Life’s a perfect 10 Rihanna right now, with the Barbadian superstar learning that her new single is set to be number one just as she begins the longest O2 Arena stint of any female artist to date. “All of you standing here are part of history tonight,” she yelled to the first of her 10 audiences. “I just wanna toast to you, London.”
For comparison, Beyonce played here for seven nights in 2009 and Lady Gaga for six last year. Britney Spears is playing just twice later this month. More people want to watch Rihanna than any of them and to judge from what she was wearing last night, it’s not surprising.
She arrived late on stage, which doesn’t say much for the tube system she spontaneously chose to ride in on. Then it was straight into the fizz and bang of an arena spectacular that ticked the traditional boxes: confetti showers, powerful bursts of steam and enough glaring rotating video screens to blow a power grid.
Where Rihanna stood apart was in the versatility of her singing, delivering the mighty chorus of Love the Way You Lie one minute, growling in the Caribbean style on the menacing Man Down the next. She was acoustic and smiley on Hate That I Love You, then furiously battering her own drum kit during Glamorous Life. A hard rock cover of Prince’s Darling Nikki was another surprise.
She also worked rather too hard to establish herself as the sex bomb to blow up them all, throwing her crotch around in a succession of disappearing outfits that would have caused that farmer who threw her off his field to start blindfolding his cows. When she concluded a segment that featured her whips and chains-endorsing single S&M, a leather basque and the spanking of two pole dancers with a cane, then descended from the stage while writhing atop a middle-aged male volunteer, it felt like that point in Madonna’s career when you just wished she’d put it away for five minutes.
The most striking set piece saw her change from sexy dominatrix Rihanna to sexy army captain Rihanna and sing Hard while straddling a giant pink gun turret. The symbolism was unavoidable.
The music was delivered at a crushing volume that left the ears feeling like a vacuum when it stopped. Even magnificent tunes such as Run This Town and What’s my Name had to fight to step out from the cacophony. The deafened crowd cheered on – for nine more nights, this particular town is run by Rihanna.