Rihanna making the FCC work, work, work, after Super Bowl viewers file 103 complaints

A woman in red stands in front of white-clad dancers bending backward, each with one hand in the air.
Rihanna performs during the halftime show at the NFL Super Bowl LVII between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs on Feb. 12, 2023, in Glendale, Ariz.
(Vera Nieuwenhuis / Associated Press)

U.S. regulators received 103 formal complaints about Fox’s Super Bowl LVII broadcast, the majority of which were pegged to Rihanna’s bombshell halftime-show performance.

The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates interstate and international communications through cable, radio, television, satellite and wire, received an assortment of grievances about the “Umbrella” singer’s “rude, obscene ‘performance‘” that described her sexualized lyrics and her background dancers’ gyrating choreography as offensive or inappropriate.

Rihanna, 35, who also surprised viewers by revealing that she was pregnant with her second child during the performance, did not dance much during the highly anticipated concert but sang a medley of her hits, including “B— Better Have My Money,” “Where Have You Been,” “Only Girl (In the World),” “We Found Love” and “Work.” The soaring performance was Rihanna’s first since 2016 and has been praised by fans, but also elicited the ire of conservative pundits.


And her white-clad background dancers — who have been compared to sperm, clouds and pillows — used body language that was enough to upset audiences across the country who did more than just tweet their gripes. A fraction of the football game’s viewers (113.1 million average but 118.7 million for halftime) likened Rihanna’s set to pornography and lamented the decline of decency, according to the list of complaints posted on the FCC’s website.

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.

Feb. 12, 2023

“Inappropriate touching and dance moves, very raunchy for a family to watch. Little kids do not need to see this,” said one complaint from Rockton, Ill.

“The performance was very over sexualized and there were many instances where Rihanna had her background dancers doing very explicit dances,” wrote a viewer from Lone Tree, Colo. “On top of all this 4 of the songs she chose to sing were about sex. This is supposed to be a family friendly show but we look at this and wish we were given a heads up for explicit content prior so we could get our child out of the room.”

“The sexualization, genital grabbing, sniffing of her fingers, man pulling off his jacket and then girating[sic] all while singing lyrics far too inappropriate for a family sport event. I will NOT watch this again next year if this is how you are going to disrespect our nation,” wrote a viewer from Janesville, Calif.

“Please put an end to this,” a viewer from Roseburg, Ore., beseeched the federal watchdog organization.

“I don’t care what someone worships but children shouldn’t be exposed to pornography and as an adult I don’t wish to see it ... Where has decency gone? How about respect for others and self?” an Antioch, Calif., viewer wrote, likening RiRi’s show to Sam Smith and Kim Petras’ controversial performance of “Unholy” at the Grammy Awards earlier this month. (The duo also caught heat for a similar outing at the BRIT Awards.)

Justina Miles, the first Black Deaf woman to perform at the Super Bowl, was the ASL performer for Rihanna’s halftime show.

Feb. 13, 2023

Although 103 complaints might seem substantial, it’s a drop in the bucket compared with the number the commission received in 2004 when Justin Timberlake caused Janet Jackson’s so-called “wardrobe malfunction” that exposed her bare breast to about 90 million viewers during their halftime performance. That incident generated 540,000 complaints and resulted in a fine for broadcaster CBS. (After eight years and millions of dollars in legal fees, the network emerged victorious in its fight with the FCC after the Supreme Court in 2012 refused to hear the FCC’s request to reinstate a $550,000 indecency fine.)


Meanwhile, Rihanna has been tapped to perform again on national TV next month.

She’ll be singing her newest song, the Oscar-nominated “Lift Me Up” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” at the 95th Academy Awards on March 12. The superstar was the first performer to be announced in the ceremony’s lineup and her ability to bring the shock value and built-in fan base are expected to be a boon for the awards show’s declining viewership. While the Oscars did receive an uptick in TV ratings last year, it was due largely to “King Richard” star Will Smith slapping presenter Chris Rock during the live show rather than the quality of the broadcast.

Smith’s behavior spurred an unprecedented 10-year ban from Oscar-related events for the first-time Academy Award winner. It also generated at least 66 complaints to the FCC from disgruntled viewers who took issue with the “Fresh Prince” alum’s use of violence and profanity during the broadcast. The unscripted outburst also prompted the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to install a “crisis team” this year to respond to anything untoward that might happen during the ceremony.