Rihanna’s 2023 Super Bowl performance was underwhelming

Photo credit: Danilo Lauria, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Floating stages, a long red coat, flashing lights and a pregnancy reveal? If there’s one thing Rihanna’s 2023 Super Bowl halftime performance did, it was spark conversation.

Like many, I was thrilled to hear that Rihanna would perform at the LVII Super Bowl. Given her decade of Billboard hits, the world had high expectations for this performance. However, some of those expectations were let down after watching the show.

Social media users tried to decipher what the singer’s entrance and opening number would be. I pictured it to be as extravagant as Katy Perry pulling up on an animatronic tiger in 2015 or Lady Gaga falling from the top of the stadium in 2017.

Instead, Rihanna just stood on a floating platform and opened with “B*tch Better Have My Money.” I was not expecting her to start off the show with that song, as I believe Rihanna has other songs that could have made a better opening. Songs like “All of the Lights” or “Diamonds,” which appeared later in the performance, would have paired nicely with bold lighting effects early on.

“She picked the wrong song to open to,” freshman accounting major Paulina Porcelli said. “Overall, it was good, but I was expecting more.”

The opening was not memorable and did not live up to the hype I created in my head. Nonetheless, all of Rihanna’s songs are catchy and easily recognizable, the main reason the performance was enjoyable.

Rihanna played it safe, letting her top hits carry the show. The whole time, I waited for her to make a bold move — Sure, the floating stages were cool, but that’s nothing we’ve never seen before.

Perhaps, Rihanna took it easy because of her second pregnancy, which was confirmed by major news outlets and on her Instagram. After giving birth to her first son in May 2022, she surprised fans by showing off her new bump during the Super Bowl.

From this perspective, it is impressive that she had the stamina to perform at all. While it wasn’t as grand as I had hoped for, given her pregnancy, her effort was incredible.

“Learning about her pregnancy changed my opinion for the better,” Porcelli said. “Seeing that she can still come out to perform and look beautiful is very impressive. She sounded amazing and danced like a true professional.”

Her vocals throughout sounded clean and showcased her range, especially in the slower songs. Ending on “Umbrella” and “Diamonds” were powerful choices and created an intimate moment as she sang to a stadium lit up by phone flashlights.

Her background dancers wore white puffy coats and sunglasses, a confusing look. The choreography was done by Paris Goebel and has since grown on me after seeing the moves to “Rude Boy” trending on TikTok. While Rihanna did not dance much due to her pregnancy, what we did see from her was fun to watch as her facial expressions lit up the stadium.

“The background dancers were not my favorite — they reminded me of marshmallows,” freshman marketing major Jessica Greene said.

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While the singer looked incredible in her red attire, she made no outfit changes other than putting on a long red coat when the slower songs arrived.

I wish she made more of an effort to showcase some unique clothing pieces. She did give a subtle nod to her company Fenty Beauty when she briefly “touched up” her makeup.

“My favorite part was when she touched up her makeup during the performance,” Porcelli said. “Seeing her promote her brand is both funny and clever. It added a little something extra to the performance while reminding consumers of her successful makeup line.”

She did the performance solo, which most likely contributed to her lack of costume changes. As a powerful woman in both the music and beauty industry, doing this performance alone was on-brand for Rihanna and highlighted the strength and confidence she’s exhibited for all of her music career.

Rihanna’s performance was definitely good, though it didn’t meet my extremely high expectations. I don’t see this performance going down in Super Bowl history.

Rihanna’s pregnancy announcement has been the talk of the show, something her team most likely planned. While that did create a different experience than what fans had anticipated, we can be happy for Rihanna and grateful for the years of music that made for this enjoyable performance.

“Rihanna is an icon that people inspire to be and her artistry is crafted to be memorable,” Greene said. “The songs that she chose were some of her top hits that represent the influence she has had over our generation.”