Last night’s Super Bowl halftime display was on par with global spectacles. In this article, Without a new album since 2016’s “Anti,” Rihanna would perform for the first time in years. One of her first significant public appearances after giving birth last May. Before the show, viewers were unaware that the pop diva was pregnant with her second child. Rihanna is one of the few true pop monarchs, and her Super Bowl performance was a capital-“M” pop-culture Moment in an age when such moments are rare.
The concert represented a new era for the culturally troubled NFL and its connection with Black celebrities. After telling Vogue in 2019 that she “couldn’t dare” perform at the Super Bowl due to the NFL’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick, Rihanna changed her mind thanks to Roc Nation’s affiliation with the league. To repair the N.F.L.’s reputation after it maltreated Kaepernick, the partnership has changed the halftime show: Hip-hop was featured significantly at the Super Bowl for the first time last year, a gallingly late celebration. Rihanna told Apple Music, this year’s halftime-show sponsor, this week that what she once boycotted has become a personal and political opportunity: “It’s important for representation,” she remarked of the halftime show. “My son needs to see that.”
Rihanna may be the only music star so unaffected by expectations that she could transform a high-stakes event into a fun outing. Her Super Bowl halftime presentation last night was as simple as it gets: no celebrity guests, flashy set elements, or dramatic costume changes. No new music, theatrical tricks, or cheesy concepts were introduced. However, Rihanna stood on a big suspended LED-lit platform in oversized red coveralls, barely bobbing and swaying to her song while a squad of dancers in high-fashion hazmat suits performed gymnastic choreography around her. Her typical half-smile or winking grimace didn’t hide the moment’s gravity.
Famous women used to hide their pregnancy bumps, but now they celebrate them by announcing, showcasing, photographing, and accessorizing them. Rihanna, who was pregnant with her first child in 2022, staged a paparazzi shot in New York City that featured her tummy poking out of a hot-pink vintage Chanel garment with hanging jewels. Last night’s raw performance may have highlighted the baby bump, the stage’s most significant element. The belt of Rihanna’s coveralls was slung just below a slight bump, which could have been meant to enhance a pregnancy or reflect a laid-back interpretation of the garment. It was a fashion choice that caused chaos and rumors. Beyoncé first announced her pregnancy at the 2011 V.M.A.s by opening her sequined jacket and exaggeratingly massaging her bump after performing “Love On Top.” Rihanna, the anti-Beyoncé in her rejection of calculation and choreography, scarcely touched her belly, prompting millions on social media to wonder if she was pregnant or having a fever dream. The “announcement” was so unclear that her representative had to confirm Rihanna’s pregnancy late in the game.
From one perspective, the disarray distracted from the music. However, it fit the concert’s anti-spectacle, which felt like a victory lap to illustrate how far Rihanna has come beyond pop success. Her position is well-deserved: she could fill a decade of halftime concerts with her songs from so many eras and genres. Rihanna’s career-spanning act last night showed her electronic-dance music prowess. Her balladry, rapping, and Caribbean-inspired tunes have topped the charts, but her over-the-top clubby dance smashes have become part of American party music in recent years. Last night, Rihanna sang “We Found Love” with stadium-wide fireworks. It’s as bombastic as American pop music gets.
Since “Anti” in 2016, Rihanna has successfully maintained and grown her superstar profile without pursuing musical stardom. She now promotes Fenty cosmetics more than new music. She has promoted her lingerie line more than her songs. She has teased new music in fits and spurts for years, only to refrain from releasing an album as public speculation peaks. Her pregnancy is the newest part of her public image to cause Internet gasps as much as new songs. She’s become more mysterious as she drifts away from the album-release cycle. If her peers had attempted last night’s casual indifference, they may have been labeled lazy or ill-prepared, but Rihanna saw it as an extension of her usual ease. Her hits will define her career, but her essence is leaving a legacy.
Fenty was raised in Barbados by a Barbadian father and a Guyanese mother. Caribbean reggae American hip-hop and R&B were her childhood music. She loved singing and won a high school talent event with a Mariah Carey song. In 2004, Evan Rogers, an American record producer, saw her after she formed a girl duo with two pals. He helped Fenty record a demo that got her an audition with Jay-Z, who ran Def Jam. They signed her. She took her middle name, Rihanna, professionally.
Rihanna: 5 Unknown Facts
- She had a wonderful baby shower. Last May, Rihanna and A$AP Rocky had their first child, so the pre-party was royal. “No brunch, no blush. In May, Rihanna told Vogue editor Chioma Nnadi: “I mean it’s lit for a lot of people—I’ve even planned a couple of baby showers like that—it’s just not right for me. I want a celebration. I want everyone plastered and crawling. It must be coed! Do not put me on a wicker chair with gifts at my feet where everyone is staring at me.”
- She got her first record contract at 16. (You read correctly.) Jay-Z negotiated until 3 a.m. with the label’s lawyers to sign the young Rihanna. If he hadn’t, would we be able to listen to Anti on repeat today?
- She’s done celebrity cameos. Rihanna played herself in the 2006 film Bring It On All or Nothing, starring Hayden Panettiere and Solange Knowles as rival cheerleaders. The winning cheer team performed in a Rihanna music video. How do we get that?
- Rih was a Barbados sub-military army cadet. Rihanna was commanded by singer-songwriter Shontelle. Drill sergeants do it. We order cadets around and make them do push-ups, especially when they arrive late in the parade area, Shontelle told the BBC in 2009. We joined cadets together—it wasn’t required. Imagine myself and Rihanna in battle boots and fatigues slogging through mud.”
- Rihanna has had some unusual preshow rituals. Things begin normally: Consume lozenges, steam my voice, and apply cosmetics. She told Esquire in 2011 that she Skypes her vocal teacher and warms up at the beauty table for 30 minutes. She then has fun: “My assistant-slash-bartender brings me a shot that she dilutes with a little something so it’s not so harsh, like orange juice or soda water and lime,” she added. I must have it. I take it seriously, therefore anxiety is always present. I overthink everything work-related. The liquid soothes me. I drink it in my dressing room while watching the opening act. I go into the audience sometimes. I sneak out wearing a huge hoodie.”