Conservative pundits slam Super Bowl’s Rihanna and Sheryl Lee Ralph (but love Chris Stapleton)

A woman in red performs onstage with backup dancers dressed in white
Rihanna performs during the halftime show of Super Bowl LVII.
(TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP via Getty Images)

The reviews for Super Bowl LVII’s slate of entertainment are in, and not everyone was clapping after the confetti had fallen.

In her first performance since 2016, Rihanna soared above the field at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., casually performing some of the decade’s biggest pop hits while pregnant with her second child. “The vibe was exuberant but insouciant — Rihanna’s signature mood, more or less, across the two decades of a career that’s blurred the lines among pop, hip-hop and dance music,” The Times’ pop music critic Mikael Wood wrote of the performance.

The pop superstar played her first show in years — and sparked immediate speculation online about her family — in her halftime performance at Super Bowl LVII.

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Commentary from right-wing news pundits was not as kind to the singer, however.

“Rihanna — her range is about the range of a cat being run over by a steamroller,” Ben Shapiro said during a monologue on “The Ben Shapiro Show.” “She does not have more than an octave range, she does not have the ability to belt. I’m not a Rihanna fan.”


“EPIC FAIL,” former President Donald Trump posted on upstart conservative social media platform Truth Social. “Rihanna gave, without question, the single worst Halftime Show in Super Bowl history. This after insulting far more than half of our Nation, which is already in serious DECLINE, with her foul and insulting language. Also, so much for her ‘stylist!’”

Rihanna’s stylist did pick up a fan in conservative commentator Candace Owens, who gave her and the superstar singer a backhanded compliment for performing in a flowing red dress.

“I don’t want to jinx it but — Rihanna is the first female Super Bowl performer in recent memory that has managed to keep her clothes on,” she tweeted. “Nudity doesn’t shock me anymore. Self-respect does.”

Before the game, Sheryl Lee Ralph sang James Weldon Johnson’s hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which became a galvanizing song for Black Americans during the civil rights movement. But Ralph and the song, frequently called the “Black national anthem,” also were popular targets for criticism by conservatives.

“There is only ONE National Anthem in the United States of America,” tweeted conservative personality CJ Pearson. “The National Anthem is for EVERY American. What’s the purpose of a black one? Super Bowl Sunday should UNITE America, not divide it by race. It’s not the 1960s.”

Chris Stapleton continues to buck country orthodoxy on his new album, “Starting Over.”

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The man who did sing “The Star Spangled Banner” was lauded with praise from the political right, however. Singer-songwriter Chris Stapleton delivered a stirring, stripped-down performance that left Eagles coach Nick Sirianni in tears (and rewarded prop bettors who took the under on the song’s run time).


“Chris Stapleton just sang the most beautiful national anthem at the Super Bowl,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) tweeted. “But we could have gone without the rest of the wokeness.”

Just don’t tell Greene that Stapleton is a “woke” supporter of Black Lives Matter.

“I think it’s important that we live in reality and not in that social media space, where the most hateful voices get the loudest megaphone,” he told The Times in 2020, after some of his fans took offense to his support of the movement against police brutality. “But I feel sorry for people that think anything I said was offensive. I’m sorry they lack the capacity to approach things as human beings.”

See more tweets below.