Rihanna, for the moment, the only girl in the world.