The Internet loves a good meme, and for the longest time, one of its favourites was that Rihanna would do everything possible but release new music. The Barbadian singer—first having exploded onto the scene in 2015 with two catchy, Caribbean-inspired pop albums coming out one after another—had gone six years without putting out new music. For most of her musical hiatus, she’s been fairly quiet.
That’s not to say she hasn’t been busy. In 2017, Rihanna launched Fenty Beauty with LVMH. The cosmetics brand, unveiling its first foundation with a whopping 40 shades and—revolutionarily—a wide range of undertone options for dark skin, took the beauty world by storm. It’s difficult now to imagine going into a store and not finding a foundation that matches your skin, but that had been the reality for women of deeper skin tones for decades before Fenty Beauty set a new industry standard. To many, the brand redefined what true inclusivity meant.
Between shaking things up with Fenty Beauty and her inclusive, irrepressibly-sexy lingerie line Savage X Fenty (we do not speak of the now-shuttered ready-to-wear label Fenty), Riri also did the one thing she said she had always wanted to: have a baby. Born in May of 2022, her first child—a son she shares with her partner, rapper A$AP Rocky—has yet to turn one. Till a little while ago, I had been relatively sure that we would never see the baby’s face till he was old enough to open an Instagram account of his own, thanks to the famously private ways of his mother.
In what was quite possibly the second-biggest surprise reveal of the century (more on this later) an unannounced and ridiculously cute video of Rihanna’s son popped up on TikTok one day. As he wiggled around in a car seat while she laughed in the background, it was oddly poignant—perceiving one of the most influential women in our generation in this new, maternal light. It conjured in me the same feeling that had struck when I chanced upon some random paparazzi photos of her swimming in the ocean in her native country of Barbados a few years ago, unbothered, peaceful, at one with the water.
But back to her music. In October last year, the lead single from Black Panther’s sequel was released. Lift Me Up, an emotive R&B ballad that would have been otherwise forgettable if not for Rihanna’s viscerally commanding vocal performance, proved that her hiatus may well have been worth it if the gorgeous maturation of her voice was anything to go by. The release sent the Internet into a flurry. Could it be? Was this the signal we had been waiting for all this time? Could the ninth album finally be coming?
The answer so far has been no. Instead, this week, Rihanna performed at the Super Bowl LVII halftime show, ending her three-year boycott of the NFL in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and his protest against police brutality.
The performance was show-stopping for multiple reasons—the first of which was Rihanna’s red Loewe jumpsuit with a moulded breast bustier, worn underneath a matching red leather maxi puffy coat by Alaïa, custom designed for her by Pieter Mulier. The second was what the jumpsuit revealed in the first few seconds of the Rihanna’s appearance on the stadium and television screens worldwide. No, you were not seeing things—that was indeed a bump, indicating that Rihanna is pregnant again (a rep has since confirmed that she is expecting her second child with A$AP Rocky).
And the final reason. A powerful, emotionally-gripping, once-in-a-lifetime performance by a musician with a stage presence so strong that her pregnancy-limited choreography looked like its entirely own kind of magic, punctuated by her electrifying gaze straight into the camera, matched by a formidable brigade of backup dancers, and lifted by theatrics that raised her straight off the ground and suspended her in the air on a floating platform. That the first song of the sublime 14-minute-long performance was ‘B*tch Better Have My Money’, which eventually found its way to a hair-raising rendition of ‘Umbrella’, before ending on ‘Diamonds’—genius, for the song is easily one of the best showcases of her vocal prowess in her discography—was a big, juicy, metaphorical cherry on the cake.
Of course, I am heavily biased. As a celebrity I connected with at the age of 10 (a photo of Rihanna was my first display picture on Facebook), Rihanna holds a place in my heart that few other public figures could ever come close to. But it’s not only early childhood infatuation that has cemented her, in my eyes, as a true icon of our generation. In her near two-decade-long career, Rihanna has continuously subverted the various expected pathways that famous women take, emerging not only as the multi-hyphenate highest earning female musician in the world but as someone who stands behind her values and is unapologetically loud about her politics (from her vocal support for the farmers’ protest in India to her attendance at women’s rights rallies dressed in a hoodie emblazoned with ‘This P***** Grabs Back’).
And then, at the peak of an intensely-scrutinised comeback that had been in the making for six full years, she gets pregnant for a second time. It’s perfectly unconventional—the nonchalant blending of her career and her personal life, the way in which she disproves every stereotype of what women should want and how and when they should want it. She’ll have her second child, perform on one of the world’s biggest stages, run her multi-million dollar businesses and indefinitely tease her unreleased album all at the same time. Unlike the many celebrities at her level who have achieved the fame they had always aspired to before realising the pressure was more than they bargained for, Rihanna doesn’t care—and she doesn’t have to.
Pregnant or not, her Super Bowl performance broke the Internet all the same. Ninth album or not, Badgalriri’s legacy is long immortalised. She can continue stringing us along for another few years if she likes. Hasn’t she given us enough already?