RiRi In Raving Red

Bundled and pregnant, Rihanna performed in the sky, looking aflame

No mother aware of her daughter’s pregnancy would allow the expecting woman to perform that high up. But Rihanna isn’t one to heed her mother’s or anyone’s advice. So there she was, in the sky during the much anticipated 2023 Super Bowl Halftime performance, staged in State Farm Stadium in Glendale Arizona on Sunday night (US time). The baby bump was obvious and her pregnancy was later confirmed by her representatives, as well as the US press. True to her Bad Gal reputation, the singer did not seemed bothered with the possibly dangerous elevation, dancing on a suspended platform (one of seven), quite unconcerned with the lack of any barriers that might prevent a mishap (we could see she was strapped with a safety-harness-as-a-belt, secured to the monitor-looking platform). Her moves were not as energetic as one would expect of her, which, given her gravidity and the anti-gravity performance placement, would hardly arouse surprise. Why agree to perform then?

She chose all-red for this night. There were at least four layers: a fitted inner, a gleaming bra top and a matte boiler suit that was unzipped to below the waist to reveal her pregnancy—a three-month bump, reportedly, and adorned with visible three pieces of bling by New York jeweller Joseph Saidian & Sons. And, over those, an Alaïa outer that looked like a puffer-shrug. She was gloved too. The red combo (excluding the Alaïa) was the doing of the house of Loewe, going for a modest version of the Scarlet Witch. The bra top, akin to the breastplate from the house’s 2022 spring/summer collection, was probably a deliberate avant-garde touch. To go with the sporty look was a pair of red, low-cut sneakers from the MM6 Maison Margiela and Salomon collab. At ten-half-minutes after she started performing, a massive Alaïa coat—also red—was brought out for her to slip on (she had earlier cast off the the shrug. This was a floor-sweeping, padded coat that Balenciaga and the late Andre Leon Talley would have approved and Mr Talley probably would have wanted one for himself. Rihanna clearly stayed away from sexy, a look she embraced during her first pregnancy with tremendous gusto. Make no mistake, what she had on to perform in was maternity wear.

Understandably, there were no dramatic costume changes. She chose careful comfort over crazy couture. Singing two decades worth of hits, she performed in an ensemble that was not out of place in a stadium, home of the American football team Arizona Cardinals. As eye-catching as it was, it was not quite the touchdown of Madonna’s high-camp, theatrical 2012 Super Bowl costume by Givenchy, then designed by Riccardo Tisci. The Barbadian singer’s first performance in six years was, regrettably, low on highs. Surely peddling a product from her Fenty Beauty line (seemingly, a mattifying compact powder) was not one of them. She really powdered her nose during a break in the singing! Was she, as it turned out, the first pregnant Super Bowl Halftime performer and the first to promote her business during the performance-interlude? Why Fenty Beauty didn’t pay for a time slot during the commercial break, like other brands did, wasn’t clear (surely they could afford it). Did the NFL know she was going to pull that stunt?

It was, too, a strangely very padded costume display. Even the dancers—280, mostly Black—wore puffer jackets, only theirs were in white (their underclothes were from Savage X Fenty, as the brand revealed through a social media post—more product placement? Or, was it a Fenty show to coincide with NYFW?), as well as their trousers. As every performer wore the hooded jacket, the effect like a congregation of deflated Michelin Men, they appeared to be part of a cult performance and Rihanna, all red, the uncharismatic cult leader. As we watched the performance, we could not help but think that it would be ideal for the National Day Parade mass display. Rihanna was offered the 2019 halftime performance, but she turned it down. Reportedly, she wanted to stand in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick (the football quarterback who knelt during the national anthem at the start of the 2016 NFL season, leading to massive controversy) and the Black Lives Matter movement of that time. Has she changed her mind a out the NFL? Four years ago, she was not pregnant. It could have been a totally different look if she had performed back then. Rihanna might not have thought a boiler suit, even if stunningly comfortable, to be comfortably stunning for a stage performance, suspended or not.

Screen shots: NFL/YouTube