Rihanna threw out all the conventions of the typical Super Bowl halftime show and turned entertainment’s largest platform into something all her own.
And she did it while also revealing that she is pregnant with her second child.
More an avant garde dance piece than a concert, the Barbadian superstar, dressed in a bright red jumpsuit, plowed through 12 of her hits in 13 minutes surrounded by dozens of androgynous dancers dressed in white who mirrored nearly every move she made on and off the giant stage at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
In case anyone was confused, this was all about Rihanna. No special guests. No breaks. No momentum shifts. From her start on a platform suspended above the stage, to powerfully belting out the inspirational “Diamonds,” she kept a tight grip on everyone’s attention by performing one smash hit after another, from “Work” to “Umbrella.”
It was fully her vision – polished, yet playful – and completely self-assured. She didn’t throw in any ballads to show off the power of her voice because she doesn’t need to prove herself to anyone. And she didn’t need to say anything beyond, “Thank you, Arizona” to make her points.
It was all an unconventional extension of what was an unconventional decision to perform at this particular time.
While most artists use a Super Bowl halftime appearance to launch a new album, Rihanna has been adamant that her follow-up to 2016’s “Anti-” is not ﬁnished.
She didn’t even perform “Lift Me Up,” her contribution to the “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” soundtrack, which is currently nominated for an Oscar.
Before the revelation that Rihanna was pregnant, there were rumors of a potential tour, but that seems unlikely now, with a new child to join her son who turns 9 months old on Monday.
She’s not really selling anything. You can’t even buy a Savage X Fenty Tshirt that says “RIHANNA CONCERT INTERRUPTED BY A FOOTBALL GAME, WEIRD BUT WHATEVER.” Those sold out before the game even started.
Of course, slaying on entertainment’s biggest stage, with an anticipated audience of more than 100 million, won’t be bad for business. Something the youngest self-made female billionaire knows all about.
Rihanna, 34, was clearly doing this for the challenge and because she had something she wanted to say.
She previously declined to perform in the 2019 halftime show out of solidarity with quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest of racial inequality. But plenty has changed since then, including her friend and mentor Jay-Z’s Roc Nation partnering with the NFL on the halftime show.
And her performance made a powerful point about equality. Because her massive troupe of dancers were completely covered, including their faces, no one could tell what race they were. They would be judged only by their dancing, their abilities to entertain.
That message shows how much Rihanna has changed since her last solo performance – when she accepted the Video Vanguard award at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards. That also featured her performing with no special guests, only a troupe of dancers, but it showcased different sides of her musical personality in four different performances. Whether it was hip-hop, dance pop, reggae or ballads, Rihanna showed how she could bend the genre to her will.
Rihanna simply created her own genre and raised the bar for halftime shows to come.