Last week’s Super Bowl LVII half-time show marked a cornerstone in Rihanna’s return to musical form: a testament to her effortless swagger and her behemoth of a discography. In fact, 5 million-plus more viewers reportedly turned in for the Rihanna concert than for the game, indicating that the Super Bowl needed the Bajan superstar’s shine much more than she needed its exposure.
But despite what appeared to be a healthy partnership, Rihanna hasn’t completely walked back her vocal criticisms of the National Football League. In a new interview with British Vogue, Rihanna shares that her decision to take on the half-time show after initially turning it down in 2018 doesn’t mean she believes the NFL has solved all its internal issues.
“There’s still a lot of mending to be done in my eyes,” she tells BV’s Giles Hattersley, “but it’s powerful to break those doors, and have representation at such a high, high level and a consistent level.”
In 2018, Rihanna declined the NFL’s invitation to take on the half-time show in protest of the league’s treatment of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. After kneeling during the National Anthem throughout the 2016-2017 regular season in protest of American police brutality and racial injustice, Kaepernick became a free agent and remains unsigned. He ultimately filed (and settled) a lawsuit against the NFL alleging collusion between the organization and its teams agreeing not to sign him “in retaliation for Mr. Kaepernick’s leadership and advocacy for equality and social justice and his bringing awareness to peculiar institutions still undermining racial equality in the United States.”
“I couldn’t dare do [the halftime show]. For what? Who gains from that? Not my people,” Rihanna told Vogue in 2019 of her decision; when asked if she made the call in solidarity with Kaepernick, she said “absolutely.”
“I just couldn’t be a sellout. I couldn’t be an enabler,” she explained. “There’s things within that organization that I do not agree with at all, and I was not about to go and be of service to them in any way.”
So what made her change her mind? According to Rihanna, the promise of consistent representation sits at the center of her decision to take the field this year.
“Two Super Bowls back-to-back,” Rihanna says, speaking to last year’s historic ode to hip-hop helmed by Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J Blige, and Kendrick Lamar, “you know, representing the urban community, globally. It is powerful. It sends a really strong message.”