(February 13, 2023). In one brief 13-minute show, Rihanna’s much ballyhooed Super Bowl 57 halftime performance proved why she was asked to do it in the first place: she is one of the preeminent music icons of the past 18 years (since first arriving on the scene with 2005’s No. 2 smash “Pon de Replay”—who can believe it’s been that long?).
Critics and pundits (and conservatives) have called RiRi’s performance “mid” and “boring” and a snoozer. Rihanna hater Donald Trump called it the “single worst halftime performance in Super Bowl history,” but of course, that opinion would’ve been different if she was a supporter who didn’t spurn him for using her songs at his rallies (why would he do that anyway if he doesn’t like her so much?).
One close friend (of this blogger) even quipped that she thought she was “watching her grandma on stage,” owing to Rihanna’s low-energy antics.
While I agree the “Work” singer didn’t exactly light the world on fire a la Jennifer Lopez and Shakira in Super Bowl 54, or Janet’s highly energetic but controversial show in Super Bowl 38, there was clearly a reason for that, which the world now understands.
Rihanna was visibly pregnant with her second child (after only having given birth to her first son eight and a half months ago).
And with that surprising revelation, Rihanna’s performance may go down as one of the most awe-inspiring of all time.
Think about it, this is an artist who hasn’t released new material in seven years—save for one Oscar-nominated closing theme to last year’s Wakanda Forever movie and another one-off single—yet whose song catalog contains more No. 1 singles than anyone besides the Beatles, Elvis Presley and Mariah Carey. Those “old” songs alone—even in shortened snippets—are enough to power two or three halftime shows.
This is also an artist who clearly didn’t have to do the show, a woman for whom music (and her promotion of it) is clearly not a top priority right now, with her Fenty fashion line and her growing family having taken center stage for the past half-decade or more.
Yet she still managed to pull it off while trolling her pundits and proving that, if she so chose, she could easily come back and place herself right at the top of the current crop of chart-making artists. And she did that without being paid by the NFL or the game’s promoters.
But it was the performance itself that deserves some kind of kudos, despite the decidedly divided assessments of where it stands in the pantheon of Super Bowl performances.
Rihanna made her grand entrance while suspended on an elevated platform (at least 10 stories high) above the State Farm stadium, while several other suspended platforms flanked hers (with her dancers placed on those). With an audience of more than 100 million television viewers (not to mention the tens of thousands who were in the stadium), that took some nerve.
When it became apparent that Rihanna was expecting (although many first thought it was a postpartum bump from her first baby), our outlandish expectations should have been lowered immediately. Rihanna wasn’t about to do mind boggling acrobatics on a platform that looked to be no more than 10’x15’ wide and long at most and which was continuously lowering as she sang and danced (with a baby in-tow).
In that sense, she out-Pinked Pink, the famous singer known for her own high-altitude antics at awards shows and concerts, but who’s never had to pull off such feats in the context that Rihanna did.
And then there’s the pregnancy-reveal itself.
Ever since Beyoncé famously announced her first pregnancy at the 2011 VMAs, she’s been the standard bearer for how celebrities inform their legions of fans about such good news.
Rihanna obliterated that standard on an even bigger stage, again while performing at elevated heights and with the glare of hundreds of millions watching. While it may not have gone exactly as planned, with the cameras apparently panning out to reveal her bump before she was ready, it’s a reveal that people will nonetheless be talking about for years to come (her second child will certainly have something to talk about when he or she is able to).
In just 13 minutes, Rihanna rendered Beyoncé’s Blue Ivy reveal second-fiddle, something game promoters couldn’t have even fathomed when they signed the Barbadian superstar to do the show months ago.
And then there’s the mystery of it all.
For weeks, Rihanna teased that she might bring a special guest. That news sent Twitter and social media in general into a tizzy, with millions speculating about who the guest might be.
Would it be Canadian superstar Drake, whose first two No. 1 songs came courtesy of guest features on Rihanna singles? Or Jay-Z, her once-boss and mentor whose affiliation with the NFL likely influenced her about-face decision to even do the show Sunday night?
Or, even more spectacularly, the beleaguered artist formerly known as Kanye West who, along with Rihanna, co-starred on Jay’s iconic hit “Run This Town”?
It was none of the above. It turns out the guest was Rihanna’s new bun-in-the-oven, who is expected to arrive into the world this summer.
And with that news, it just so happens that Rihanna had the grandest, most hidden Easter egg of all, one that not even Taylor Swift—the notorious Queen of such things with her many album and video-release riddles—could have topped.
So, Rihanna managed to come out of her musical hiding place and deliver one of the most talked about Super Bowl performances ever—one that even politicians and former presidents have assessed—love it or not. And she managed to out-Pink, out-Beyoncé and out-Taylor Pink, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift in the process.
It may not have been of Janet or Prince or Michael proportions, but then who said they always have to be?
Pop culture contrarian DJRob (he/him/his) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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2 thoughts on “<strong>Truth: Rihanna out-Taylored, out-Pinked and out-Beyoncé’d all of those singers and more at Super Bowl Halftime show</strong>”
Rihanna gave a solid, fun performance … but the preceding hype was so huge that nobody could live up to those expectations. I heard it referred to as “the concert with a football game attached.”
Yeah, that was a bit more hype than it deserved. It didn’t help that the football game actually lived up to and surpassed its own hype, being a close game that either team could’ve won.