When the lights went down this past Sunday at Boston’s TD Garden, no one in the audience was quite prepared for Rihanna — perhaps this decade’s biggest and best hitmaker — to come out singing “Stay” (2013), a rather soft ballad from her previous studio album. In the end, it didn’t matter; the screams that greeted her arrival into the packed arena were amplified by the subdued nature of the track, and when the 28-year-old Barbadian pop icon pulled off the hood obscuring her face, fans could not contain themselves.
After more than 10 years into her career, Rihanna has effortlessly maintained her status as one of pop music’s boldest and most innovative purveyors. With songs such as the addictive “Umbrella” (2007), exuberant “We Found Love” (2011)” and majestic “Diamonds” (2012), her back catalogue towers above those of her peers and serves as a potent reminder of the effect she has had on the sound of Noughties pop. However, the release of her latest studio album, “Anti” (2016), was marked by numerous delays and even a botched rollout on Jay Z’s streaming service, Tidal. While these incidents may have threatened to sink any other pop star’s career, Rihanna’s brand appears to remain unaffected. Her eighth studio album’s lead single, “Work,” is currently spending its eighth week at number one, and the tour in support of the said album continues to captivate her fans.
Following the rather tame opening numbers of the Anti World Tour, Rihanna continued with an eclectic mix of her signature hits and lesser known album tracks, including “Umbrella” and “Numb” (2012), respectively. Even though her signing was somewhat lacking during certain songs, and she seemed unwilling to commit to finishing entire songs, the pop powerhouse never once failed to keep the audience entertained. About halfway through the show, she even took a moment to apologize for being roughly an hour late, attributing the delay to an accident with a kettle of hot water. During this lovely, unscripted interaction with the audience, Rihanna’s island accent came through, which further served to highlight the Caribbean themes carried throughout the show and remind the audience of her rich heritage.
It was at this point that the unapologetic pop star declared that it was time to dance, and “everybody better stopping texting their exes or baby mamas.” Featuring fresh takes on arguably some of her best songs, Rihanna ripped through “Take Care” (2011) with a fantastic dance break and an endearing mashup of Calvin Harris, “How Deep Is Your Love” (2015) and her own “We Found Love.” Again, Rihanna took a moment to engage with the audience as she asked everyone if they were having a good time (a no-brainer question, to be fair) and responded, “That’s good. You would let me know if I was f*cking it up.”
As the show wound down, she proceeded to thank her fans and crew, leaving one with the sense that her job as an entertainer is about more than just partying. Despite the carelessness she may exhibit in the brand she sells to the masses, there is a warmth to her that most other stars simply fail to match. This coincided with the most rewarding part of the show as she asked fans to put their phones in the air for a beautiful rendition of “Diamonds” and sing along to last year’s “FourFiveSeconds.” “Love on the Brain,” an album track from “Anti,” featured her best vocals of the night as she perfectly captured the track’s lovelorn nature and hit the song’s rather challenging notes.
While some singers prefer to sing their most vocally intensive songs at the beginning of a show, Rihanna’s decision to do the exact opposite is perfectly indicative of the fearlessness she exhibits as a pop star. This moment, like many others in the show, demonstrate why the Anti World Tour is a perfect snapshot of her career. While other stars need garish sets or over the top vocal acrobatics, Rihanna only needs herself to put on a fantastic show.