Well…

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Although I’ve seen the light (or been popped by the whip, take your pick), I would just like to take the time to say that if you ever thought I was ever too hard on Rihanna, you clearly don’t read the British press.

Nick Hasted of the U.K.’s Independent reviewed Rihanna’s recent concert at London’s O2 arena, and pretty much ripped her to shreds.

The sub-heading of his review was “The Clothes Show.”

Highlights include:

But, watching her walk on in a black spandex fetish jacket, bustier, ultra-hot pants and stiletto boots, you have to wonder who has moulded her success. “Where my ladies at?” she asks, before joining her two similarly clad female dancers in wiggling their bottoms, as a prelude to “Break It Off”. It’s like watching the death of feminism to an R&B beat.

Damn, homie.

Worse for Rihanna, when she poses cocked against the mic stand for “Rehab” as if she’s a torch singer, then draws on her West Indian roots for Bob Marley’s “Is This Love”, the skimpy leatherwear looks ludicrous. Whatever late-night rap channels may feel, Half-Dressed Dominatrix is not an all-purpose style for young female singers.

Well, he sort of has a point, no?

The final irony in Rihanna’s dominatrix look is that this slight Bajan girl, barely out of her teens, seems naturally pliant and nice. It is as if her lithe, dancer’s body has been dressed by older, male hands, to suit their own fantasies. Amy Winehouse’s wild, wilful self-destruction suddenly looks almost healthy.

As a writer, I have to appreciate the brilliance of that last sentence.

Rihanna’s two backing singers, meanwhile, wear more tasteful cocktail dresses, and carry the songs. Her rougher voice cuts across them almost randomly, and is only strong when buffed by effects. Look at the video screens, and you can admire Rihanna’s looks, and diamond-encrusted mic. Look at the stage, and her real performance has no charisma, no defining persona. She could be a mannequin, or a hopeful rap video extra.

Ouch. Note that I only called her a pop star in a can, not a lifeless doll.

“Shut Up and Drive” sees Formula 1 flags and pit-babe outfits. It seems amazing that the young crowd are sitting still for this misbegotten mess, until I realise that they have seen it on American television. From American Idol to Oscar night, Rihanna is offering the kind of tackiness that still passes as mainstream showbiz in the US; which, for many, pop is now reduced to.

I kind of resent this. I mean, it’s not like Spice World was a cinematic masterpiece.

She returns for the encore lounging on a zebra-striped chaise longue, and lets the crowd sing much of “Umbrella”, an R&B power ballad as old-fashioned as everything else tonight. It’s like punk, disco, and the 21st century never happened.

I’m glad she has solid security now.

Ok, his sarcasm aside, while I have warmed up to Rihanna, I think the writer does make some valid points. One thing I always took issue with her was that I didn’t feel like her image was the “real Rihanna” as she claimed. Her new “bad girl” image seemed contrived – no doubt the brainchild of some male A&R rep with a thing for S&M.

There could very well be some 19-year-old’s in touch with their inner nympho, but didn’t the whips and chains seem like a bit much too soon?

She’s still the fliest, but style aside, what do you make of the writer’s comments on her voice and stage act?

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