Never Say Never: Why Rihanna Had a Change of Heart About the Super Bowl

As Rihanna prepares to deliver a stunning performance at the Super Bowl LVII halftime show, we reflect on her past comments on the NFL to see how we got here.

rihanna super bowl explainer post

Image via Getty

rihanna super bowl explainer post

Super Bowl LVII is set to kick off Sunday at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, and while everyone will be focused on the big game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs, even more eyes will be trained on Rihanna’s heavily anticipated halftime performance.

Rihanna has not done a public live performance since gracing the 2018 Grammys stage with DJ Khaled to deliver their track “Wild Thoughts.” Five years later, she’s finally back to perform what she calls a “celebration” of her dense catalog during the halftime show, but why did she choose the Super Bowl stage to make this return? The billionaire Fenty mogul told Vogue in 2019 that she would never perform at the NFL championship game because it would go against her own personal politics.

“I couldn’t dare do that,” she said at the time. “For what? Who gains from that? Not my people. I just couldn’t be a sellout. I couldn’t be an enabler. There’s things within that organization that I do not agree with at all, and I was not about to go and be of service to them in any way.”

Rihanna’s politics have clearly changed since then; the singer recently told Entertainment Tonight that the Super Bowl halftime show is an “entertainer’s dream.” “The Super Bowl is one of the biggest stages in the world; it’s an entertainer’s dream to be on a stage like that,” she added. “But it’s nerve-racking. You want to get it right. You know, everybody’s watching. And they’re rooting for you. And I want to get it right.”

The Super Bowl doesn’t pay artists to perform during the halftime show. So what changed? Below, we break down why we think Rihanna said yes to the big gig—based on things she’s said about the performance—and what could be following it.

Wanting to “Celebrate” Her Impressive and Extensive Catalog

During her interview with Nadeska Alexis for Apple Music’s pre-Super Bowl show, Rihanna explained how curating the setlist for the halftime show has been the most difficult aspect of it, noting that it’s changed roughly “39 times” already. When asked what fans can expect from the performance, Rih said, “It’s going to be a celebration of my catalog in the best way that we could.” She added that it’s changed so many times because of the inherent time crunch that comes with the halftime show. “You’re trying to cram 17 years of work into 13 minutes, so it’s difficult, and some songs we had to lose because of that, but that’s okay.”

Her Connection With Roc Nation

When Jay-Z announced that he and Roc Nation would be entering a partnership with the NFL, it goes without saying that the deal turned many heads. Hov was a stout critic of the league for several years, mirroring Rihanna’s sentiments about “saying no to the Super Bowl” because they need him more than vice versa. The deal outlines that Roc Nation will help “advise on selecting artists for major NFL performances like the Super Bowl.” As a Roc Nation artist—in conjunction with Universal Music Group—it’s likely that Rihanna’s close ties with Hov and the label influenced her decision to take part in the event.

Preparation for a Rumored World Tour

It’s been quite a while since Rihanna performed for a massive live audience, but the Super Bowl halftime show is the perfect warm-up stage if the singer is planning to hit the road anytime soon. There have been several rumors swirling that Ms. Fenty could be preparing to go on tour sometime this year. This is all speculative, especially considering Rihanna hasn’t dropped any new music since her 2016 album ANTI, but artists who have performed during the Super Bowl halftime show historically have seen a massive boost in streams thanks to the exposure the game brings. During her Apple Music interview, she did say that she “just wants to have fun” regarding her new music. Hopefully, a world tour comes with that.

Using the Super Bowl to Celebrate Her Roots

During her Apple Music interview with Nadeska, Rihanna touched on how she plans to use the halftime show to uplift and shine a light on her Caribbean roots. “[Caribbean culture] is a big part of why this is important for me to do this show. Representation: representing for immigrants, representing for my country of Barbados, representing for Black women everywhere. I think that’s really important. That’s key, for people to see the possibilities.” Apple Music also released a teaser for the show after the interview, which featured glimpses of Bajan culture and are sure to be present during the show.

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