It’s official: Rihanna is back.
133 days ago, the global superstar posted a photo on Instagram of her tattooed hand holding up an NFL football, confirming rumors that she was set to perform at the Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show. Celebrities and fans alike rejoiced in the comment section.
Of course, she never really left. In the seven years since her last studio album release, the popstar has become quite the business mogul, launching the successful cosmetics brand Fenty Beauty and lingerie brand Savage X Fenty, both of which have expanded industry standards of inclusivity. She was also named a national hero by the Barbadian government in 2021, officially given the title of “right excellent.” And, on top of that, she had a baby.
Nevertheless, there has been a giant hole in the music industry since Rihanna went on hiatus, and many are thrilled for her comeback. The singer has kept mum about the details of her performance, and has not announced if she will invite a special guest onstage.
Personally, the greatest mystery is what songs she will choose to perform. After all, Rihanna has a multitude of hits at her disposal. Over the span of her career, the singer has accrued 14 number-one hits and 32 top-ten hits on the Billboard Hot 100 – the possibilities are endless.
But rest assured! After days of contemplation (and a second opinion from my mom, also a longtime Rihanna fan), I have curated a possible setlist for the big event:
Kicking things off, we’ve got this percussion-driven single from the album Rated R. Though it’s not Rihanna’s biggest hit, the horns and drums that dominate the song’s instrumentation would make for an iconic marching band accompaniment – perfect for the Super Bowl Halftime Show, which in its earliest days featured performances by college marching bands. “Hard” also contains all the elements we know and love from a Rihanna tune: a catchy hook, lyrics full of bravado, and a simple sing-a-long phrase or syllable (in this case, “yeah, yeah, yeah!” and “I-I-I”). It makes for a punchy intro, asserting that “that Rihanna reign just don’t let up.”
"Bitch Better Have My Money"
A more recent hit, “Bitch Better Have My Money,” continues the momentum of the previous song, and is sure to get the crowd pumped up. BBHM’s deliciously aggressive hi-hats and 808s paired with Rihanna’s equally aggressive rap verses on this track blend nicely with those in “Hard.” It’s possible that Rihanna will remix these two songs together to save time.
"What's My Name"
When asked to think of a Rihanna song, “What’s My Name” might first come to mind. The dancehall-infused pop song featuring Drake dominated the radio when it was released in 2010, and its playful music video sparked rumors of a romance between Rihanna and the rapper. I don’t foresee Drake coming onstage to perform his verse; however (and this might upset many members of the Navy!), Rihanna could invite her partner A$AP Rocky onstage to perform his own verse.
“Only Girl (In The World)”
This song is so flirty, so poppy, so fun! Rihanna’s youthful la-la’s in the song’s opening perfectly juxtapose her grand belty vocals in the chorus. Simply put, it’s a dance track that can stand up to the occasion.
“Don’t Stop the Music”
“Don’t Stop the Music” is the quintessential dance-pop hit of the late 2000s. The skillful sampling of Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” paired with Rihanna’s sultry narration of meeting a lover on the dance floor makes for a satisfying and exciting listening experience. I could also see Rihanna remixing this song with “Only Girl (In the World)” – as she did at the 2016 VMAs – because they are compositionally very similar.
“Umbrella” feat. Jay-Z
Rihanna’s halftime show wouldn’t be complete without “Umbrella.” The single (and its iconic music video) launched her into international superstardom and also marked a departure from her previously innocent image. It’s the most important song of her career. Jay-Z, Rihanna’s longtime mentor and friend, may join her onstage to perform his verse. The rapper and businessman already has a close relationship with the NFL, as his company Roc Nation recently entered a multiyear partnership with the league.
“Run This Town” (sans Kanye West)
Rihanna and Jay-Z might follow up with their 2009 collaboration “Run This Town.” Even though the song is on Jay-Z’s The Blueprint 3, Rihanna’s performance in the hook is the highlight of the track. Jay-Z’s appreciation for rock can be heard through the guitar in this song and “Umbrella,” which will be great to see played live, and even more exciting if Rihanna decides to invite a well-known guitarist. Of course, there is the elephant in the room: Kanye West, originally featured in the song. For obvious reasons, I doubt that Rihanna will invite him onstage.
If Rihanna hadn’t featured “Needed Me” in the Apple Music trailer for the show, I might not have included it (even though I love it!). This sensual single from her most recent album ANTI seems low-energy compared to the other songs on my list. However, a live band could amp up the song.
This moving power ballad would be an excellent way to close the night. Rihanna is well known for her dance hits, but I think she shines brightest (no pun intended) in her slower songs. Her vocal delivery is emotionally raw and one of a kind. No one can capture the same magic she does when singing a song like “Diamonds” or “Stay.”
Rihanna fans have been anticipating Rihanna’s ninth studio album since ANTI dropped in 2016. However, it is uncertain if the singer is planning on releasing new music during or after the halftime show. In an interview with the Associated Press, she said, “Super Bowl is one thing, new music is another thing,” seemingly shutting down any hopes for R9. However, in a recent interview with Zane Lowe on Apple Music, her partner A$AP Rocky said, “I’m so glad that my lady’s back making music again,” hinting at a new release. There are also rumors that the singer is planning a stadium tour for late 2023, but she has yet to confirm.