Let’s not get things twisted. “The Monster Tour” may be billed equally between Eminem and Rihanna, but it’s really “The Eminem Show.”
The crowd that packed MetLife Stadium Saturday night was overwhelmingly his crowd. Though they started the nearly three-hour show onstage together and closed it together, Rihanna did her set first and basically warmed up the crowd for Eminem.
And to be truthful, there was really no way RiRi could compete with this version of Eminem. Following his well-publicized stint in rehab in 2005, Em became a much better performer. But, on this tour, he has raised his game to a whole new level. That’s not just because he delivered the double-time lyrical twists and turns of “Rap God” effortlessly, but because he also tries to connect with the audience, even if it is to jokingly apologize, “I’m sorry for ----- up your life” with his music.
His passionate delivery of “Lose Yourself” seem to thrive on the sea of waving arms in front of him. In many ways, Eminem was actually at his best with Rihanna supporting him. His fieriness on “Love the Way You Lie” played well against her calculated cool. He punctuated every line on his classic “Stan” with a punch or a shake, as Rihanna provided harsher, edgier vocals for the hook than Dido did on the original.
For much of her 50 minutes alone on stage, though, Rihanna had a look of “How did I get myself into this?” as many of her smash hits received only a lukewarm reaction from the crowd. It wasn’t that she didn’t try. Dressed in a Motley Crue T-shirt and tie-dyed leggings with a prominent AC/DC patch on the back, Rihanna clearly came to rock a stadium. But when her fun, flirty version of “Rude Boy” delivered with her troupe of eight dancers didn’t draw a huge reaction, she could tell this wasn’t her crowd.
They did know “Umbrella” though. And her powerful one-two punch of “Only Girl in the World” and “Where Have You Been” would have bowled over a more receptive audience, as would her emotional delivery of the ballad “Stay.” However, it seemed like her audience, which leans heavily toward empowered women and gay men, weren’t willing to take this leap with her. After all, as toned down as Eminem’s new set may be, he still throws around way too many derogatory terms for women and gay men.
That disconnect is what has always made the long-running collaboration between Eminem and Rihanna weird, but understandable.
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Thematically, they share an interest in pain – though Em is more interested in verbalizing it, while RiRi works on ways to rise above it. Business-wise, Rihanna gives Eminem some cultural relevance and the ear of pop radio programmers, while he gives her more edge and access to his wild-eyed artistry.
However, business arrangements don’t really translate well in concert. Luckily, they each did well on their own.
The Monster Tour continues at MetLife Stadium Sunday night.
SET LIST: Numb / No Love / Run This Town / Renegade / Live Your Life / Crack a Bottle / Won’t Back Down / What Now / Phresh Out the Runway / Birthday Cake / Talk That Talk / Rude Boy / What’s My Name / Pour It Up / Cockiness / Jump / Umbrella / All of the Lights / Rock Star / Only Girl in the World / Where Have You Been / Stay / Love the Way You Lie / 3 a.m. / Square Dance / Business / Kill You / Evil Deeds / Rap God / Marshall Mathers / Just Don’t Give a ----- / Criminal / The Way I Am / Airplanes / Stan / Sing for the Moment / Like Toy Soldiers / Forever / Berzerk / Til I Collapse / Cinderella Man / My Name Is / The Real Slim Shady / Without Me / Not Afraid / Diamonds / Where Have You Been / Lose Yourself / The Monster