Rihanna has been one of the last decade’s most bankable pop stars, with her devil-may-care persona and her knack for picking beats that anticipate the zeitgeist supercharging even her more reserved hits. When her eighth album, “Anti,” came out in January, it was, quite naturally, a Big Pop Event. It’s also one of the year’s better pop records because of the way it places her familiar voice in hyperrealistic close-up: It’s clouded in guitar fuzz on a cover of the psych-pop band Tame Impala’s “Same Ol’ Mistakes,” while on the breakup broadside “Woo,” which uses synth blasts and a stomping beat to create a claustrophobic space defined by love’s absence, it has a world-weary grit.
At TD Garden on Sunday night, Rihanna straddled the chasm between Rihanna the boldface name and Rihanna the inward searcher. Starting off with the pleading ballad “Stay” was a bold choice for an artist whose songs — from the 2007 smash “Umbrella” to the silvery “Work,” which just entered its eighth week atop the Billboard Hot 100 — have helped define America’s perception of the pop banger. Her gutsy performance set the tone for a night that took a breakneck trip through her massive catalog, pausing only to give her best tracks some extra stage time.
Backed by a band that added stadium-rock heft to tracks like the moody “Diamonds” and the scorched-earth “Desperado,” Rihanna commanded the stage even when surrounded by glitter-covered dancers, while a midshow medley of three hits for which she provided hooks — T.I.’s “Live Your Life,” Jay Z’s “Run This Town,” and Kanye West’s “All of the Lights” — proved that she could do the same among music’s heaviest hitters.
Another collaboration, last year’s debauched campfire tale “FourFiveSeconds,” featured not just West but pop eminence Paul McCartney. Sunday, Rihanna led the crowd in a triumphant singalong, asserting her position at the song’s center. She then went into “Love On the Brain,” an “Anti” standout that has an old-soul feel, its lamenting over a relationship that hurts so good given added oomph by Rihanna’s uncharacteristically full-throated vocal.
“Kiss It Better” — a sumptuous “Anti” ballad in which Rihanna’s commands are trailed by a juicy guitar lick — closed out the night, with her powerhouse singing and assertive lyrics playing off the longing of “Stay” in a way that showed how Rihanna’s independent spirit had only grown stronger while under the white-hot spotlight.
At TD Garden, April 10Maura Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.