Rihanna’s Halftime Show: A pop icon with nothing to prove
Many words came to mind during Rihanna’s Super Bowl performance last night. Mainly, Twitter couldn't help but ask, "Is she pregnant?"
The 34-year-old international pop star returned to the stage for the first time in over five years at last night’s Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show. The Kansas City Chiefs faced off against the Philadelphia Eagles in what surely was a great game, but we wouldn’t know — we only cared about tuning in just in time for Rihanna to take the stage.
The superstar descended from the sky on a floating platform, dripping in red and wearing a puffer jacket draping her shoulders in a nod to the late fashion icon André Leon Talley. She smiled slyly before rubbing her belly, casually announcing her second pregnancy, then launched into “Bitch Better Have My Money,” a cocky demand for what she’s owed and a cheeky opener, considering she declined the NFL’s invitation to perform at the Super Bowl in 2018 in support of Colin Kaepernick.
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We were quickly awed by the breadth of Rihanna’s discography, as she transitioned to “Where Have You Been” with a “Cockiness (Love It)” overlay, then “Only Girl In The World,” “We Found Love,” and “S&M.” Hundreds of dancers of all genders draped in white hoodies flipped, twerked, and gyrated around her on stage in a dazzling display of swagger. She crammed as many hits as possible into the 13-minute set, which picked up with an island-inspired transition into “Rude Boy,” a quick nod to “Kiss It Better,” “Work,” and “Wild Thoughts.” There's nothing quite like Rihanna singing, “White girl wasted on that brown liquor,” that transports you into a sweaty nightclub.
Then, she gave us “Pour It Up,” channeling Rosalía for a K-pop-esque performance of ANTI B-side “Pose,” and nodded to a couple of her features with “All of the Lights” and “Run This Town.” At that point, even more puffer-clad dancers swarmed the field for one of the coolest spectacles of the show, as she walked back to the floating platform to ascend into the air once more for the song that launched her into international stardom: “Umbrella.” In somewhat of a missed opportunity, it seemed possible then that one of her frequent collaborators like Eminem or Jay-Z might have made an appearance — although Rihanna very intentionally stood alone. Elevated over the stadium, she ended the set with one of her favorite songs to perform and the perfect closer, the Sia-penned track “Diamonds.”
All in all, the set was low-key. If you’ve kept up with Rihanna’s various entrepreneurial Fenty projects she's launched in the past few years, it arguably felt a bit like an extension of one of her Fenty fashion shows. It was a sleek production, a seductive catwalk, and a remixed celebration of her decades of hits. Essentially, it was a straightforward performance: not too many frills, no costume changes, and, despite teasing guests, the only featured guest was the unseen one in her belly. In fact, it was the first Super Bowl performance without a surprise appearance from other artists in recent memory. Rihanna wanted to make it clear she had nothing to prove — that her hits speak for themselves.
Not everyone was satisfied by this cultural reset. Many fans and critics called it one-note and underwhelming. The critiques are fair, especially when you compare it to Shakira and Jennifer Lopez’s 2020 Halftime Show crammed with choreography, stunts, and a Bad Bunny cameo, or how Lady Gaga launched herself from the stadium roof in 2017 and Katy Perry rode onto the field on the back of a giant animatronic tiger back in 2016.
But Rihanna hasn’t been concerned with being that kind of pop star in years, especially since refocusing her efforts from music to her various Fenty ventures and family. And when you throw her latest pregnancy into the mix, this Super Bowl performance slides effortlessly into the Rihanna mythos.
The only question left is if this Rihanna concert at a football game was the superstar running a victory lap — or a subtle retirement announcement?
Before she took the stage, Rihanna told Apple Music’s HalfTime press conference last Friday that it was “important for me to do this this year. It’s important for representation, it’s important for my son to see that.”
It seems likely that another long hiatus from new music is on the way. Though she gave fans two new ballads on the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack last year, this might be the last we see of Rihanna, the pop star, for an uncertain amount of time, especially considering the news of her second pregnancy. When asked about new music and her ninth studio album, Rihanna said, “Musically, I’m feeling open. I’m feeling open to exploring, discovering, creating things that are new, things that are different, things that are off, weird, might not ever make sense to my fans, you know, the people that know the music that I put out. I just want to play. I want to have fun. I want to have fun with music.”
After cranking out 14 No. 1s, she’s certainly allowed the space to play. But fans are impatient. After all, it has been seven years since her last album ANTI was released.
Perfection doesn’t have a deadline, though. Rihanna will return on her terms, when (and how) she wants to, subverting expectations and remaining untouchable in the process. This is Rihanna’s world, and we’re just watching from the sidelines.