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Rihanna: The mother of all Super Bowl halftime shows

The singer’s long-awaited return to the stage was a major success, used to announce her pregnancy with her second child

Rihanna performing at the Super Bowl halftime show.

Entertaining the crowd during the Super Bowl intermission is something of a rite of passage for the contemporary global pop star, and to help them face the challenge, artists in the past have called on friends to back them up (Dr. Dre, 2022), have pulled out their most energy-intensive moves (Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, 2020) and changed clothes an inordinate number of times (Katy Perry, 2015). Rihanna, on the other hand, preferred to take it easy this Sunday, February 12, at the Glendale Arizona stadium where the Kansas City Chiefs defeated (38-35) the Philadelphia Eagles to win their third NFL title.

Undoubtedly this was due to the fact that she is pregnant with her second child with rapper A$AP Rocky. Her figure and the gesture of caressing her belly at the beginning of the performance unleashed a tsunami of speculation, departing from the purely musical. Once the most watched mini-concert in the world was over, the artist’s representative confirmed the suspicions. So, the singer not only made American football history; she also starred in what has perhaps been the most watched pregnancy announcement in history.

Before all that, Rihanna, 34, had descended from above to land on a platform, dressed in a red jumpsuit, surrounded by other platforms holding dozens of dancers in white suits and pumps, reminiscent of an army of beekeepers.

Rihanna performs during halftime of the Super Bowl.
Rihanna performs during halftime of the Super Bowl. CAROLINE BREHMAN (EFE)

Then, the star cast one of her feline glances at the crowd and launched into an impassive tribute to herself with a medley of her greatest hits, including Rude Boy, Wild Thoughts, Only Girl (In the World), Work and We Found Love, before launching into All of the Lights (without Kanye West), Umbrella (without Jay-Z), the song that put her on the map 16 years ago, and Diamonds.

During the 13-minute show, she walked leisurely across the moving stage like a model who has already conquered the world’s most exalted catwalks. At the end, the pulleys lifted her back up into the heavens, in a definitive demonstration that, besides being an artist endowed with charisma and a versatile voice, she does not suffer from vertigo.

She seemed so relaxed about living up to expectations after seven years without releasing an album and four years of not playing live, that she ended up winning over the audience in an entirely unexpected way. It was as if she had decided to gamble everything on a laissez-faire attitude, a kind of, “Hi, I’m Rihanna, if you don’t like what you see, that’s not my problem.” And it went down a storm. The stadium went crazy with every song change, with every eyebrow raise, and with every slight swing of the hip.

Rihanna, surrounded by dancers, at the Super Bowl final.
Rihanna, surrounded by dancers, at the Super Bowl final. GREGORY SHAMUS (Getty Images via AFP)

While her fans were waiting for her to give them a taste of her new album, an album that she has been recording for a long time and that she calls R9, the singer focused on her entrepreneurial skills in the days leading up to the game, marketing a limited-edition T-shirt that read: “Rihanna concert interrupted by a football game, weird but whatever.” In the same vein, she interrupted her halftime show only once to touch up her makeup with one of the cosmetic products that has been keeping her from her music, and boosting her current account: Forbes valued her fortune at $1.7 billion in 2021.

But nothing Rihanna did on stage at the Super Bowl, sponsored for the first time by Apple Music, helped explain her change of heart in agreeing to participate in a show she had rejected in the past because of the problematic way in which the professional football league has dealt with the problem of racism in the US. Perhaps it helped that last year the coveted halftime show was given to a group of rappers led by Dr. Dre, or perhaps it had something to do with the fact that, for the first time in history, the two quarterbacks in contention for the title, Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts, are Black, with Mahomes taking it for the Chiefs.

This week, Rihanna was asked why she changed her mind, and answered that the “right time” had come. “If I’m going to leave my baby [born last year], I’m going to leave my baby for something special. It was now or never for me,” she said.

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