If you were to say the words ‘Super Bowl’ to me, I probably wouldn’t even flicker an inch of interest. In fact, there’s a high likelihood that I’d pretend not to hear you and begin a new conversation about the recent and highly controversial Glee documentary. However, if you were to say ‘Super Bowl halftime show’, I’d likely chuck my Diet Coke out of the window, jump five feet into the air with excitement, and subsequently hunker down to begin a heated debate.
Some of the most prolific and adored artists across the world have performed midway through the annual NFL playoff. Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga, Shakira, U2, Madonna, Beyoncé—the list goes on. And now, everyone’s favourite bad gal is about to take the stage. Rihanna’s highly anticipated performance (taking place on 12 February 2023) has been dominating gen Zers’ brains and FYPs for the past month and it’s a topic I can’t wait to dive into.
That is, of course, unless the conversation segues into defending Justin Timberlake and that infamous Janet Jackson nip slip in 2004… in which case I’ll need to excuse myself. Wardrobe malfunctions aside, the halftime show is truly iconic and netizens have been taking it upon themselves to predict everything regarding Rihanna’s performance: her setlist, outfit choices, potential guest features, and overarching theme.
We were given a small teaser on 9 February when Rihanna took part in an interview during the Apple Music Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show Press Conference. The singer spoke of how she’d changed the setlist 39 times during the pre-show preparations but naturally refused to give any major spoilers away.
She did however stress how one of her main focuses for the show was representation for her home country of Barbados, for immigrants and for black women everywhere. The artist stated: “It’s key for people to see the possibilities.”
So, with so much still in the air surrounding the performance, we’ve tallied up some of the most interesting—and far-fetched—theories surrounding the Savage X Fenty CEO’s Sunday spectacular.
One of the most exciting aspects of Rihanna’s performance being debated online is her setlist. Will she open with the quintessential ‘Umbrella’? Will she go slightly rogue and start with ‘Diamonds’? And even more importantly, will her set include song of the century ‘Pon de Replay’?
Some users began flooding TikTok with their dream line up and, I have to say, there’s some impressive contenders.
One of the most viral takes has come from TikTok creator Gaming Society. The self-described “sports betting content house” has seemingly created a “three golden rules” system which has accurately predicted the Super Bowl setlists of seven past performers.
These rules include: “they never start with new stuff,” “they always start with a banger not a ballad,” and finally, “the opening song needs to be immediately discernible by the first beat.”
Now, these guidelines make a lot of sense. And other netizens began jumping onboard, immediately agreeing that if Rihanna begins her set with the first few notes of ‘Lift Me Up’—her single from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever—the stadium would revolt.
Next up is the matter of whether or not the ‘Please Don’t Stop the Music’ singer will be joined on stage by another pop icon. It’s safe to say that the world pretty much exploded in 2020 when Shakira and Jennifer Lopez joined forces during their halftime show. In fact, according to data analysts at Online casinos, the performance amassed 264 million YouTube views which could’ve had a potential earning of £404,657.
So, naturally fans are suspecting another colossal collaboration. Some have surmised that Nicki Minaj must’ve missed out on the 2023 Grammy awards because she was saving her energy for the Super Bowl.
Others are holding out hope for a repeat of Alyssa Edwards and Tatianna’s iconic rendition of ‘Shut Up and Drive’ from season one of RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars. If you know, you know.
Whatever Rihanna ends up doing on Sunday—it’s sure to be a memorable performance. And if she happens to do an entire medley made up completely of tracks from her album Good Girl Gone Bad, let’s just say, it’ll be an incredibly happy day for us all.
First things first, Rihanna kicked off her set with ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ and a baby bump reveal:
She then stunned fans with her dance moves while she performed ‘Wild Thoughts’:
Meanwhile, we got to see proud daddy A$AP Rocky fangirl over Rihanna’s iconic performance:
Last but certainly not least, Rihanna concluded her Super Bowl set with ‘Diamonds’:
The pop industry has always been an incredibly perilous place for women over the age of 40. If a woman in the spotlight embraces her natural wrinkles, curves and creases, she’s deemed lazy, unfit and unappreciative of the platform bestowed upon her. If a woman pursues cosmetic surgery in an attempt to appear more youthful, she’s considered vapid, grossly fake and far too concerned with her own looks.
It’s these strict societal expectations that saw Madonna be completely torn apart after her recent appearance during the 2023 Grammy awards. The entertainment icon had been asked to introduce a performance by non-binary musician Sam Smith and transgender singer Kim Petras at the event—the pair had earlier won an award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for their song ‘Unholy’.
After images of Madonna at the event had been shared on social media, users began to bombard the singer with vitriol, pedalling horrendous comments online riddled with ageism and misogyny.
One user stated, “What happened to Madonna? She’s almost become unrecognisable.” Another netizen shared, “I’m worried for her mental health,” and one individual even went as far as to say: “Freakish…and definitely not ‘Like a Virgin’.”
Following this, the 64-year-old singer shared a statement on her social media: “Instead of focusing on what I said in my speech which was about giving thanks for the fearlessness of artists like Sam and Kim, many people chose to only talk about close-up photos of me taken with a long lens camera by a press photographer that would distort anyone’s face!!”
The artist continued: “Once again I am caught in the glare of ageism and misogyny that permeates the world we live in. A world that refuses to celebrate women past the age of 45 and feels the need to punish her if she continues to be strong willed, hard-working and adventurous.”
Now, Madonna is no saint. She’s a package deal that includes her very own set of controversies. For example, some fans had an issue with her alleged ‘coming out’ TikTok back in October 2022—seemingly a number of netizens smelt a whiff of queerbaiting and felt as though the video was inauthentic.
Whether or not this was the case, historically Madonna has always been one for breaking protocol and has never hidden away from embracing her sexual prowess or power out of fear of being labelled uncouth or unladylike. In fact, if anything, she’s ran towards controversy and has helped a number of other female and femme musicians incorporate sex and gender fluidity into their identities.
The conversation here isn’t solely about the criticism surrounding Madonna’s current appearance, or even about the way in which she conducts herself in public. It’s about how older women within the music industry are treated—especially those who aren’t willing to compromise on their own originality.
First of all, it should be noted that all women within the industry are considered fair play in the public court of opinion. What they wear, how much they weigh, if they’ve used cosmetic surgery or not—it’s all up for debate as far as society is concerned.
But there’s a particular venom when it comes to the criticism that surrounds older women. As noted by Refinery29: “Why do we champion aged male rock stars while completely forgetting female musicians? It’s almost too easy to pretend that this kind of sexism doesn’t exist anymore, since so many female artists are outspoken about their sexuality and their feminist beliefs.”
And it’s true. I mean, Steven Tyler is still considered a sex symbol and he’s 74 years old. And don’t even get me started on America’s passion-fuelled obsession with 73-year-old Bruce Springsteen.
When male musicians produce music late into their 60s and 70s, we get behind them—both culturally and financially. But when women do the same, not only is their attempt at continuing their craft questioned and criticised, but their music is received flatly by both the consumer and the industry. There are a few names who continue to dominate regardless of age, Cher being one.
However, even the queen of pop herself has faced massive interest regarding her choice to have cosmetic surgery on her face. Now, in Cher’s case, commentary has been slightly different compared to Madonna.
Naturally, because when society decides your plastic surgery meets its very specific criteria, the change is welcomed and celebrated. It’s when an older woman’s face shifts away from what’s considered to be traditional beauty standards that the hate begins to topple over.