Rihanna’s Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show: grace, poise, and the perfect comeback

By Shaikha Rahimi

Rihanna, the show-stopping, mega-celebrity, has been long on hiatus. No tour since 2016, no live performance since the Grammys in 2018, and no album since ANTI in 2016. So by the nature of that, any appearance at any live event would be, well, show-stopping. In this case, game-stopping.

The beginning was electrifying – the kind of energy that sets the stage for the rest of the show. This was Rihanna’s perfect comeback, and it was clear from the start.

Not only did the performance mark her return to the stage after a long absence, but it also included a surprise announcement of her pregnancy, something no one knew before the performance.

Rihanna doesn’t typically perform full-force choreography, and that’s what her fans, the Navy, love about her. She performs with grace and composure, while exuding an air of cool confidence. She began the show by gazing directly at the camera with a smirk on her face, which had all the poise and power one would anticipate from a Rihanna show.

She stood on a giant LED-lit platform in oversized red overalls as Bitch Better Have My Money played, while a crew of dancers, dressed in white high-fashion hazmat suits, put on an energetic display of choreography. The monochromatic set and outfits were a clear nod to ANTI’s visuals.

It was fabulously futuristic and glam. And no one does that combination better than Rihanna.

Given the extent of Rihanna’s musical accomplishments, it was impossible to do justice to her full discography in a performance lasting less than 15 minutes. But the set powered through many of her greatest hits including Where Have You Been, Only Girl in the World, Diamonds, and We Found Love. It was a powerful mega-mix that served as a powerful reminder – she just has way too many good songs.

Rihanna isn’t only renowned for her music. The success of her brands, Fenty Beauty and Savage X Fenty, is a testament for her stand-out entrepreneurial pursuits. Over the past few years she has become more likely to promote her lingerie brand more than a new single. She probably has taken the stage in support of her brands more than she has performed her music live.

So being the entrepreneur she is, and knowing she was on one of the biggest stages there is, she conveniently found time to fix her make-up during her performance. Rihanna’s Super Bowl halftime performance doubled as potentially the greatest Fenty advertisement ever.

Her performance was met with some callous critiques, with people saying it was underwhelming and muted. It wasn’t muted, it was precise and seamless. Rihanna’s halftime Super Bowl show had all the makings of a global spectacle. Every moment and element of her performance set the stage for an iconic pop culture moment, which is vital in an age where these moments are few and far between.

She was critiqued for not performing ground-breaking gymnastic choreography, but let’s be real – I think it’s OK for a pregnant woman to take things down a notch. Her ability to balance her passion with her commitment to keeping herself and her baby healthy and safe is admirable.

Interestingly, some critics drew comparisons between her performance and that of The Weeknd’s in the 2021 Super Bowl LV halftime show, who faced no criticism despite his increasingly static choreography. It’s problematic for critics to hold women to a higher standard of performance than men. This double standard highlights the continued prevalence of sexism in the entertainment industry.

All the big names in the industry aspire to stand out, but Rihanna radiates originality with so much ease. Her halftime Super Bowl show was memorable and a perfect relaxed comeback that was befitting of the power that she exudes.

On the same giant LED-lit platform and alone in the sky, she was surrounded by a sea of mobile lights with fireworks overhead at the State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Rihanna didn’t need a guest appearance. She didn’t need to debut an unreleased song. She shined by herself and all we saw was star quality. The power and confidence of her performance embodied the grace and poise that she is renowned for, making it the perfect comeback.

Watch the full Super Bowl LVII Halftime performance here.

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