Rihanna at the Super Bowl: an analysis of society’s reaction


Photo courtesy of ShutterStock

Katherine Camarata, Columnist

Rihanna, legendary pop-R&B icon of the 2010s with a career spanning over a decade, broke her five year hiatus from the stage by performing for the 2023 Super Bowl halftime show.

Rihanna had her first child in May last year, according to CNN, and revealed at the halftime show that baby number two is on the way.

The artist danced and sang atop an illuminated platform before ascending to the heavens by means of aerial rigging. She sported a tight, all red outfit with newest baby bump on full display. 

Typically, artists at the Super Bowl choose to share the stage with a guest artist, but Riri dominated the stage as a solo act with nothing but dozens of backup dancers in loose-fitting white costumes taking up the expanse of the multi-level stage. Some critics across YouTube said the overall production was lacking, but in my eyes, the simplicity allowed Rihanna to shine even more. 

Rihanna sang some of her quintessential hits (which would have been a hard choice given that she had 14 no. 1 hits) including “Bitch Better Have My Money,” “Run this Town,” “Umbrella,” and finishing with an emotional performance of “Diamonds.” The performance clearly implemented heavy use of backing tracks throughout the event as many vocalists do, though there were moments that focused on actual live vocals, and those moments cut through. 

Riri’s choreo wasn’t overly intense, given that she was pregnant, but it was definitely still a carefully choreographed show with a glowing Rihanna serenading a crowd of many people there specifically for her. Critics, namely the honest review channel on YouTube, claimed that Rihanna’s energy wasn’t there and she didn’t seem committed. She was pregnant! It’s almost as if another living being was sucking her nutrients away while she did more than most of us could.

Rihanna’s music, star power and openness to sensuality is inspiring. It shows women that being pregnant doesn’t have to stop you from working, following your dreams, dancing sensually and sharing a powerful presence with the world. 

She performed well overall, certainly not the worst Super Bowl performer of all time, yet why have comments across Twitter and Facebook been lambasting her mercilessly, calling the performance “the worst of all time,” and saying they would “rather be subjected to torture?”

Does it have anything to do with bias against pregnant women, a historically underrepresented population? It certainly makes me wonder if other artists were performing, would they be ridiculed for giving the same level of performance? Would Jay Z have been ridiculed for the same performance? If Rihanna was not with child and performed without her baby bump showing, would she then be worthy of basic decency? 

There are multiple intersections at play here, given that Rihanna is Black and Black women have historically been oppressed for doing too much or too little of anything.

Everybody’s a critic, and this immense amount of public scorn from people often under qualified to be giving such critique is something most artists are aware of when entering the industry. 

Simply by being a woman who dances somewhat provocatively and sings about sadism and masochism (as in her track “S & M”) subjects artists like Rihanna to immeasurable criticism, often from misogynists who think women belong at home with their husbands raising children. Being pregnant likely only amplified this criticism.

Men (and some women), please stop tearing somebody down for growing a whole human while also being an artist.

At the end of the day, I’d be very surprised if people leaving horrendous comments about Rihanna’s pregnant performance and how it doesn’t appeal to their standards of attractiveness will ever even get the chance to impregnate a human woman in their lives.