Nobody ever said Robbie Williams was an angel.
The 44-year-old British pop star, who rose to fame in the '90s as the "bad boy" of boy band Take That, flipped off the cameras as he performed at the 2018 FIFA World Cup opening ceremony at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Thursday. Clips and images of the gesture, broadcast to millions of people worldwide, went viral.
Wearing a red leopard-print suit, and standing near female dancers wearing shimmering red crop tops and track pants, he showed his middle finger while singing his 2000 hit "Rock DJ"—whose explicit music video, which shows him stripping off clothes and then his flesh, remains one of the most controversial ever released. Just before the gesture, he sang the lyrics, "Pimping ain't easy, most of them fleece me" and added the line "But I did this for free."
Williams also performed his 1998 hit "Let Me Entertain You" and his 2002 track "Feel," as dancers in colorful costumes performed. He then sang his breakout 1997 solo hit "Angels," his most successful single in the U.S., as a duet with Russian soprano Aida Garifullina.
"Have a great World Cup everybody," Williams later said, waving to the crowd.
Williams had otherwise avoided controversy by not performing his song "Party Like a Russian" at the ceremony. Sample lyrics include, "It takes a certain kind of man with a certain reputation / To alleviate the cash from a whole entire nation."
While Williams has said the song is not about Russian President Vladimir Putin, pro-Kremlin media outlets have criticized it, which suggested Russian event organizers could snub the singer over the song, Reuters reported. Williams has in the past performed at private parties organized by wealthy Russian business people.
"I would love to do 'Party Like A Russian.' Unfortunately I've been asked not to do 'Party Like A Russian,'" he told Reuters on Tuesday. "Actually, it has nothing to do with not being asked. It's about me doing my biggest hits that are the best known."