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Friday, Feb. 23, 2024
The Observer

Rihanna shined like a ‘diamond’ during halftime show

The Super Bowl Halftime Show is a nearly impossible task: crunch a discography of globally recognized anthems into thirteen minutes with incredibly complex choreography, iconic stage design and a moment that will remain imprinted on the American consciousness. On top of that, one must do this in an extremely normative manner. Since Jay-Z has partnered with the NFL for the production, the shows have been consistently good, and for the most part, Rihanna’s show falls within these conventions. The best element of the show is Rihanna as a performer, who elevates above the production’s weaknesses to stand as a beacon of inspiration.

As was the case for last year’s halftime show, the stage runs horizontally across the field and is extremely minimalistic. For a concert based historically on spectacle, this stage does not serve this end. The floating platforms, however, absolutely do, even if they look like a Super Smash Bros. stage. They provide a sense of wonder, whether it is the background dancers or Rihanna herself utilizing them. The show uses almost only red and white coloring, with Rihanna in a stunning red suit and the supporting dancers in very strange white suits that at times make them look like cotton candy. A larger color palette could have helped with the bombast that was the show.

The choreography of the performance does not match the spectacle of the event, either. Rihanna is pregnant, which probably inspired her smaller choreography, which she aces. When an entire army of Michelin tire mascots is all following the small moves, however, it doesn’t create a sense of size for the performance. Compare these TikTok-like moves to the Weeknd’s bandaged army that turns into a frenzied mob for the “House of Balloons” and “Blinding Lights” medley at the end of his show. Since this performance does not commit to intimacy, the group dancing should be explosive, and it is not. There are some strong moments, such as the shots of dancers on the floating platforms defying gravity with their moves, or the intro to “Rude Boy”, where the camera floats through a line of dancers who show out for the camera before darting away, adding to the kinetic moment.

Rihanna herself is spectacular. Her voice has a rare combination of beauty, vulnerability and might that can match practically any song. She doesn’t need much choreography for her presence to be felt. When she scrunches up her face in recognition of the power of the songs or teasingly smiles at the camera, that is more than enough. The songs are mostly excellent, with the outstanding musical passage being the transposed chorus of “All of the Lights”. Perhaps “Stay” or “Love on the Brain” could have taken the place of one of the songs here, giving the show more tonal variety (also, “Love on the Brain” is an S-tier song in recorded music).

Rihanna, of course, is achieving all of this while pregnant, and this is where the inspiration of the show stands. There is an all-too-common conception that motherhood demands passivity precludes devotion to anything personal and somehow divorces mothers from any sensuality.  In Rihanna’s Super Bowl performance, she is an undeniable counterexample to this reductionist line of thought.  Here, a mother is ferocious, cool, sexy and triumphant, flying above tens of thousands of people with the whole country fixated on her brilliance. Yes, the show may have its technical flaws, and the costume design for the backup dancers is ludicrous. But this is a Super Bowl Halftime Show with something to say: mothers are not constricted and deprived of elements of their humanity, but motherhood only adds to all that they are.