From an opening of “Phresh Out the Runway,” Rihanna had an urgency, almost something to prove with her set. She mentioned that Denver was her first tour date of the Diamonds World Tour back on U.S. soil, and it was almost as if she was making up for lost time, having canceled her last Denver date back in 2010.
Inside the nearly-capacity Pepsi Center, gaggles of teen legal girls stood in their chunky lace up booties and sky high wedges. They danced and sang along while middle-aged couples swayed together as if every song was a ballad. Even a pink mohawk could be spotted just skimming the heads of the crowd. The parents escorting their children cringed at the hip rolls and crotch grabs during “Cockiness.” But even with a young crowd, Rihanna wasn’t about to apologize for her sexuality. She’s a strong woman — confident in her talent and body.
It’s a confidence that grew as the set wore on. With billowing streams of fire blasting beside her, Rihanna strutted across the stage, casually dodging the pyrotechnics. Despite the chaos around her, she held her own in every fluid and effortless movement she made. Even her twerking had a sense of originality and sophistication. Every pop of her body was as if she was saying, “I’ve done this for years, and this is how you do it.”
The fire cleared and Rihanna moved onto “Numb” and “No Love Allowed,” two almost reggae-inspired tracks that bring to mind her Barbados origins. Then, journeying through the luxurious yet materialistic side of hip-hop, through the red-hot flames and up in smoke, it was time to drift into the clouds for a few power ballads. Dressed in a long red dress, Rihanna showed her emotional range. During “Loveeee Song” the massive arena suddenly felt intimate and private.
But as soon as it seemed Rihanna would open up, tell the audience what made the singer really tick, she moved back to the comfort zone of pop. Live, these radio hits and chart-topping singles like “Love the Way You Lie” and “Take a Bow” took a real power thanks to Rihanna’s daunting presence and enormous voice.
Next, another costume change: Rihanna ditched her elegant and mature look as she changed into a playful and flirty dress with reflective kicks perfect for “We Found Love” and “S & M.” Ending the show with “Diamonds” in a diamond studded jumpsuit and impossibly thin stiletto heels, one thing was clear: Rihanna exemplified that a strong (occasionally intense), talented woman can also be playful, smart and even, yes, a role model.
Women with their heels in hand streamed out of the Pepsi Center, and there seemed to be an energy to the air and a confidence to the step that wasn’t there before.
Bailey Constas is a Fort Collins-based writer and new contributor to Reverb. Follow her on Twitter @BaileyLiza.
Seth McConnell is a member of YourHub at The Denver Post and a regular contributor to Reverb.