Cohesiveness Over Chaos


Rihanna stars in the Apple Music Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show.

Raven Knowles, Staff Writer

Some halftime shows are a wild mix of guest performances and scenery changes. Rihanna, without accompaniment, played her hits in a unified showcase that took advantage of the star’s effortless magnetism.

Rihanna has not been on tour since 2016. She has not performed live since the 2018 Grammys. She had a baby in May 2022. Her mere presence at any live event would be enough to make news. So when she agreed to perform at the Super Bowl LVII halftime show, people could be forgiven for assuming she would show up, belt out some hits, announce a new album or a tour and rest on her immaculately groomed laurels. Several of her hit songs, including “Rude Boy,” “Work,” “Umbrella,” “Only Girl (In the World)” and others, were played during her performance and afterward she received mixed reviews for her performance.

Not only did she return to performing in front of a Super Bowl-sized crowd, but she also revealed her baby bump. She still had the same powerhouse vocals as before, and her background dancers were incredible, not to mention that they were performing on floating platforms.

Did Rihanna lack energy? It could be, but try performing at the Super Bowl after a five-year absence while pregnant with your second child. Under the circumstances, her performance deserves praise.

Rihanna quickly moved on to hits including “Where Have You Been,” “Only Girl” and “We Found Love”. Overhead cameras captured the performance vertically, with a combination of luminescent levels, strobe lights and more than 100 background dancers dressed in white hooded jumpsuits and reflective goggles. Some of the lighting effects were far from revolutionary, but even just the flashing lights as he walked the dancers down the stage had the necessary dramatic effect. Sasha Brutus says, “Rihanna has not performed in many years and commented that the stamina needed to get back on the stage, especially after having her baby in May of 2022, was a lot. Not to mention the news that she is currently expecting a child. She was able to bring the classic Rihanna facial expressions and dance moves as the large group of dancers behind her amplified the performance.” The “Diamonds” visual at the end, with the whole crowd lighting up, was the perfect way to end the show. The event culminated with fireworks that could be seen from the open roof.

In part, it was surprising that Rihanna did not bring out any guests. However, it was likely that this move was to reflect her independence and reminisce on the rest of her career. Ahead of the Super Bowl, Rihanna put an emphasis on being the representation of black women. Simply putting on this performance reflected her feelings about representing her community, proving that she does not need help to give a memorable performance. It would have been exciting to see someone like Jay-Z perform; however, it was more impactful that she took the stage alone.

As the music and lights dimmed, it was evident in the superstar singer’s face that she was taking everything in as she enjoyed the performance. With 12 songs on her setlist, she must have worked meticulously on it. Rihanna said she had 39 versions of the setlist before the game and admitted it was not easy to fit over a decade of music into 13 minutes. There were some major hits left off the list, but considering she has 14 No. 1s and 31 songs in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, there were bound to be some favorites getting the boot.

Rihanna was the most well-known celebrity to decline to appear at the Super Bowl following Colin Kaepernick’s openly racist blacklisting in 2017 for kneeling during the national anthem, so getting her to appear at all in 2023 was a victory for the NFL. Rihanna admitted to Vogue in 2019 that she “couldn’t dare do that.” “To what end? What does that benefit? Not my folks. I was unable to be a sellout. I could not act as a facilitator. There are elements of that group with which I completely disagree, therefore I had no intention of going and helping them in any manner.”

In the end, the winner of Rihanna’s halftime performance was anybody at home who wanted to watch a 10-minute snippet from a Rihanna concert, a wholly reasonable desire given that Rihanna has not done a live performance in over five years. The pervasive narrative leading up to the Super Bowl was about this performance being her “comeback.”