A hypnotizing close-up shot of Rihanna’s “Kubrick stare” established her long-awaited return to the stage. In her first live performance in six years, Rihanna started her Super Bowl halftime performance off with a bold choice: “Bitch Better Have My Money.” But in an even bolder decision, as the camera panned out, Rihanna held her stare and affectionately rubbed her stomach. Although Rihanna didn’t choose to feature any special guests during the 13-minute spectacle, she did bring along a new musical guest: her second baby with singer A$AP Rocky.
Then, Rihanna let her hips do all the talking; as the music faded into another hit, “Where Have You Been,” she danced in unison with her 80-person dance ensemble while maintaining a mesmerizing stare with the camera. Rihanna’s fierceness surely never faded from start to finish.
At the start of the show, we got the opportunity to hear Rihanna’s voice and she has never sounded better. It seems as if time off with her new family has made her voice even smoother — if that’s possible. Rihanna displayed incredible control of her vocal range throughout her entire medley of chart-topping hits.
In a change from previous halftimes, Rihanna decided to put together a highlight of 12 songs rather than featuring longer performances of a smaller number of choices. With 32 top billboard top-10 and 14 No.1 hits, it’s not shocking that Rihanna chose this route. She also sampled snippets of other hits like “S&M” and “Kiss it Better,” which — to Rihanna fans — seemed like a taunt. With her performances of “Where Have You Been” and “Diamonds,” her rich tone reached higher notes with ease, while her famous lower range was also showcased throughout “Rude Boy” and “Work.”
After a captivating rendition of “Pour it Up,” where we witnessed Rihanna throw it back and really get into the choreography with her dancers, the setlist took a slight turn for the worse. The music paused and suddenly the beat to “All of the Lights” started. My heart nearly stopped. No matter how much you might love the song, there was no logical reason to include it in the setlist: “All of the Lights” is one of disgraced singer Kanye West’s hits that featured Rihanna. The song featured Rihanna’s vocals for the hook, and she was added as a featured artist for the single’s drop; however, she is not even credited on the album version of the song. The fact that Rihanna publicly said she had 39 different versions of her setlist and still ended up singing a Kanye West song is incredibly disheartening.
The reminder of his sheer existence brought an air of negativity and hate to an otherwise exciting and positive performance. Choosing to continue the association between herself and a proud antisemite is not only hurtful but unethical. Not only was the song straight up distracting from Rihanna herself, but she also had plenty of other songs to choose from that were her actual songs. Rihanna’s creative decision to perform songs she is featured on over her own hits, including “Run This Town,” another song Kanye worked on, and “Wild Thoughts,” did not make a lot of sense to me. Rihanna has more than enough recognizable hits on her own accord.
A personal highlight of Rihanna’s show was her choice of a choreographer. Renowned Kiwi choreographer Parris Goebel dreamed up Rihanna’s effortlessly cool 80-plus-person dance number which perfectly complemented Rihanna’s sassy demeanor and song choices. Known in the dance world for her self-titled style “Polyswagg”, Parris described this style as “combining sassy woman fire with aggressive inner strength.”
Goebel has collaborated with Rihanna before for all her Savage X Fenty fashion shows, as well as with a handful of other celebrities in the past. Most notably, Parris choreographed for Jennifer Lopez’s 2020 Super Bowl halftime performance. Parris’s work for the show included dreaming up her ideal dance crew, which consisted of members of her world-famous dance crews Royal Family and ReQuest. The dancers and choreography ultimately highlighted Rihanna’s effortless vibe and subtle movements, creating an air of swagger that not many can achieve.
Her performance had plenty of memorable moments, mostly in regards to the choreography, but also her epic move to dramatically powder her face with a Fenty Beauty powder, never missing a chance to grow her empire. Rihanna has never been the type of performer who does all-out choreography or intricate aerial tricks like some of her predecessors; her laid-back performance style perfectly displays her nonchalant attitude and killer stage presence.
The prolonged wait for new music and for her to return to the stage has been excruciating for die-hard fans; the anticipation of her performance might have over-hyped it for many viewers. Oftentimes when we are so excited about something we have been missing for so long, we tend to imagine it in our heads; for me, this meant drafting up hundreds of setlists and performance ideas and options in my mind. It seems for many, including myself, the extreme anticipation led to heightened expectations.
While Ri Ri didn’t have tons of props, a shifting set or insanely fast costume changes, she did something nobody has dared before for the halftime show: perform while pregnant.
Abbie Bobeck SC ’26 is from Washington, DC. She loves analyzing Super Bowl halftime show ranking videos, the Barbie dogs and watching reality TV while folding laundry.