Stay (performance at the Grammys) by Rihanna

Rihanna Stuns at the Grammys
With a dress code issued by CBS the night before the Grammys on February 9th 2013, many were wary of what Rihanna would be wearing (or lack thereof). Deemed “the poster child for bad choices” by Rolling Stone magazine; she has always been the center of controversy in regards to both her personal and professional life. Recently causing public outrage for rekindling a romance with Chris Brown after their relationship had suffered a violent altercation. Rihanna was brutally beaten by Chris Brown four years prior on the eve of “music’s biggest night”. The twenty four year old performer is criticized for being overtly sexual in terms of fashion choices, shameless glorification of marijuana and the content of her song lyrics (Eells 32). Case in point her popular single S&M details her personal preferences of fetishes. It’s safe to say the audience was expecting an R rated performance by the Barbadian native, but Rihanna stunned the audience in a surprising non-offensive manner.

In what appeared to be a demure version of the singer, Rihanna was dressed in a form fitting black Alaia dress complimented with sultry red lips. She had heavily watered down her sex appeal for the night, garnering even more attention. One would say this was a conservative look for the normally scantily clad performer. Supplementary visual aids such as dancers, pyrotechnics and background singers were absent from the backdrop for of the performance. With a deserted black stage all eyes were on Rihanna. The music from the live band is haunting, but not over powering as the pianist plays the instrumentals of the gentle ballad Stay. Rihanna begins to sing and the audience grows quiet. Stay is an emotional final plea to once former lover Chris Brown. (Brown was in the audience and attended the event with Rihanna by his side.) While performing she seems over flooded by emotion when she sings;
“Ohhh the reason I hold on, ohhh cause I need this hole gone. Funny you’re the broken one but I’m the only one who needed saving.?Cause when you never see the lights it’s hard to know which one of us is caving” (Stay).

The lyrics were autobiographical acknowledging her inability to stay away from Chris Brown, as well as the public’s opinion of the two. Displayed in a distorted manner portrayal by the media, their relationship has suffered heavy public disproval. Often Rihanna is portrayed as a victim of Chris Brown’s manipulation and abuse, unable to escape his antics. It is a claim that she firmly denies, although she admits to the turbulent relationship the two have shared with “Round and around and around and around we go” (Stay). During the performance it seemed as if Rihanna’s plea was not solely directed at Chris Brown alone but the naysayers as well. The genuine emotion exuded from Rihanna seemed to have silenced the criticism and presence of heavy judgment in the air. Often during the performance of the song she seems to wince in pan, further adding to the audience’s awareness of the emotional significance of the song.

Lyrical content was not the only element that contributed to the strength of Rihanna’s performance. The body language of the performer was a far cry from the Rihanna we are familiar with. A vulnerable version of Rihanna had surfaced sans suggestive choreography. The artist was reserved, avoiding eye contact with the camera and audience by shutting her eyes for the most part. Occasionally she was caught wrapping her arms around herself in a protective manner. Perhaps it hinted Rihanna’s discomfort with appearing vulnerable, which she had expressed in interviews (Rihanna). As she continued to belt out the lyrics to the ballad, Rihanna seemed clouded by the thoughts of her love troubles. The audience appeared entranced by the songstress, intrigued by her new demure persona. Seeming very self aware Rihanna constantly adjusts her hair and smoothes the fabric of her dress, adding an element of realism to the performance. Had Rihanna sung with her typical confident demeanor, the performance would have seemed over rehearsed and insincere. The song needed to be delivered with honest, raw and unfiltered emotion in order to resonate with the audience, which was a requirement Rihanna fulfilled.

The intent of the performance was made very clear. Rihanna expresses the emptiness she felt when she was torn away from Chris Brown, although the public was content with the decision she suffered a great emotional loss in his absence. Stay was an unapologetic proclamation of her adoration for Brown to the world. Rihanna expressed her indifference to the public backlash and repercussions for her relationship. Rather than express her frustration with critique via twitter rants (Rihanna), she took a passive aggressive approach to silence her critics. The performance was also a personal request to Brown, insisting that they stay together and work out their issues.

Rihanna’s Grammy performance highly contrasted the performance of pop music icon Beyonce at the Super bowl half-time show a week earlier. Knowles is celebrated in the music industry for her talent as an all around performer and scandal free image. Sharing a successful private marriage with music mogul Jay-Z, People magazine’s current “Most Beautiful Woman in the World” is beloved on a global level. Donning a lacy black leather mini dress, Beyonce delivered her twelve-minute half-time show with back-up dancers, pyrotechnics, a brief reunion with Destiny’s Child and upbeat dancing (Arnold 2013). Knowles’s performance left the audience speechless of her sheer perfection, while Rihanna’s performance was confessional and aired out her flaws. Sure, we all wanted to be Beyonce and bask in her glory at the Super bowl, but our hearts were tenderized by Rihanna’s vulnerability. Rihanna’s rendition of Stay was by far one of her best performances to date. The songstress proves that she does not require skimpy ensembles to secure the audience’s attention. All she needs is a stage and a microphone.

Works Cited

Arnold, Chuck. “Beyonce’s Halftime Performance Was Divalicious & Hooftastic.” People. People magazine, 4 Feb. 2013. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. .

Eells, Josh. “Relentless pop juggernaut or poster child for bad choices?” Rolling Stone 14 Feb. 2013. Print.

Stay. Perf. Rihanna, Mikky Ekko. Staples Centre, California. 9 Feb. 2013. Performance.

“Rihanna.” Oprah’s Next Chapter. Oprah Winfrey Network. Chicago.16 Aug. 2012. Television.

Fenty, Robyn. “S&M” Loud. Def Jam, 2010. CD.

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