While the world may be talking about Miley Cyrus at the moment, the Barbadian Rihanna has been pushing the envelope in terms of music and fashion tastes for nearly a decade. Discovered in her native Barbados by the American producers Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers, Rihanna’s demo tapes made it to the offices of the rapper Jay Z and the music mogul L A Reid. After auditioning for the two in New York, Rihanna was handed a six-album deal with Def Jam Recordings. The long-term strategy worked and since 2005, the prolific 25-year-old has gone on to release seven albums. Along the way, her material grew from the generic offerings of her debut Music of the Sun to the later blockbuster releases Rated R (2009) and her thuggish latest collection, Unapologetic, released last year.
After wowing the audience as part of last year’s MTV Video Music Awards, Rihanna announced her latest global jaunt. Through a series of YouTube videos chronicling the tour preparations, a few aspects became immediately apparent: the tour would be the most technically complex in terms of stage effects ,while musically, she would display a bigger rock element. Beginning in March, the tour’s 97 scheduled dates saw Rihanna perform in Africa, Europe, North America, Australia and Asia before winding down with the UAE, the Caribbean and back to the US. The tour has already broken its fare share of records with Rihanna playing to more than 150,0000 thousand people at Morocco’s Mawazine Festival last summer. She also overtook Lady Gaga by becoming the youngest performer to headline Paris’s mammoth Stade de France stadium. As Abu Dhabi is show number 88 on the calendar, the production will be a well-oiled machine by the time Rihanna hits the du Arena stage.
Like most big-budget pop shows, there is a loose theme running throughout the affair. Through five acts and the encore, the Diamonds World Tour aims to illustrate the different musical guises Rihanna has adopted over the years. The performance opens with a showcase of the new album, accompanied by displays of eye-popping bling on the LED screens. This is followed up by a sunnier second act with Rihanna getting stuck into her Caribbean musical roots. The show then goes all rock ‘n’ roll with fire shooting out of stage cannons before settling down again into a section dedicated to some of the singer’s neglected ballads. The concert ends on a storming note with Rihanna’s dance anthems S&M, Only Girl (In The World) and Don’t Stop the Music.
Ri Ri’s salacious outfits have caused their fair share of controversy throughout the tour. When it comes to Abu Dhabi, she may choose to tone down many of her fashion choices to respect local customs and traditions – or she may not, if her New Year’s Eve show at Emirates Palace almost four years ago is any indication. In her Mawazine Festival performance in Morocco, Rihanna stuck largely to a tour outfit of black tank-top, trousers and boots, jazzed up by dazzling oversized sunglasses, a gold necklace engraved with the name RiRi and the customary gilded microphone.
And on the guitar....
Remember the band Extreme? Or better yet, can you recall their 1991 acoustic hit More than Words, which had a cheesy black-and-white video featuring four long-haired lads singing together in a studio? Well the lead guitarist and backing vocalist Nuno Bettencourt is Rihanna’s guitarist throughout the tour. The 47-year-old is all smiles on stage and who could blame him: with Extreme stuck in one-hit-wonder status, Bettencourt must be more than happy to play to packed arenas every night.