Learn what RiRi had to say about her set, motherhood, doing right by her roots, and what the future could hold for her music career ahead of her performance on football’s biggest night.
Rihanna, who on Sunday becomes the first Super Bowl Halftime Show performer in the big game’s Apple Music era, spoke to members of the media for the first time Thursday in Phoenix, Arizona regarding the highly-anticipated set, and Boardroom was there to take it all in.
The format of the press event saw the award-winning multi-Platinum artist speaking in conversation with Apple Music’s Nadeska Alexis, a prolific industry journalist and presenter.
“You’re going to see on Sunday from the time it starts it never ends, until the very last second,” Rihanna said when asked what fans should expect. “I know I’m saying too much, but it’s a jam-packed show.”
She did tease some helpful context for the performance, however. Originally from Saint Michael, Barbados, Rihanna said that her roots back home are a big part of why she’s performing on Sunday.
“Representation, representing for immigrants, representing my country Barbados, representing Black women everywhere I think that’s really important and I think that’s key for people to see the possibilities and I’m honored to be here and be doing this, this year,” she said.
With that in mind, you wouldn’t be wrong to assume that her preparation for football’s biggest night has been relentless and locked in.
“I’ve been so focused on the Super Bowl [that] I totally forgot that my birthday is coming up. I totally forgot about Valentine’s Day. It’s just been Super Bowl, Super Bowl, Super Bowl,” she said with a smile, confirming that her set is scheduled to be 13 minutes long. As expected, she did not reveal any songs that would be played, but she did mention that the sequence of the set has been changed an astounding 39 times.
As far as logistical obstacles contributing to these switcheroos, the setlist itself was the largest.
Quite simply, RiRi has too many hits to play them all.
“Deciding how to maximize 13 minutes, but also celebrate — that is what this show is going to be, it is going to celebrate my catalogue in the best way that we could have put it together,” she said. “[We’re] trying to cram 17 years of work into 13 minutes, so it’s difficult. Some songs we have to lose because of that and that’s going to be okay, but I think we did a pretty good job of narrowing it down.”
In addition, there were personal challenges to overcome in the run up to showtime in Glendale. Rihanna and A$AP Rocky welcomed their son to the world in May of 2022, so the difficulty of caring for an infant child while keeping up a tireless work schedule is something that she admitted as feeling unfamiliar.
“It’s very different. The balance is almost impossible because no matter how you look at it work is always going to rob you of time with your child, that’s the currency now. The magnitude of how much it weighs. When you make decisions on what you’re going to say yes to, it has to be worth it,” she said.
She was quick to mention, however, that having her son empowered her to accept the invitation to perform at the Super Bowl this year. “When you become a mom, there is something that just happens where you feel like you can take on the world and you can do anything. The Super Bowl is one of the biggest stages in the world, so as scary as that was — because I haven’t been on stage in seven years — there’s something exhilarating about the challenge of it all. It’s important for me to do this this year. It’s important for my son to see that.”
To close the conversation, the superstar artist was asked about new music: “I’m feeling open to exploring, discovering, creating things that are new, different, off, weird, and might not ever make sense to my fans or people that know the music that I’ve put out,” she said, “but I just want to play. I want to have fun. I want to have fun with music.”
Apple Music officially became the NFL’s Super Bowl Halftime Show title sponsor in September after the previous sponsor, Pepsi, ended its deal with the show in May. The beverage giant did not go out quietly, though — its final show at Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles featured Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, and 50 Cent. As of now, Rihanna is the only artist slated for Sunday’s performance, but reports notably swirled in January around Jay-Z helping her put the show together.
Whether that means Hov will be performing or simply giving set advice remains to be seen, but it’s an intriguing wrinkle amid our collective anticipation nonetheless.
Jay-Z and Rihanna’s friendship dates back to 2005 when the iconic rapper and mogul signed her to Def Jam on a six-album deal. On the sports side of things, Hov’s own relationship with the NFL began in Aug. 2019 when Roc Nation, Jay-Z’s entertainment and talent company, entered into a partnership with the league to advise the on the artist selection process for musical performances at NFL events, as well as “[nurturing] and [strengthening] the community through football and music.” Under the partnership, artists to have performed at the Super Bowl Halftime Show include Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, Bad Bunny, J. Balvin, The Weeknd, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, and Eminem.
Rihanna now joins that ultra-elite list.
Previously, Rihanna actually declined the NFL’s request to have her perform at the Super Bowl in 2019. Back then, as she told Vogue, “I couldn’t dare do that. For what? Who gains from that? Not my people. I 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.”
On this day, the artist did not speak about her comments three years ago. Instead, she was more focused on the impact her performance could have on the millions of eyes watching her worldwide. As she concluded:
“It’s a beautiful journey that I’ve been on. I could have never guessed I would have made it here so it’s a celebration of that. I’m really excited to have Barbados on the Super Bowl Stage.”
Super Bowl LVII kicks off on Sunday, Feb. 12 from Glendale, Arizona at 6:30 p.m. ET.
Click here to watch Rihanna’s full Apple Music Halftime Show press conference.
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