Whether or not you care about football, you have to acknowledge that performing at the Super Bowl is a high honour that many musicians aspire to. That stage has been blessed by some of the industry’s best and brightest — Beyoncé, Janet Jackson, Prince, Diana Ross, and Stevie Wonder among them — and each year, the bar is raised to new heights. At Super Bowl LVII, Rihanna finally ended her seven-year performance hiatus with a 13-minute halftime show, bringing the crowd at the State Farm Stadium and at home to its feet with a jam-packed medley of her greatest hits and a pregnancy announcement. As happy as we are to see Rihanna back on the stage, however, the internet is surprisingly divided on the ANTI star’s official comeback. Did she leave it all on the stage, or did she leave much to be desired?
When Rihanna was first announced as the Super Bowl half-time performer, the world rejoiced. Though she hasn’t exactly been MIA all this time — we’ve seen her promoting Fenty Beauty and Savage x Fenty for years now — it’s been years since anyone has last seen Rihanna take the stage and give the world a performance. (The 2016 ANTI tour was her last official stage concert, and since then? Crickets.) We accepted that absence because we knew she had a lot going on; in addition to building a billion-dollar enterprise, Rihanna was also a first-time mum, raising her son with her partner A$AP Rocky. The promise of new music on the horizon kept us going, so we didn’t even mind running the streams up on ANTI and Loud. She’d be back sooner or later.
The 2023 Super Bowl was the moment we’d been waiting for — not because we cared about the game, but because Rihanna would make her official return. Picking the Super Bowl setlist was “difficult,” Rihanna told Variety days before the show, but she was able to narrow it down to 12 of her most recognisable songs. Surrounded with hundreds of dancers, Rihanna opened the show with fan-favourite single “BBHMM” before going straight into a medley of greatest hits, including a sans-Drake “Work,” “Rude Boy,” “Umbrella,” and “Diamonds” for the grand finale. Rihanna has always sounded great, but it was clear that much of her downtime was spent with a vocal coach because that mic was on, and she delivered some of the best vocals of her career. Plus, she did have a special surprise guest after all: her unborn child, making their debut underneath Rihanna’s skin-tight red spandex catsuit and sculpted leather corset.
Pregnancy reveal and all, the internet seemed split on their reactions to Rihanna's halftime show. On one side of the conversation, the Navy was living for her vocals, fashion, and the details of her dynamic, ever-evolving stage. “Notice how she DEVOURED that? WHILE being pregnant?” raved one fan. “Robyn Rihanna Fenty, you're one of a kind. A halftime show that will definitely be rihmembered!”
But on the other end, some felt like the 13-minute show left much to be desired. “I loved Rihanna’s performance plus she looked gorgeous but I felt that some energy was missing idk” tweeted one viewer. “Cute gowns,” another (very shadily) shared.
Honestly, I can see both sides of the argument. Super Bowl half-time performances are a big draw for the game’s viewership, energising players and fans alike after hours of people tackling each other on the field. Past performers have pulled out all the stops, utilising everything from high-energy choreography to girl group reunions to accidental nip slips (I still haven’t forgiven Justin Timberlake) to shark costumes in order to keep their audiences entertained and prove exactly why they were invited to perform at the Super Bowl. It makes sense that people were expecting Rihanna to do the same. People may have wanted hairogaphy or a full-out 8-count for the Super Bowl, but that’s just not Rihanna’s vibe. Aside from that incredible 2016 MTV VMAs performance where she gave us true choreography, she’s never really been that type of artist. Whether it’s a Victoria’s Secret runway show, a Savage x Fenty production, or even a stage on on her own world tour, Rihanna’s vibe is famously relaxed even when she’s performing. The NFL was fully aware of that chill energy and still booked her anyway because of how iconic she is. When you’re Rihanna, you’re kind of your own flex.
I’m cool with being the unpopular opinion, I enjoyed Rihanna’s halftime show. She’s always been a shimmy, shake and vibe girl. I don’t know why y’all thought she was gonna bust out in Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” choreography, but I digress!— ᴅᴏʟʟᴀʀ (@callmedollar) February 13, 2023
(Also? She’s pregnant, y’all. Do you know what growing a whole person inside of you does to your stamina? There’s a baby in there!)
As thrilled as the Navy is for Rihanna, her fans also realise that another pregnancy could throw a wrench in their plans to get their hands on R9, Rihanna’s long awaited ninth studio album. In the seven long years since ANTI’s critically-acclaimed release, the singer-turned-mogul has teased that a new music project was in the works but offered no exact timeline for its rollout. In between new Fenty Beauty and Savage x Fenty releases, Rihanna gave us “Lift Me Up” on the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack, but the people are still wishing and hoping and praying for a full-length album. With the pending arrival of her second child, that could mean an even longer wait for new Rihanna music, talk less of a new Rihanna tour.
Though there have been rumours about what R9 could sound like, what’s to come is still unknown. Rihanna shared that her next project will likely be something different than anything we’ve ever heard from her before. “Musically, I’m feeling open,” she told Variety. “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…I want to have fun with music.”
Fortunately for us, we’ve got a whole discography — and a stunning half-time show — of Rihanna bangers to play on a loop in the meantime.