clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The nonchalant spectacle of Rihanna’s Super Bowl halftime show

A baby bump, casual dancing, and the superstar’s greatest hits made for a memorable performance.

Rihanna holds a microphone, surrounded by dancers.
Rihanna performs at the Super Bowl halftime show.
Cooper Neill/Getty Images
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

To love Rihanna, the musical superstar, billionaire beauty mogul, fashion designer, part-time actress, current mother of one, and future mother of two, is to be left waiting and wanting. The next single, the next makeup drop, the next outfit: Rihanna is one of the few humans in this overexposed, over-curated world whom people simply cannot get enough of.

At Super Bowl LVII, five years since her last live performance (the 2018 Grammys) and seven years since her last album (2016’s Anti), she showed us how easily — maybe too easily — she commands stardom, by way of how great her previous hits have been.

Levitating on a platform high above the field at some weak-in-the-knees feet in the air, Rihanna — draped in red with a matching crimson lip, no doubt a shade of Fenty Beauty — descended upon Arizona’s State Farm Stadium with a command: “Bitch better have my money.” Rihanna is the only billionaire in existence who could ask for more money and not have it be tacky. Rihanna doesn’t need more money, but whatever Rihanna wants, she gets, with millions of fans cheering her on.

For what it’s worth, the NFL famously does not pay its halftime performers, but it does cover production costs, of which there always seems to be no expense spared. This year, multiple platforms were suspended and lowered, lifted, and lowered again and again in synchronization with her run of songs; the set looked like a giant audio equalizer. The direction and camera work were on point, with wide shots capturing the scale and grandeur of the floating stages. Though simple, the visual effect was still larger than life, matching the gravitational pull of Rihanna’s biggest hits.

After her monetary threat, Rihanna eased into a medley of some of her most memorable dance singles. “Where Have You Been” bopped into “Only Girl,” which slunk seamlessly into “We Found Love.” Although these comprised the club soundtrack of the last two decades, Rihanna mostly grooved along reservedly, leaving the huffing and puffing to her dancers and most of the aesthetic work to the gigantic set pieces.

To be fair, Rihanna’s reps confirmed she is pregnant with her second child after a speculative social media frenzy (that belly rub did mean something!). It’s also worth noting that Rihanna’s calling card has never been full-throttle dancing. She is a hitmaker; it’s about the sound. Her voice is an engine that can take any song in any genre to the top of the charts. She sings; we dance. That’s how it goes.

If there was a point in the night where the star seemed to be enjoying herself most, it was during the segment where the pace slowed, and she sashayed into “Rude Boy,” “Work,” and “Pour It Up.” With the cameras up close, she cracked a wry smile here and flashed a squint there. A master of face-ography. As she transitioned to her final set of songs, one of the dancers handed her what seemed to be a Fenty compact (internet sleuths deduced it was her brand’s $34 blotting powder), and the makeup entrepreneur dusted her nose and under-eye area.

It was time for Rihanna’s close-up.

Freshly powdered, Rihanna eased her way to center stage via “All of the Lights” and “Run This Town,” solo, deigning to bring on collaborators Jay-Z and Kanye West for what would have been quintessential Super Bowl cameos. And then, just like she entered the stadium, she planted herself on one of those death-defying platforms and ascended high above the field, powering through “Umbrella” and “Diamonds,” two of the biggest singles of her career. In both songs, you can hear that distinctive sheen in her voice, a sparkling metallic sound — like the taste and jump of perfectly chilled Champagne. It’s that special quality in Rihanna’s voice that’s created so many memorable songs and crisscrossed so many genres.

The dancers cleared. The stage dimmed except for a single spotlight. High above the field, Rihanna shined bright, on a pedestal. She makes stardom look so easy and left us, as always, wanting a little bit more.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.