Rihanna’s Halftime: Big Hits, Fenty Beauty & Her ‘Special Guest’

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Rihanna performs during Apple Music Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show at State Farm Stadium on Feb. 12, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Roc Nation)

Five years have come and gone since the last time Rihanna took the stage. In that time, she’s become a billionaire, thanks in part to her Fenty Beauty cosmetic brand, started dating and had a child with A$AP Rocky, recorded a song for “Black Panther” and made a whole new life for herself. No albums have been released since 2016, outside of one single last November she’s only appeared on features, and, for all intents and purposes, she hasn’t prioritized music as much as she once did. Still, she’s remained larger than life. As the second-best-selling female artist of all time (only just behind Madonna), she can take that kind of time for herself.

The NFL needed Rihanna more than she needed them. Performers don’t get paid for their halftime shows, and Rihanna ranks within the top 10 best-selling artists of all time, right between Led Zeppelin (No. 8) and Pink Floyd (No. 10). The NFL initially tried to get her for the 2018 Super Bowl, but she turned them down. At the time, she felt they weren’t doing enough to support their Black players. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick became a free agent and was blacklisted from joining any NFL teams in 2017 after he started taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality. The backlash from the 2018 halftime show (which wound up being Maroon 5 with Travis Scott appearing as a special guest) led to Roc Nation (Rihanna’s management company) being brought on as partners. Despite all that influenced her to decline the Super Bowl invitation in 2018, her performance this year featured no outright political statements.

Rather, the show was highlighted by what Rihanna represents for many: fashion, beauty, style.

When Roc Nation announced she was headlining this year’s halftime show, it felt like balance finally returned. For years, fans have been waiting for Rihanna to turn her focus back to music. As Roc Nation’s CEO Desiree Perez promised Pollstar last week, “Rihanna is an icon and this is her perfect moment.”

The Fashion

While Rihanna’s performance saw her fitting in as many hits as possible, her other endeavors took the main spotlight.

Rihanna was dressed in red, her dancers in white, their outfits puffy and reminiscent of marshmallows. She sported a vibrant Loewe boiler suit and threw on an oversized coat mid-performance to pay homage to the late Vogue editor Andre Leon Talley and his iconic Norma Kamali sleeping bag coat.

And the super star used the halftime show to promote her cosmetics brand, dabbing her face with Fenty face powder mid-song. Her face was flawless, but nothing less can be expected from the beauty mogul.

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Rihanna performs during Apple Music Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show at State Farm Stadium on February 12, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Roc Nation)

The Stage Set Up

Rihanna’s stage was sleek and honored the runways she’s used for her Savage x Fenty fashion shows. As she strut across the catwalk, several of her dancers remained in the sky, floating up and down as the lights reflected on their marshmallow suits. Her stage toed the line between elaborate and simple, with a lot going on from its various layers all while leaving it easy on the eyes due to its uniform nature. Now that Rihanna has taken music, fashion and beauty by storm, maybe she can turn her eye to designing stages or furniture.

The Songs

While her setlist contained the Top 10 hits “Where Have You Been,” “Only Girl (In The World),” “We Found Love,” “Rude Boy,” “Umbrella” and more, numerous fan favorites were cut. She did include a few of her major features with “Run This Town” (a 2009 song by Jay-Z featuring Rihanna and Kanye West), “The Lights” (a 2010 song by Kanye West featuring Rihanna and Kid Cudi), and “Wild Thoughts” (a 2017 song by DJ Khaled featuring Rihanna and Bryson Tiller).

With only 13 minutes, she selected snippets of 13 songs, most of which were her more recent hits. “Umbrella,” which was released in 2006 and featured Jay-Z, was the oldest song on the setlist.

Though DJ Khaled and Jay-Z were both at the game, they weren’t invited on stage. She didn’t bring out any big-name artists as special guests — which wasn’t a major shock. Ahead of her performance, Rihanna commented on how she was having a hard time narrowing down her setlist. If someone else were to come out on stage, she would’ve had to pass along a few minutes to them, leaving her with fewer songs. Plus, as Roc Nation’s Perez said, this was Rihanna’s moment to shine.

Her Special Guest

Rather than bring along musical collaborators, her baby bump tagged along as her special guest.

Only two questions were on fans’ minds during her performance: “What song was Rihanna going to play next?” and “Wait, she’s not pregnant, is she?” As she closed out the halftime show by rising high once again above the crowd while belting out “Diamonds,” Rihanna subtly rubbed her belly. Her outfit during the show was more oversized than last year’s pregnancy looks, but still, she flaunted her new baby bump. Representatives confirmed after the show that she and A$AP Rocky are expecting yet again, less than a year after she gave birth to her firstborn.  

Compared to most other halftime shows, her performance was low-energy. Instead, she strutted across the stage the same as she does on her runways. And, considering she’s currently expecting baby No. 2, her lack of jumping around is entirely understandable. That she still managed to belt out 13 of her biggest hits (sure, she may have been lip-synching. But when it comes to the Super Bowl, who isn’t?) is a major feat. 

Few pregnancy announcements made their way into cultural history quite like this one. A few major moments stand out, with Demi Moore posing nude on the cover of Vanity Fair, flaunting her bump, in 1991 and Beyoncé flashing her stomach and rubbing her belly after performing “Single Ladies” at the 2011 VMAs. And now, years down the line, people will still talk about Rihanna surprising the world by announcing baby No. 2 on the world’s biggest stage.

Rihanna hadn’t performed in five years since appearing at the Grammy Awards in 2018. And she hasn’t toured since her 2016 “Anti World Tour,” in support of her eighth studio album, Anti. That trek ranked No. 20 on Pollstar‘s 2016 Year End Top 100 Worldwide Tours chart with a gross of $61.4 million.

She’s largely moved on from making new music, recently telling fans not to expect a full album for a long time (but hopes for more singles still exist). She’s focused on her brands and her personal life, and her halftime performance reflected that. She went through the hits, but the stand-out moments honored Fenty Beauty and her growing family. It may not be all the fans want, but as the past few years have shown, it’s better to take what we can get.