Rihanna threw away all the conventions of the quintessential Super Bowl halftime show and transformed the biggest entertainment platform into something entirely 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, clad in a bright red jumpsuit, plowed through 12 of their hits in 13 minutes surrounded by dozens of androgynous dancers, dressed in white and doing almost every move they could on and off which reflected the giant stage at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
In case anyone was confused, this is all about Rihanna. No special guests. No breaks. No momentum shifts. From her launch on a platform above the stage to the powerful smash of the inspirational “Diamonds,” she held everyone’s attention as she performed hit after hit from “Work” to “Umbrella.”
It was entirely her vision – sophisticated yet playful – and utterly confident. She didn’t throw in ballads to demonstrate the power of her voice because she doesn’t have to prove herself to anyone. And all she had to say was “Thank you, Arizona” to make her point.
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 gig to release a new album, Rihanna has insisted her follow-up to 2016’s “Anti-” isn’t ready yet.
She didn’t even perform Lift Me Up, her contribution to the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack, which is currently nominated for an Oscar.
There were rumors of a possible tour ahead of the reveal that Rihanna is pregnant, but that now seems unlikely with a new child joining her son, who turns nine months on Monday.
She’s not really selling anything.
You can’t even buy a Savage X Fenty t-shirt that says “RIHANNA CONCERT INTERRUPTED BY FOOTBALL GAME, STRANGE BUT WHAT ALSO.” These sold out before the game even started.
Of course, slaughtering on the biggest stage in entertainment with an expected audience of more than 100 million won’t be bad for business. Something the youngest self-made billionaire knows all about.
Rihanna, 34, clearly did this for the challenge and because she had something to say.
She previously declined to appear on the 2019 halftime show in solidarity with quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest against racial inequality. But a lot has changed since then, including her friend and mentor Jay-Z’s Roc Nation teaming up with the NFL on the halftime show.
And her performance made a strong case for equality. Since her huge troupe of dancers was completely covered, including their faces, no one could tell what race they were. They would only be judged on their dancing, on their ability to entertain.
This 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. She also performed without any special guests, only with a troupe of dancers, but showed different sides of her musical personality in four different performances. Be it hip-hop, dance-pop, reggae or ballads, Rihanna showed how she could bend the genre to her will.
With her Sunday halftime show, Rihanna simply created her own genre and raised the bar for the halftime shows to come.