A Goddess sprang forth within the Toyota Center on Thursday night. At 9:30 p.m. the arena was thrown into utter darkness until light —and the curtain — rose to reveal Her, Rihanna. Cloaked in black robes, she knelt in front of a several stories-high projection of a marble statue of an ancient goddess and throughout her two-hour show the audience was sometimes subliminally, sometimes bluntly reminded they were in the presence of hip hop, dance, and pop divinity.
The opening number “Mother Mary” would seem to imply that projected statue was of the Virgin Mary, but with breasts exposed and no baby Jesus feeding from them, she looked more like Venus to me. And Venus or whoever she was was just the introduction to the many ambiguous faces of the goddess.
During the concert Rihanna was swallowed up by the earth (a.k.a, the stage) several times only to emerge from the underworld in another costume and another modern goddess persona: wanted reggae gangsta confessing to crimes in “Man Down,” sultry, seductress turning “Love the Way You Lie”/”Take a Bow”/”Cold Case Love” into a kind of torch song medley, and bad girl cheerleader leading us to victory in “We Found Love,” “S&M” and “Please Don’t Stop.”
I couldn’t help but see the diva as a kind of real life Disney Princess, albeit a princess who grabs, and even claps a beat out on, her crotch a lot.
She commanded pillars of fire to erupt from the ground on beat during “What Now” and giant video screens behind her flashed ancient Egyptian iconography. When she came down from the stage and pranced among front row some lucky worshipers might have even caught a glimpse of the tattoo of the Isis under her breasts.
Yet, an hour into to her two-hour show, I realized the music goddess role doesn’t quite fit Rihanna, no matter how devoted her fans. Instead, I couldn’t help but see the diva as a kind of real life Disney Princess, albeit a princess who grabs, and even claps a beat out on, her crotch a lot.
It’s not just that tween girls love her. Though they weren’t out in full force on a school night, there were many young daughters and hip mothers scattered throughout the audience.
It’s not just that she’s beautiful and gets to change in and out of stunning clothes at the slightest whim. After the sixth costume changes I just gave up trying to keep track of the skirts, hip high boots, slinky and sparkling dresses and jumpsuit. Yes, Rihanna even makes a jumpsuit look damn good.
It’s not just that she seems to always be falling into some new perilous adventure that we can’t help but watch on our computer and television screens. And we really do love her and root for her, even while we shake out heads and judge her bad decisions. Her early childhood and parental woes read like an origin story for a noble heroine. Meanwhile, her Beauty and the Beast relationship came with a moral that no matter how great a princess’s love, a real frog isn’t going to transform into a prince. He’s pretty much staying an amphibian.
The sparkling, glittery surface of "Diamonds"was beautiful to behold, but everything was just so perfect, it was hard not to always be fully aware how much work it takes to create a goddess.
No, the main reason Rihanna fits into those princess slippers is because her "Diamonds" world tour Houston stop was immensely entertaining with amazing performances by the star and her army of backup dancers and musicians, but most of the time the show seemed calculated to the last second and drained of all spontaneity.
With the exception of her constant screams of “Houston” throughout the evening and a brief non-apology apology for canceling her scheduled stop at the Toyota Center last April, I’m doubtful that last night’s show was much different from her Dallas stop, her Oklahoma show, her Sydney, Australia visit.
The sparkling, glittery surface of "Diamonds"was beautiful to behold, but everything was just so perfect, it was hard not to always be fully aware how much work it takes to create a goddess. Watching the spectacle of "Diamonds" was a little like spending a day at the Magic Kingdom and taking a moment to wonder if the woman in the Snow White costume is really having any fun helping me have fun.
Yet as Rihanna ended the evening with the tour’s namesake, the song "Diamonds," I glanced across the aisle from me. Standing next to her surely hip mother was one of those tweens who love Rihanna so. The girl's hands were raised, her eyes locked onto the stage below as she sang along, word for word, note for note: “So shine bright, tonight/You and I/We're beautiful like diamonds in the sky/Eye to eye, so alive/We're beautiful like diamonds in the sky.”
It’s got to be really hard work playing a princess goddess, but maybe moments like those make it worth it.