Rihanna, making her fifth visit to Saturday Night Live, helped close out the series’ 40th season by performing visually stunning renditions of her most recent singles, “Bitch Better Have My Money” and “American Oxygen.” The SNL stage often isn’t kind to pop star musical guests, but Rihanna, an SNL vet at this point, avoided those pitfalls by transforming her eighth album singles into a eye-catching spectacle while also infusing some new personality into those now-familiar radio songs.
“Bitch Better Have My Money” turned SNL‘s Studio 8H into a film noir set as Rihanna recklessly drives and sings while pursued by police. (The pine tree air freshener and cross hanging from the rearview mirror were clever details that added to an already unique SNL performance.) For the first half of “BBHMM,” Rihanna literally acts on the lyric “Your wife in the backseat of my brand new foreign car / Don’t act like you forgot I call the shots, shots, shots.” The stage crew then stepped in to quickly deconstruct the elaborate set to give Rihanna space for the track’s dance-oriented second half.
For her second segment, Rihanna opted for “American Oxygen,” her “Born in the U.S.A.”-inspired, politically conscious ballad about the pursuit of the American Dream. Taking a cue from the Kanye West playbook – the rapper did co-produce “American Oxygen” – Rihanna delivered her latest single obscured in silhouette as the three video screens boxing her in projected iconic moments from American history, a motif borrowed from the song’s music video.
If there was one downside to Rihanna’s latest SNL musical guest spot, it was that it wasn’t accompanied by a new chapter in the continuing adventures of Shy Ronnie. While Andy Samberg’s departure likely spells the end of that beloved Digital Short, Rihanna is usually game when it comes to participating in the SNL show itself. This time around, however, the singer focused only on her performances as the episode, and the 40th season, concluded without a Rihanna in-sketch cameo.