Toward the end of her headlining Super Bowl 2023 Halftime Show on Sunday (Feb. 12), as “All of the Lights” began blasting from the State Farm Stadium’s speakers, Rihanna took a beat to fix her makeup, casually touching up with her own Fenty Beauty invisimatte instant setting and blotting powder. Once she finished, a backup dancer handed Rihanna her microphone back, and she returned to business as usual by dominating TV’s biggest stage in her first performance in more than five years, and her first one as a mother.
And during that 13-minute set, Rihanna reminded us that she’s still a powerhouse, no matter how long she’s kept fans waiting. The rather reclusive superstar has shown herself only a handful of times following her critically acclaimed 2016 album Anti: a verse on N.E.R.D.’s “Lemon” in 2017, another on PartyNextDoor’s “Believe It” in 2020. She had her first child with partner A$AP Rocky in 2022, and later that year, released her first single in years, “Lift Me Up” from the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack, which earned her best original song nods at the 2023 Golden Globes (where she stole the show even though she didn’t take home the trophy) and 2023 Academy Awards. For anyone who thought that Rihanna’s star had dimmed over these idle years, she proved all dem haters wrong during her halftime set.
She got in everyone’s face from the jump by starting her performance with “Bitch Better Have My Money” on a moving, elevated stage while wearing a red hot, curve-hugging outfit that hinted at a now-confirmed second pregnancy. Much like Beyoncé’s big reveal at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards, Rihanna knew how to make the most out of her 13 minutes of fame — even if it wasn’t the much-anticipated album news the Navy was expecting.
From there, she soared even higher with her hits seamlessly interwoven throughout her performance, including her Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s “Only Girl (in the World),” “We Found Love,” “S&M,” “Rude Boy,” “Work” and more. Fireworks lit up the sky like “Diamonds” and rained down during “Umbrella,” while her collaborator Jay-Z — who also signed Rihanna to Def Jam and Roc Nation, made several hits with her over the years and rapped about her being one of three billionaires to come out of “Hov crib” on DJ Khaled’s “God Did” — presumably watched like a proud big brother from the stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
Rihanna previously refused to perform at the 2019 Super Bowl Halftime Show to show solidarity with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his famous protest against racial injustice that was frowned upon by the NFL. But since Roc Nation became the NFL’s official live music entertainment strategist in 2019, Jay-Z had the best shot at getting Rihanna to give the gig another chance — and she did. Though fans may never know what really convinced her to headline this year’s halftime performance, one thing’s for certain: that b—h will certainly get her money.
Previous Super Bowl Halftime Show performers have found various ways to capitalize this moment and make it a significant footnote in their musical careers. Mary J. Blige released her 14th studio album, Good Morning Gorgeous, two days before her big gig alongside Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar and Eminem; the deluxe version of that album helped the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul earn six Grammy nominations for this year’s celebration. The year prior, The Weeknd released a greatest hits album, The Highlights, two days before his big gig; the project joined Dawn FM in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 with the former’s No. 8 debut on the chart. But Rihanna didn’t take a page from their handbooks, because she has to do things her own way, darling.
She utilized multiple branches of her Fenty empire to further push the narrative that during the halftime show was all about a “Rihanna concert interrupted by a football game, weird but whatever” (read one of the T-shirts from her Savage x Fenty game day apparel collection). One item from her Fenty Beauty Showstopp’r kit, which came in a stadium-friendly clear makeup bag, was a football-shaped makeup sponge. And with Valentine’s Day just around the corner — which calls for its own set of holiday-appropriate lingerie and makeup collections from Rih’s various name brands — music sales won’t be the only gains she sees after Sunday.
But by the end, Rihanna basked in the glory and applause from the very top, where she’d comfortably sat over the years, as the game’s real MVP. That Rihanna reign just won’t ever let up.