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Opinion – Rihanna’s halftime show radiated women’s empowerment

In the lead-up to the Super Bowl halftime show, fan excitement grew with the possibility of hearing long-awaited new music from Rihanna. I’d argue that what we got was even better.

It will come as a surprise to absolutely no one that I thought Rihanna’s Super Bowl halftime performance was flawless.

The Barbados-born icon, who has been on a musical hiatus for most of the last decade, finally re-emerged on one of the world’s biggest stages on Sunday. In a quick thirteen minutes, Rihanna reminded us of just how much she’s given to the music industry over the years.

Fans who were hoping for a preview of the long-awaited R9 were likely left unsatisfied. Though incredible, the show was comprised entirely of bangers we already know and love.

On stage, Rihanna’s cool and calm demeanour was partnered with subtle belly rubs and a tongue-in-cheek Fenty Beauty advert, solidifying my suspicions that she’s permanently evolved well beyond her chart-topping roots.

As a new mother (of two!), businesswoman, activist, and creator of eight studio albums, can we really be surprised or mad that releasing new projects is no longer Rihanna’s top priority?

A moment prioritised by empowerment

In the lead-up to the event, Rihanna stated that emphasising racial, gender, and cultural inclusivity was at the heart of her decision to accept the invitation to perform at the 57th Super Bowl halftime show.

It’s a gig she had declined on numerous occasions, most notably in 2016, after controversy erupted around Colin Kaepernick as he knelt during the national anthem to raise awareness about racial injustice.

But after giving birth to a son in May of last year, Rihanna had a change of heart.

She said, ‘A big part of why it is important for me to do this show now, representing immigrants, representing my country Barbados, representing Black women everywhere… is to show people the possibilities. It’s important for my son to see that.’

With artists agreeing to perform without pay, it clearly wasn’t about the money. Taking the stage was just another opportunity for Rihanna to represent the Black community and further mark herself within cultural history.

The cherry on top of the performance was perhaps the revelation that a second Fenty baby is on the way.

Rihanna joined the list of iconic Black women who have performed the Super Bowl halftime show completely solo. She also became the first to do so while pregnant, which is a massive nod to women’s empowerment.

Rihanna has also spotlighted Barbados in her music, style, on social media while attending Crop Over, and via her charity work. Rooted in a humble beginning on a tiny island on the edge of the Caribbean, she has never forgotten where she came from.

This is why my favourite part of the entire performance was near its conclusion.

While singing Umbrella – her most successful single of all time – Rihanna smiled to herself, eyes closed, before looking around the stadium as if she could hardly believe she had made it there herself.

With fourteen number-one hits and countless other internationally successful bangers, Rihanna commented that creating the final setlist was her biggest challenge. It had been chopped and changed at least thirty-nine times.

Some might not have agreed with her decision to include songs produced by Ye (formerly Kanye West), whose anti-Semitic remarks recently lost him his $1.5 billion deal with adidas and the public’s goodwill.

However, Ye was an instrumental part of Rihanna’s career and a long-time member of Roc Nation, the label to which she remains signed. His role in paving the way for young Black artists is undeniable and the All of The Lights singer wasn’t going to rob him of that.

The beginning of a new Rihanna era

With a fresh reminder of how extensive Rihanna’s musical catalogue actually is, many fans will be understandably devastated if she decides to hang up her microphone forever.

Still, it’s obvious, at least to me, that her horizons have widened irrevocably beyond music.

Rihanna’s performance reminded us that we didn’t become enamoured fans just for her bops, but rather for who she is. She’s an island girl whose identity has blossomed without faltering amidst fame and success.

We’d be foolish to expect an artist and businesswoman who has always stayed true to who she is to put out an album just because we want it. If that means more makeup, more kids, and less music, then so be it.

We’ll always have eight timeless studio albums to revisit and revel in.