With the announcement that Rihanna will perform at the 2023 Super Bowl, the vibes around the NFL haven’t been this good since Tom Brady’s lost to the Eagles. The news surprised many, especially after a rumor that Taylor Swift would be performing spread widely on social media.
Rihanna continues a strong run of halftime performers, including the hip-hop super medley in 2022 with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar and Mary J. Blige, The Weeknd the year before that, and the excellent 2020 set by Shakira and Jennifer Lopez. It’ll be a triumphant return for an artist who has only played sparingly in the last few years. Her last televised performance was “Wild Thoughts” at the 2018 Grammy Awards.
Since putting out ANTI, she has largely been focused on her fashion and beauty empire, only occasionally popping up for the odd guest feature to a longtime friend like PartyNextDoor or Pharrell. Having her first kid this past spring seemed to guarantee that the elusive R9 wouldn’t materialize any time soon. But Rihanna’s hardly a legacy act so, agreeing to the Halftime Show must mean she’s also committing to some kind of release timeline for new music, right? We can dream. Here are some recent instances that, when compounded with the Super Bowl news, would seem to suggest that Rihanna’s grand return is finally imminent.
Recent studio visits. On September 16, Rih was spotted at a Los Angeles studio with her partner ASAP Rocky. Of course, , it’s entirely possible that he was the focus of the studio visit—Rocky made waves this weekend declaring that his recent Rolling Loud NY performance would be his last before his new album— but you never know. ( Perhaps we’ll get an Everything is Love from the A$AP Rih in due time.) The Team of Rihanna Twitter fan account also posted on September 22, that Rihanna had been recording at New York’s Jungle City studio, which was where she cut a good amount of ANTI.)
She’s already been working. This past half decade hasn’t been all make-up and motherhood: Rihanna’s definitely been recording and at least trying things out. She’s teased out small bits of information, including telling Vogue in 2018 she wanted to make a reggae record, while in 2019 she posted a hilariously cruel video of a small dog going buckwild to House of Pain’s “Jump Around” with the caption, “me listening to R9 by myself and refusing to release it.” She’s also, over the years, periodically revealed more concrete details like, say, being excited to go in the studio with Pharrell on Valentine’s Day 2020.
Eagle-eyed fans often keep an eye on BMI registrations to see if she has any potential songs coming. The latest was in early September, when the Twitter account Fenty Stats posted about a song called “Righteous” that saw Rihanna listed as a performer and co-writer, alongside U.K. R&B act Jorja Smith and producer Joel Compass. (It’s worth noting that a number of songs have been tracked by these types of accounts over the years, but not released.)
Pop star precedence. Worth noting: the day before her [second] Super Bowl halftime performance in 2016, Beyoncé released her thunderous single “Formation,” and made it a pivotal part of her set, thusly kicking off the Lemonade rollout. If Rihanna’s going to end what will at that point be a seven year hiatus, America’s biggest stage is the grandest place to do it.
This is Apple Music’s first Super Bowl Surely they want to go big. The press release for the Rih Bowl already teases “exclusive details” and “sneak peeks” that will be available through the streaming service in the lead-up to the performance. With this being a grand, splashy new partnership between Apple, the NFL and Roc Nation, you can practically visualize the exclusive album rollout tie-in possibilities. Not to get all corporate about a new album from one of this generation’s greatest pop stars but, the synergy here is almost too strong to not use it for a big comeback.