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What Do The Countless Criticisms About Rihanna’s Super Bowl Performance Say About Society?

What Do The Countless Criticisms About Rihanna’s Super Bowl Performance Say About Society?



he Super Bowl is a big deal, and one of the most-watched events on US TV every year. Over the years, we’ve seen everyone from Michael Jackson to Beyoncé and Lady Gaga take the stage and blow us away with their talent and showmanship. This year, Rihanna, the people’s fave, took over the stage to the excitement of fans who have eagerly waited for the day to come. The anticipation had been building for months, and everyone knew Rihanna was going to put on a show that would go down in history.

As soon as the halftime show started, the crowd erupted with cheers as Rihanna appeared on stage in a monochrome outfit and was encompassed by a group of lit dancers from the Royal Family Dance crew. She kicked off her performance with one of her most popular hits, “Bitch Better Have My Money.” But didn’t stop there. Riri continued to belt out hit after hit, from “Where Have You Been,” to “Only Girl in the World,” “We Found Love,” “Rude Boy,” “Work,” “Wild Thoughts,” “Blow it Up,” “All of the Lights,” “Run This Town,” “Umbrella,” and “Diamonds.” The energy in the stadium was electric, and it was clear that Rihanna was giving it her all. Fans couldn’t get enough of her incredible voice and synced stage execution.

It was a moment that no one would forget – Rihanna, the Fenty billionaire, had taken over the Super Bowl halftime show and precisely broke the internet. Her performance was a testament to her incredible talent and ability to unite people through her unique sound. And it was clear that she had cemented her place in Super Bowl halftime show history.

The reactions

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For some, Rihanna’s Super Bowl performance hit the mark, and her vocal ability, choreography, subtle pregnancy announcement, dancers, and nostalgia blew them away. Others had their specific expectations crushed. The latter groups termed the performance ”boring, basic, and underwhelming.” The list of criticisms seemed endless. Perhaps, they craved a particular song or would have preferred a different theme. Whatever the reasons were, they left feeling utterly dissatisfied.

The controversies

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In 2016, American civil rights activists and football quarterback Colin Rand Kaepernick chose to take a “knee” against police brutality and racialized systemic oppression. He did that when the national anthem was sung. Rihanna was one of many high-profile celebrities who supported Kaepernick’s protest. One of the ways she expressed solidarity was by declining the Super Bowl offer. Her decision was widely applauded by those who shared her views, but it also drew criticism from those who saw it as a missed opportunity to promote her music and message to a wider audience.

When Rihanna declined the offer in 2019, it was a mixed reaction from her fans although she didn’t seem to care at the time. So it came as a surprise when the news was let out of her upcoming halftime performance in 2023. Fast forward to D-day, and the reactions from society were still mixed with admiration and contempt. Some critics frantically took to social media to point out the loopholes in Rihanna’s Super Bowl performance. She was called a hypocrite and sellout for going against her convictions. They argued the performance wasn’t about her passion for music but was an opportunity to promote her brands.

The second-time mom-to-be was accused of delivering the barest minimum choreography. These naysayers were quick on their feet to compare her performance to Beyoncé’s 2017 Grammys performance. “Bey was pregnant with twins at the Grammy Awards and still managed to deliver a high-energy show,” they asserted.

Some also criticized Rihanna’s performance for lacking cultural relevance, as it did not showcase any elements of the culture or traditions of the city where the Super Bowl was held. Instead, she chose to pay tribute to her good friend Kanye West by performing two song he features in. Note that the rapper has been “canceled” for his anti-Semitic comments against the Jewish population, and anyone who supports him may have to take a bite for it.

What these criticisms say about the society

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Rihanna’s Super Bowl performance sheds light on how difficult it can be to please society. It shows the desperate need to follow your convictions, rather than sway by the slightest opinion of others. Her fans never found a balance, some went ballistic over her performance and praised her for her energy, vocals, and stage presence. They felt her take was an excellent addition to the halftime show, and they enjoyed the diverse music she brought to the stage.

However, others felt it was improper and not suitable for family viewing. The explicit language offended them as well as the provocative dance moves, which they termed inappropriate for the Super Bowl halftime show. Some even argued the performance sent the wrong message to young people and undermined the values of the event.

This divide in opinion is not unique to Rihanna; it is a common occurrence in society. People have different expectations, values, and standards, which can be difficult to reconcile. This is particularly true in a public setting like the Super Bowl halftime show, where millions of people tune in with various expectations.

What has shaming got to do with it?

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It’s sad that in 2023, with the amount of enlightenment available, people would still choose to take the route of body shaming and toxic comparisons. While women’s bodies have been under scrutiny for ages, famous ones in the public eye don’t have it easier.

Rihanna revealed in her latest British Vogue feature, “…dressing for pregnancy was such a piece of cake. But dressing in postpartum, what the f**k do you do? The week that I came home from the hospital – that was nothing but sweats and hoodies. But the weeks after that, you don’t know what to put on. Everything is too small or too big. You kind of just gotta wait it out, otherwise you end up buying so many clothes you’re not going to use. Well, unless you get pregnant again.” This is the human side they don’t tell you about powerful celebrities.

Becoming a mom is an entire sport, and having to worry about the comments on your outfit choice and body movement is totally uncalled for. In my opinion, that was what made these ridiculous comments on Rihanna’s performance toxic. Each woman’s body varies during pregnancy. While one can comfortably take a 360 spin on a pole in stilettos, the other barely makes it out of bed every day. Comparing Rihanna’s performance to any other female celebrity’s pregnancy performance is a nose dive into the problem celebrity moms face. The same goes for the scrutiny of working moms. 

How many of her male counterparts put up an energetic display? Plus, must every stage appearance be a high-energy one? For the most part, some male artistes engage in a bunch of screaming into the mic, jumping around the stage, and allowing the backup dancers to spice up the show. There are times when vocals or other attractions are left to supersede physical activities on stage—and that’s okay.

Hollywood and the entertainment industry have always expected women to defy aging, hormones, and body metabolism to portray a façade of non-existent perfection. From monitoring her postpartum body for weight changes to demanding active bodies at all times, celeb moms are often expected to continue their careers without pausing to focus on themselves or family. Yet, women are still shamed for being single as they age. It’s almost impossible to please anyone—even if you spend your last breath trying to do so.

If Rihanna chose to prioritize society’s expectations over her health and safety, then there would have been a shallow cheer of how she defied nature and put up a slam dunk show. They would praise her “snapback” attributes and then raise the bar for yet another unrealistic standard for working moms. Despite the challenges, entertainers like Rihanna have a responsibility to provide an enjoyable and engaging show, while respecting the diverse values and expectations of their audience. Of course, not everyone may be pleased but the goal is to create a show that appeals to as many people as possible while staying true to the performer’s artistic vision.

Rihanna’s Super Bowl performance might have been more relaxed than expected, but it was a plus for moms around the world. Although some suggested she could have gotten “help” if she had a co-performer on stage, I’m glad she did it alone. Rihanna has always been known to be bold and unfettered by public opinion. She said to the world, “I haven’t performed in years. I might be anxious. I might fret. But I believe in myself and I am enough.” Periodt!

Featured image: @voguemagazine/Instagram 

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