Eminem and Rihanna: Why? He’s the reedy-voiced rapper from Detroit who defined MTV when the channel’s current demo was in diapers. She’s the smoky-toned singer from Barbados who defines the modern musical landscape of free-form hip-hop that sounds like dance-pop, or whatever the hell “Diamonds” is. He’s a confessional storyteller. She’s a tantalizing enigma.
Sure, they’ve partnered on a few songs—most famously the 2010 smash “Love the Way You Lie,” a track that helped define Eminem’s older-wiser-louder circa-2010s persona. But on the opening night of the duo’s joint-headlining Monster tour at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl Stadium, there was still that central question: Why these two together, right now? The ultimate answer, frustrating and thrilling: Why not?
The two stars opened with their 2012 duet “Numb” and shared the stage for collaborations both expected (“Love the Way You Lie”) and less so (B.o.B’s “Airplanes”). There’s a thrilling dissonance to the pair of them sharing space: Her, all wry grins and seductive body rolls in comfy-looking harem pants; him, all perpetual grimace and live-wire apoplexy in a punkish hoodie/baseball cap combo.
It’s too bad they’re not together for long. After a high-energy opening, Eminem ceded the stage to a fast-paced nothing-but-hits Rihanna -concert, with the singer racing through 17 songs in a little over an hour. She is a commanding presence onstage—there’s a catatonic charisma to the way she occasionally puts little or even negative effort into singing into the microphone. But somewhere between “What’s My Name?” and “Umbrella,” it started to feel as if the audience was singing half the song for her—it was like watching a ridiculously confident karaoke singer lead the world’s largest Rihanna sing-along.