It’s been more than 10 months since Rihanna missed her scheduled performance at February’s Grammy Awards due to her assault at the hands of then boyfriend Chris Brown. But on Sunday night (November 22) at the American Music Awards, the singer stormed back in style, working out two of the singles from her new album, Rated R, which hits stores on Monday.
In keeping with the dark vibe of the photos and videos she’s released from the album so far, Rihanna’s performance led off with a sci-fi themed clip featuring an ominous voiceover that intoned, “Ladies and gentlemen, for those of you who are easily frightened, we suggest you turn away now. To those of you who think they can take it, we say: Welcome to the madhouse,” a seeming homage to Vincent Price’s cackling narration of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video. The opening video sequence featured images of a woman strapped to a medical table with shiny instruments covering her privates, as a team of blue ghost figures implanted a series of computer chips into her body while she sprang to life, Frankenstein style.
With a silver mask removed, the figure was revealed to be Rihanna and the camera panned to the stage, where the singer was strapped into a X-shaped rigging, her arms and legs splayed as the thrum of her single “Wait Your Turn” filled the air. The lights came up and Rihanna sang the deadpan first line, “I pitch with a grenade,” with one hand freed from her S&M-like device. Also in keeping with the fetish-style outfits she’s been wearing lately, Rihanna was decked out in a neck-to-ankles, skintight white catsuit bisected by cut-out lines that revealed horizontal bits of flesh across her body, and topped off with spiked shoulder pads, white studded cuffs and a barbed-wire bracelet snaking up her right forearm.
As dancers with white shotguns swirled around and a nest of TV sets behind her displayed static, Rihanna stepped down from the cross and strutted amid towers of flames shooting up from the stage. Backed by an industrial rock group that resembled a Nine Inch Nails tribute band and holding a Freddie Mercury-style half-microphone stand, she burned into her Young Jeezy collabo, “Hard,” dropping the line “the hottest sh– in heels right here,” while putting her high-heeled white vinyl boots up on a vintage TV prop as proof.
With lasers searching the air, the lights dimmed and red tracer beams shot out of the studs on her shoulder pads and the song ended with a group of backup dancers wearing plexiglass boxes on their heads over gas masks and wielding the aforementioned firearms took aim while Rihanna raised her arms in triumph and a voice warned: “Rihanna’s reign ain’t gonna let up.”