Rihanna made her first live appearance in five years on Sunday night, taking the stage at the 2023 Super Bowl halftime show with a very special guest: not Drake, SZA, or Jay-Z, but a kid on the way. Her agent revealed that she is expecting her second child.

RiRi’s 14-minute show at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., featured 12 outstanding cuts from her huge repertoire and an incredible fleet of hooded, marshmallowy dancers, but lacked any major “wow” moments. That is, if you ignore the sheer intensity and impact of the disco, reggae-pop, and electro-house tracks she blazed through.

Rihanna has 14 Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s in her 17-year career, and 63 of her songs have charted. In 2011, when she released her sixth album in as many years, she set the record for the solo artist with the most No. 1 singles in the shortest amount of time (second only to the Beatles). Is there anything she needs to prove at this point?

Perhaps not. And yet, when you go from being one of the most prolific pop performers — and by far the most dependable hit maker — this century to all but disappearing from the music landscape, fans are left waiting for rain. You might have come to the Super Bowl LVII halftime show hoping for a duet with one of Rihanna’s many partners.

SZA, who appeared on her critically acclaimed last album, Anti, appeared to be a plausible contender given that she began out the year with her No. 1 album, SOS, a genre-blurring, single-shunning collection that plainly followed in Anti’s treasured footsteps. You could have come for a cutesy, social media-baiting cameo from Tom Holland (imagine!). You may — alright, you did — came for a sliver of new material from a national treasure who hasn’t released a full-length studio album since January 2016.

What you got was a sleek, elegant, functional review of some of pop’s best offerings from the last two decades — as warm and snug as Rihanna’s extremely mobile, cheerfully memed backup dancers must have felt in those puffy white ski suits. Her look was “mechanic moonlighting as superhero”: the 34-year-old singer wore a blazing red bespoke boiler suit that zipped down to reveal her pregnancy, as well as a red bodysuit and armor by Jonathan Anderson. The choreography was well-executed, varied, and genuinely amusing: a tiny strip-joint thrust here, an Oompa Loompa headstand there.

Any one of those songs could be considered a highlight, but the show’s high point came eight minutes into the performance when those nimble little Stay Puft dancers galloped down the field to Kanye West’s “All of the Lights,” a 2010 song Rihanna featured on and which now officially belongs to her since she won this Super Bowl. The singer, backed by her followers, paused to promote her cosmetics line while its trumpet-like fanfare was swirling around her. She applied some Fenty Beauty Powder on her face before grabbing the microphone.

Rihanna now owns three beauty and fashion brands in addition to her nine Grammy awards and all those successes. According to a Forbes article from a year ago, she is the first female billionaire from Barbados and the youngest. It takes a unique sort of flex to pause during one of the most significant live performances of your career (an chance you previously passed up) to deftly display a small portion of your kingdom before launching into a song about a fallen king with him nowhere in sight. RiRi, take your time. We’ll wait for you here.


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