Stop the presses: Rihanna is playing the halftime show at the Super Bowl, and our collective performance anxiety is peaking. We have more unanswered questions than—I dunno, the sphinx? What will she sing? Her back catalog is plentiful and abundant, but what’ll make the final cut? “Umbrella,” for sure. The Calvin Harrises? The “wild, wild thoughts” one? Which of her former collaborators will do a star turn? Is Eminem even free on Super Bowl Sunday? What will she wear? How will she move? Will she be rusty?
Rusty might not be the best word to describe Rihanna’s performance power, but when a pop star hasn’t toured in nearly a decade (it’s been eight years since her last public live show), we could be forgiven for asking if she’s match fit. Is Rhianna doing a Rocky training montage to prepare, or is she at home with her feet up? Beyoncé’s comeback body after her twins was a major plot point in the Beychella doc, but Rihanna’s Super Bowl shouldn’t be about her shape. There’s something genuinely pioneering about Rihanna getting thick and it not being a problem to fix. Her figure isn’t a layover in her trajectory but a final, comfortable destination.
And Rihanna’s not been power napping since she last sang for us—she has a beauty empire and a baby now—but despite being the world’s best-dressed pregnant person, she’s been keeping a relatively low profile postpartum. It seems crazy to be so off-grid musically and agree to the most-seen gig of a pop star’s career.
Her agreement to do the Super Bowl does feel strategic, however. Like, are we getting new music? I think we deserve new music? Please give us new music. Anti feels like it was pressed in the Stone Age, the halcyon days when Britain was still European and Obama’s address was the White House. A lot of Fenty lip gloss has passed under the bridge since we had a newly minted Rihanna bop. It got embarrassing how long we were begging for it, so we just sort of stopped.
I wonder if every Super Bowl performer, on agreeing to do the halftime show, feels the immense pressure. If they wonder how to top Prince doing “Purple Rain” in a Miami thunderstorm, outshine Beyoncé and jack-in-the-box Destiny’s Child, or beat Janet Jackson’s (impeccably well-styled, almost as if it were planned) wardrobe malfunction? Gaga skydived in like Bond, M.I.A. flipped the bird. What’s Rihanna bringing to the table?
And that’s the thing about Rihanna: She doesn’t give you what you expect. She’s not volatile, exactly, but thrilling in her unpredictability, maximal and unapologetic. She can give us high glam—the spreading yolk of her Met Gala dress was iconic. Actually, the priest thing was beyond magnificent too. And she can also give us a delicious slice of brat—I loved it when she threw that wad of bills and when she said “No shit” when told she was late to Dior. Rihanna can sing, but she’s more than her vocals. She can dance, but she’s more than choreography. She’s more than a series of unanswered Super Bowl halftime questions.
Bad things are happening right now—possible fascist leadership in Italy, the impending incel apocalypse, the gradual rot of our brains via internet consumption—but Rihanna is an unproblematic tonic. (It’s difficult to state just how rare being unproblematic is in these instant-backlash times.) Experiencing Rihanna feels like a good-luck charm; like kissing the Blarney Stone, she is simply uplifting. America is a country that can feel divided over nearly every core issue—global warming, gun control, body autonomy—but there’s one thing we all agree on: Rihanna. I won’t be naff and say she is love in a hopeless place. Wait, I just did.
This story was originally published on Vogue.com.