This Sunday in Arizona, Rihanna will be making her long-awaited return to music – the live kind, anyway – as she performs the Super Bowl halftime show, her first live performance since the 2018 Grammys. To mark the occasion, special Savage x Fenty T‑shirts have been released, slapped with the slogan “Rihanna Concert Interrupted by a Football Game, Weird But Whatever”, all of which have sold out.
A trailer for the Super Bowl performance, which dropped on 13th January, acknowledged the intense demand for a new album from Rih. Nicknamed R9 by fans, in 2019 Rihanna told Vogue that the album will be “reggae-inspired or reggae-infused”. It’s since been confirmed by both Rihanna and Pharrell Williams that she’s been in the studio with The Neptunes.
Since then, she’s shacked up with A$AP Rocky and given birth to a son, born in May 2022. It didn’t seem to bode well for new music. But then Rih announced in January that she’d be performing during sports’ most prestigious slot. During this afternoon’s snappily titled Apple Music Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show Press Conference, Rihanna revealed that when she first got asked to perform, she wasn’t immediately sold. “I was like, you sure?” she told the invited media audience. “I’m three months post-partum and I’m not sure if I should be making big life decisions!”
Still, there was “something exhilarating about the challenge of it all”, she continued. “It’s important for me to do this, it’s important for representation, it’s important for my son to see that.”
So Rihanna’s been hard at work rehearsing – to the point where she forgot about Valentine’s Day and her upcoming birthday. But she wasn’t taking any chances.
“The physical challenge has been immense,” she said. “If it flops or flies, my name has to stand by that. I really get involved with every aspect of anything that I do.”
One major sticking point for fans has been what Rih’s setlist will look like on the night. As she put it (without revealing any clues), “cramming 17 years of work in 13 minutes” is no small feat. “You’re going to have to lose some songs because of that.”
Now, the juicy bit we’ve all been waiting for: info about new music.
“Musically, I’m feeling open. I’m feeling open to exploring, discovering, creating things that are new, things that are different, off, weird. [Things] that might not ever make sense to my fans, the people that know the music that I put out. I want to play, I want to have fun with music.”
With no hard evidence that R9 is on the horizon, the only thing we know for sure is that Rihanna’s Super Bowl halftime show is going to go hard on representing Caribbean culture.
“Representing for immigrants, for my country Barbados, representing for Black women everywhere, that’s really important,” she declared with a flourish. “That’s key for people to see the possibilities. I’m really excited to have Barbados on the Super Bowl stage.”
So are we.