‘Wild Thoughts’ about Rihanna’s halftime performance


Courtesy of Monica Herndon

TRL’s Eleanor Koehn reviews Rihanna’s halftime show. Although there were moments of excitement, she wishes there was a musical surprise guest.

With over 113 million televisions tuned into the Super Bowl 2023 and ranking the third most-watched program in Fox’s History, Rihanna’s halftime show is one of the largest concerts ever. Every year, the hype surrounding the halftime show is unbeatable. Fans expect the artists’ to top previous years in every way imaginable. 2023 was no different, and when the announcement unveiled 2000s pop singer Rihanna, who hasn’t released an album since 2016, the NFL opened up the stage for the strongest advocates and critiques of her performance. 

Prior to the performance, fans predicted opening songs, transitions and dance ideas on social media app, TikTok. While some thought she would choose popular songs “Disturbia” or “Pon de Replay,” Rihanna chose a song with an iconic one-liner “B**ch Better Have My Money.” With the words, “Don’t act like you forgot, I call the shots,” the stadium lit up with Rihanna standing on a floating platform, complete with a monochrome red outfit. 

The stage below her suspended platform was minimal, if not empty. A line of white clad dancers complete with sporty shades stood directly below her and on several additional suspended platforms. As her platform and her fellow dancers’ lowered slowly, “B**ch Better Have My Money” transitioned into the next title on her setlist: “Where Have You Been.” Unlike many other artists that have performed at halftime, Rihanna has over ten songs that can be classified as hits, and mostly contain popular, upbeat melodies. Rihanna doesn’t have to worry about boring the audience, and she lets the music speak for itself. Unlike the giant golden lion Katy Perry opened with or the detailed house set by Mary J. Blige and an assortment of rappers, Rihanna’s set was arguably plain with only red and white lights and the occasional fireworks.

But that doesn’t mean Rihanna’s performance was lackluster. What started as maybe a dozen dancers quickly transformed into 10 times that amount as Rihanna’s setlist advanced. The choreography was extremely precise and complicated making it all the more impressive. Every beat drop, song change and lyric was perfectly matched and emphasized through dance. 

While the dance and Rihanna’s vocals were standouts from the show, that doesn’t mean it was a 10/10 concert for me. While I did enjoy the minimalist set design, I do agree that at times a little more of something was needed. Many fans and TikTok users alike believed that Rihanna would have a surprise guest join the stage with her. I personally believed it would be Jay-Z, since they have hit songs together like “Run This Town” and “Umbrella.” But to my dismay, no musical guest joined the stage, leaving me underwhelmed towards the end of her concert. A guest could have allowed more audience excitement as her performance neared an end, but instead it was a disappointment to the viewers. 

Overall, Rihanna had some amazing choreographed moments and the background dancers perfectly emphasized the right parts of each hit song. The set design was a little bland, but to Rihanna’s credit it allowed for the songs and dancing to shine. While Rihanna does have an outstanding roster of hit songs, I believe what would have put her performance over the top is a surprise musical guest. 

Rating: 6/10