Rihanna hasn’t toured since 2016, but on Sunday during the Jay Z-produced spectacle that is the Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show the Good Girl Gone Bad singer put on a tour de force.
Filling her less-than-15-minute set with an array of hits, floating platforms, club dance floor dynamics and spectacle, the second best-selling female artist of all time owned the field at State Farm Stadium with near pure superstar swagger.
Pushing the high-profile slot to new technological and Olympian heights, Rihanna was also pure solo. With a catalog full of work with the likes of the aforementioned Jay-Z, Eminem and Drake over the decades, the “Umbrella” singer teased guest stars earlier this week. In the end, it was all hype because when it came to showtime, Rihanna did the job all on her own with only a legion of dancers and those suspended LED-lit stages as sidekicks in a performance that was totally 2023.
Besides mainly keeping off the grass, Rihanna’s performance was also an evolution for the halftime show itself culturally as the longtime bold-as-brass singer made no secret of the baby bump she’s sporting.
That’s a long pearl clutching way from the day when Janet Jackson was career-shamed for a wardrobe malfunction thanks to Justin Timberlake in 2004. Having pledged that being a Mum would be a factor in her halftime show, Rihanna’s public display of motherhood comes less than a year after she had her first child. It also played the 21st century celebrity game note perfect by letting the world in without having to say a thing – which is social media in a nutshell. (Her PR team confirmed after the show that she was indeed pregnant.)
Unlike the absent President Joe Biden this year, Rihanna took advantage of the 100 million-plus viewers Fox is likely to attract for today’s big NFL game to sit down earlier today for pre-recorded and softball-tossing chat with NFL analyst and GMA co-host Michael Strahan.
Kicking off with 2015’s “Bitch Better Have My Money,” the 12-song set was a confidence move and a work of visual art that work on a multitude of levels. Directed by Hamish Hamilton and again produced by the winning team of DPS with Ray-Z’s Roc Nation and Jesse Collins, the now Apple Music-sponsored halftime show was a continual combination of stark red lights, choreography, and situation-specific stillness as Rihanna let the camera, gravity and music do the struttin.’
By the time the set list passed the baton to her 2012 megahit “Diamonds,” Rihanna was up on the floating platform with seemingly all of the 72,000 fans in the stadium (a crowd that included a quick camera cut to Elon Musk and Rupert Murdoch together in a VIP box) lighting the joint up in unison with her.
Truth be told, with the well-matched Philadelphia Eagles ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs 24-14 after two grinding quarters, Rihanna came into this halftime show the distinct longshot – which made her highflying high-wire win Sunday all the more impressive.
First of all, in the year of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary, the nine-time Grammy winner was following last year’s Emmy-winning and historic near-gold-medal-level “California Love” halftime extravaganza featuring Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J Blige, Kendrick Lamar and Eminem. Closer on the calendar, there was the stirring rendition of “America the Beautiful” from Babyface, and Chris Stapleton’s stripped-down version of the national anthem, the latter of which moved Eagles coach Nick Sirianni and various players on both teams to tears on the sideline.
Having rejected the coveted halftime slot in 2019 in solidarity with blacklisted QB Colin Kaepernick, this year Rihanna deftly squeezed a 17-year career — relatively short by halftime headliners standards — into 14 of the likely most watched minutes in small-screen history.
Never the most dynamic of performers and yet never hesitant to share the spotlight on tracks, Rhianna has always had a chill charisma to burn since she burst on the scene in 2005. Leaning into that enigmatic strength and clearly fired up by a promise to fly the flag of her Barbadian roots, a red-garbed Rihanna and her white-hooded dancers literally levitated in the Glendale, AZ, stadium with a sneer and a wink.
Which is how you unveil a return to center stage on the biggest stage around.
Coming off another successful Super Bowl Halftime Show, why aren’t Jay-Z, Roc Nation and Jesse Collins producing the Oscars, the Emmys and everything in between? C’mon AMPAS, make that 2024 call …
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