Rihanna's Best Live Performances

BYErin Haley1042 Views
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Apple Music Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show
Rihanna performs during Apple Music Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Roc Nation)
What is your personal favorite Rihanna performance?

Since her audacious debut with Pon De Replay in 2005, Rihanna has been an unstoppable sonic force in hip-hop. In what feels like a matter of moments, she has gone from sparkling ingenue to tour-de-force performance artist whose talents have found equal spotlights in the worlds of music, film and fashion. Her performance at Super Bowl LVII was only an inevitable bullet point on an already epic resume. 

Still, like many of the greats - think Janet Jackson, Britney Spears and Mary J. Blige - it is Rihanna’s live performances where her genius is on full display. She might be performing for a sold-out stadium, but she has mastered the uncanny ability to individualize her productions, creating an intimacy between fans and herself that allows them to believe that they are in her orbit, if only until the song is over. Watching her live is to watch a virtuoso in the midst of an artistic renaissance happening one right after the other. In a matter of a few beats, she can go from coy and seductive to fierce and uncompromising. 

When reflecting on her own performances, jazz chanteuse Nina Simone once said, “I want to shake people up so bad, that when they leave a nightclub where I’ve performed, I just want them to be to pieces.” 

That ability to shake the earth and everyone on it is something that Rihanna can also claim to do. People are not just humming and dancing when they leave her arenas; they’re thinking, their brains rattling around even as their bodies are still moving to rhythms cast on the wind in their wake. 

In looking at Rihanna’s oeuvre of performances, certain shows stand out more than others, though in no particular order:  

Diamonds- 2014 Concert For Valor

Dressed in black sequins, with her hair as straight-as-a-ski-slope as it angles down her back, all Rihanna said was “Hello D.C.” before she launched into her song “Diamonds” at the 2014 Concert for Valor in the nation’s capital. She was only 26 at the time, and yet she held her own at a star-studded event where the roster of performers included Jennifer Hudson, David Grohl and Metallica. The entire show was broadcast on HBO. 

Diamonds- 2012 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show

Cue to the same song, but a different tenor. At the 2012 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show - which capped in at 53 million views - Rihanna skipped all introductions as she sauntered on stage in a slinky black dress with a slit from ankle to hip. Black thigh highs offered a teasing glimpse of skin that fit the show's theme of Dangerous Liaisons, a story that is all about the games men and women play when confusing love for power. Fog billowed around her as she crooned to the audience in an ultimate delivery of seduction and 'look-but-don't-touch' vibes. The sunglasses with the white rims kept the number playful while the black opera gloves maintained an aura of class.

Love The Way You Lie/Not Afraid (Ft. Eminem)-2010 VMAs

After the release of her fifth studio album, Loud, which was released in 2010, the Barbadian songstress adopted a new look that included shockingly bright magenta hair and a roster of songs that were not afraid to seduce. In this S&M era, she joined forces with Eminem to perform “Love the Way You Lie / Not Afraid” at the 2010 VMAs. After Eminem performed with a sacrosanct prowess that was infused with gospel, Rihanna appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, like a waifish prom queen who has decided that she's got more important things to talk about than who won king and queen that night. She had a song to sing and hearts to break, and she was going to deliver.

Bitch Better Have My Money-2015 iHeartRadio Music Awards

Even if she hadn't been wearing the sour-apple-green faux fur, Rihanna would have commanded attention at the 2015 iHeartRadio Music Awards - a show that nabbed 86 million views - with her rendition of "Bitch Better Have My Money". As if adopting the adage 'go big or go home', Rihanna entered the stage by slyly stepping from a helicopter and then launching into a song and dance sequence that nailed every beat with a techno precision.

Love On The Brain-2016 Global Citizen Festival

In 2016 at the Global Citizen Festival, Rihanna asked her audience, "Are you ready?" before beginning her jazz-fueled ballad "Love on the Brain." Everything about the performance called to mind a blues club where everyone knows everyone and everyone is willing to share their heartache. Between the occasional pauses so that her fans could sing the lyrics, to her own soft and subtle sways, this was a Rihanna who can tell the rest of us all about heartache.

Pon De Replay- AOL Sessions

When an artist has had the kind of robust and dynamic career that Rihanna has had, it is tempting to overlook the earliest material. That would be a mistake. In hindsight, Rihanna's AOL sessions with "Pon De Replay" was a sneak peek at who she would become, both as an individual artist and as a person who knew how to make her name a brand that could not be replicated or minimized. She sang and danced on a minimalistic sound stage where red dominated, commanding the camera as if she were already a seasoned veteran. The dance moves were natural and uninhibited, making it clear that she was a performer who was on the verge of something unprecedented.

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