Rihanna and Cee Lo Green at the Target Center, 6/16/11


Rihanna, Cee Lo Green, and J. Cole

June 16, 2011
Target Center, Minneapolis

"Do you realize I'm just foreplay for Rihanna?" Cee Lo Green asked the near-capacity crowd, taking a break from his lackluster set to attempt to rouse the bored audience. "Rihanna's gonna fuck you," he said. "I'm just here to get you wet."

Gross, Cee Lo. But thanks for sharing.

Though Green has risen to be one of the hottest pop singers of the past year, his set at the Target Center failed to measure up to the fun factor of his recorded material. Green spent most of the set stationed in front of a mic at the center of the stage, barely moving an inch while he sang and flanked by two forgettable back-up singers and a DJ that was all but hidden behind a giant LCD display. That DJ would help Green to pay homage to Prince -- to whom Green professed his love during a hilarious, profanity-laden rant in which he tried to badger the audience into dancing to his songs -- but the DJ was so inept that the riffs of "Kiss" and the finale of Green singing along to "Baby I'm a Star" were both flubbed and ended up skipping and then getting cut short, killing any sort of buzz that Green managed to create.

Even his Gnarls Barkley smash hit "Crazy" was reworked considerably and failed to ignite despite mixing in strains of the Pussycat Dolls' "Don't Cha," and the only real highlight was his first major single as a solo artist, "Fuck You," which was also the only point in his set that he appeared to truly connect with the twentysomething club-going crowd. "How many ladies out there just broke up with some asshole?" he asked before starting the song, and easily a third of the crowd started jumping up and down like the animated young woman behind me and screaming, "Oh my god, me!"

But the real star of the night was Rihanna. To be fair, she had the help of millions of dollars worth of high-tech stage equipment, a legion of back-up dancers, a full live band, and nearly a dozen costume changes to help her shake up the crowd, but RiRi didn't take long to show that her performance would have been stunning event without the fiery red hair and flashy stage antics. Whereas that kind of all-hand-on-deck hubbub can overshadow a less capable performer than, say, Britney Spears, Rihanna is such a confident performer and naturally talented singer that everything else was just window dressing -- very neon and flamboyant window dressing that lived up to the name of the tour: Loud.

​For a celebrity whose biggest claim to fame is the unfortunate and very public abuse she sustained from her then-boyfriend Chris Brown, Rihanna's most convincing material centers around her newfound personal strength and empowerment, and it was clear that the predominantly female audience identified strongly with these songs. Through a flurry of costume changes -- first a short electric blue shirt-dress that, combined with her shock-red ringleted hair made her look like an acid trip's Little Orphan Annie, followed by a series of skin-baring bodices, two-pieces, and glittery silver slips -- Rihanna repeatedly returned to the theme of reclaiming power, following up "Man Down" with a gender-bending cover of "Darling Nikki" that found the pop star lording over a gaggle of flailing dominatrixes with a whip, and later plowing through a trio of ballads about realizing when it's time to call it quits and move along ("California King" was especially chilling).

Rihanna picked things up again with a cute segment that found her finally addressing the audience directly, saying that it was her favorite part of the show because "she gets to take a shot" and gulping down a giant lowball of whiskey. 

"Minneapolis, do you like to party?" she yelled, working the crowd into a tizzy. "See? You're just like me."

And with that, the barrier between pop star and fan had been shattered once and for all, as the by-now fairly intoxicated crowd swayed and sang along to RiRi as she strutted around the stage in white Ray Bans. Despite all of the glitz and spectacle, it was this very human moment that endeared me to her the most, and it made it all the more believable a few moments later when she sat down in the middle of the stage and talked about wanting to connect with her fans.

"Minneapolis, I want to talk to you," she began. "No -- I want to talk with you. I like talking with my fans one on one, not to them. That's why I like Twitter." She rolled her eyes. "I mean I hate Twitter, but you know." (Oh my god, we totally know!) "Minneapolis, thank you so much for your support, you guys make this all worth it." Aw.

For the encore, after 20 songs and 11 costume changes, the show ratcheted up one last time when a grand piano slowly emerged from the ceiling and scooped up Rihanna as she sang "Love the Way You Lie (Part II), then dropped her back on stage for a simple and celebratory rendition of "Umbrella" that climaxed in -- what else? -- glitter cannons.

Personal bias: Went in with high hopes for Cee Lo and not knowing what to expect from Rihanna, and ended up feeling ho-hum about Green but impressed by RiRi.
The crowd: A diverse crowd united in their love of wearing barely any clothing in public.
Overheard in the crowd: "Make sure you mention the outfits!" the man next to me insisted, as he pointed out the most outrageously dressed young women. "Wow, look at that one!"
Random notebook dump: I arrived in time to hear a few songs from the first opener, J. Cole, but can't say I was blown away. He had a charismatic stage presence but his music sounded like a diluted, homogenized version of Late Registration-era Kanye West. I should also note that Cee Lo Green didn't allow photographs, nor was his image displayed on the giant screens as he sang like the other two performers, which I found odd.

Cee Lo Green set list:
Bright Lights Bigger City
Closet Freak
It's Ok
The One
I Like It
Kiss (snippet of Prince cover) --> In the Mood (?)
Crazy --> Don't Cha
Fuck You
Baby I'm a Star (Prince cover)

Rihanna set list:
Only Girl (In the World)
Shut Up and Drive
Man Down
Darling Nikki (Prince cover)
Raining Men
Breakin' Dishes
Run This Town
Hate That I Love You
California King Bed
What's My Name
Rude Boy
Cheers (Drink to That)
Listen to the Music
Take a Bow

Love the Way You Lie (Part II)