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From 'Umbrella' to 'Work,' Rihanna brought the hits during her Super Bowl halftime performance

Rihanna performs onstage during the Apple Music Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show at State Farm Stadium on Feb. 12, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Rihanna performs onstage during the Apple Music Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show at State Farm Stadium on Feb. 12, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Rihanna is back, baby. And that baby is a literal one.

The artist revealed she’s pregnant with her second child shortly after she finished her performance at the Super Bowl halftime show in Glendale, Arizona. Surrounded by dancers in white hoodies and sweatpants, Rihanna wore a red jumpsuit and a regal matching jacket, which appeared to reference former Vogue editor Andre Leon Talley, who passed away last year.

“It did not feel like a Super Bowl Halftime Show. It felt like a Rihanna show,” says music journalist and critic Ivie Ani.

She soared over the stadium on an elevated platform as she sang hits from every stage of her career, from “Umbrella” to “Work,” and closed the show with “Diamonds.”

But for those who were hoping for a tour or new music from Rihanna, the news of baby number two makes those possibilities seem distant still.

“While fans and critics in the media are commenting on her business endeavors and whether or not she’s going to release music … she’s saying to the world that she’s essentially doing what she wants,” Ani says, “which is signature Rihanna.”

Watch on YouTube.

Interview Highlights

On her initial impressions and how Rihanna fit so many songs into such a short setlist

“I thought it was a big feat for an artist at this point in her career to do the Super Bowl, especially after she once turned down the Super Bowl years ago. But this seems like a more timely event for her, given all that’s happened in her career, especially at this point, where you look at having to condense a 17-year career into 13 minutes. It was a great representation of her curatorial skills to be able to do that, to select all of the songs that represented her career. She was able to hit on each genre and era from hip hop to dancehall, R&B, pop, EDM with each of the 12-song selection.

“On top of that, we’ve all had mixed reviews about the show, as far as whether it was an excellent performance or not compared to other artists and performers who’ve done the halftime show. But what was special about this halftime show is that it did not feel like a Super Bowl halftime show. It felt like a Rihanna show. That comes with positives and negatives for whoever you ask. But I think that this will go down as one of people’s favorite halftime performances of all time, simply because of what it means for one of people’s favorite artists of all time.”

On the setlist, and performing ‘All of the Lights’ despite Ye’s (formerly known as Kanye West) history of anti-Blackness and anti-semitism

I expected her to do ‘All of the Lights’ despite Kanye, because as much as it was his song from his album, it was also a huge moment in Rihanna’s career as one of her biggest songs as well. So I think that she stuck to focusing on herself. I think that’s part of the reason why she didn’t have any collaborators come out and perform with her  because she’s condensing so much music from nearly two decades into an almost [13 minute] set. So the focus has to be on her. So I think that she made the right choice to stick to performing solo.”

Watch on YouTube.

On revealing her second pregnancy during the performance 

“I honestly made me think of Serena Williams, who we found out was playing [the 2017 Australian Open] while pregnant. It’s a masculine environment, it’s sports. So to be able to do that and for Rihanna to amplify her pregnancy during that moment is significant in itself. I also think it was a great move for her as far as solidifying the fact that she is focused on her personal life along with her businesses.

“It looks like she’s choosing herself every time and she’s choosing to do things on her time. The fact that she was just pregnant less than a year ago and is now pregnant again, while fans and critics in the media are commenting on her business endeavors and whether or not she’s going to release music, she’s saying to the world that she’s essentially doing what she wants, which is signature Rihanna and she’s having another child.

“I think all of this is very calculated. Where the performance kind of lacked in excitement and execution, as far as the dancing and the singing, everything else that didn’t make it feel like an elevated halftime show — she made up for it in these moments where she’s making [the pregnancy announcement].

“But while watching, I think it was unclear to fans whether or not she was pregnant. And I do believe people were afraid to comment on it because she is technically still postpartum. So that speaks culturally to where we are now, with people being a little bit more sensitive to women in music. She’s not the first artist who’s revealed that they’re pregnant at a major music show. I think people are a bit more sensitive right now to that, especially with body image and everything that Rihanna represents in the beauty and music industry as far as image is concerned. But she used this moment very smartly to promote her products, promote her brand, promote her legacy of music, and to promote herself.”

On Rihanna’s agreement to perform at the Super Bowl when in 2019 she confirmed that she had turned it down, due to her critiques of the NFL

“The circumstances are different now. Jay-Z and Roc Nation have that partnership with the NFL, where they’re helping to select the halftime performances. So Jay-Z is your boss and you’re under Roc Nation. I think it’s a different conversation to have. Also, I think people should really be aware of the fact that Rihanna is a billionaire and she is a legacy artist at this point. Someone at her level not doing a Super Bowl Halftime Show is kind of unusual. So it made sense for her to do it as far as having that legacy stamp on paper. And although you do not get paid to perform at the halftime show, you do, notoriously, as every artist has noted, make money for the rest of your life off of this show. Your streams go up, your sales go up, your visibility goes up, your rates go up for anything else that you do. So I think it was a very calculated decision for her to sort of solidify the next phase of her career.”

Gabrielle Healy produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Peter O’Dowd. Healy also adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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