Column: How did Rihanna pull off her big-reveal heist of the Super Bowl?

Singer Rihanna and background dancers onstage during the Super Bowl
Rihanna was heavily clad during her Super Bowl halftime performance Sunday, but she stole the show with a big reveal.
(Godofredo A. Vasquez / Associated Press)

A few years back, Rihanna developed something of a reputation as a criminal mastermind. Her light-fingered habit of walking away from clubs, fashion shows and hotels with a wine-glass was documented so many times that talk show host Graham Norton used it as a bit when interviewing her and her co-stars of the heist film “Ocean’s 8.” “Watch yourself around Rihanna,” he joked.

As millions of Super Bowl viewers now know.

It isn’t easy to hijack the biggest television event of the year from the athletically gifted teams playing it, but on Sunday night the singer, actor and makeup mogul did just that.

Descending from the heavens above State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on a transparent platform, Rihanna was a vision of many layers: A voluminous scarlet flight suit, unzipped to just below her waist, revealed a matching sculpted corset and silk catsuit. And when she stood this way or moved that way, the catsuit appeared to stretch over a noticeably rounded belly.


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

So noticeably rounded that, for a few minutes anyway, many of the above-mentioned millions were less concerned about whether the Eagles could maintain their halftime lead (spoiler: they could not) than they were about whether Rihanna was pregnant.

I was not the only one Googling to see if I had somehow missed an announcement that Rihanna would be performing at the Super Bowl while expecting her second child. (I hadn’t.) During the show and indeed for many hours after it, social and legacy media stuttered with the Question that Dare Not Be Asked. I mean, what if she wasn’t? She just had a baby in May, and not every new mother reclaims her flat abs in a year. (Or ever. And that’s OK!)

Although Rihanna did appear to touch her belly in that uniquely maternal way, her outfit, which also included an even more voluminous red leather puffer coat, seemed designed to conceal as much as to announce.

For many long minutes, those covering the show in real time were trapped between the Scylla and Charybdis of congratulatory awe and potentially backlash-provoking faux pas.

As many noted on social media, there are few moments more horrifying on so many levels than assuming a woman is pregnant when she is not.

All of which meant that in the middle of our most revered celebration of male athleticism, even as the Kansas City Chiefs came barreling back in the second half, a certain portion of the viewership was having conversations about Rihanna — and more generally, subtextually, about female body image.

Many speculated that singer Rihanna might be pregnant again after her halftime performance at the 2023 Super Bowl. They were right

Feb. 12, 2023

Her baby-bump tease also deflected accusations that, after rejecting an invitation in 2019 and publicly blasting the NFL for repressively penalizing players taking a knee in protest of racism, Rihanna was selling out.


That, my friends, is a pretty spectacular cultural heist, and one that took a fair amount of planning. Rihanna is, as many have noted, the queen of nonchalance; but no one becomes queen of anything without a whole lot of work.

I think we can safely assume the pop star did not agree to perform in order to announce her pregnancy. Many hoped her appearance would preface a new album or tour — a surefire post-Super Bowl play following an event that pays its performers union scale. Whatever her original intentions, she clearly decided to set a new bar for prenatal reveals a while ago.

But how in this baby-bump-stalking, spoiler-delighting world did she pull it off?

Never mind the often intrusive lenses of paparazzi and citizen “journalists”; many, many people had to know Rihanna was pregnant weeks, if not months, before her performance. And no one leaked, squeaked or posted surreptitiously taken pictures?

Were NDAs involved? Threats? Fully loaded gift bags?

Even after the show ended, there was no Instagram post, no official tweet, no formal announcement of any kind. Confirmation was dragged from her representatives one outlet at a time.

Rihanna is a rich and powerful woman, with one of the most fearsome death stares around, but even so, keeping that growing belly secret while all those pre-Super Bowl eyes were on her was a feat that would make any Ocean — Danny or Debbie — proud.

Even Jesus got the light treatment, and godlike celebrities clowned and shilled, during the real action of Super Bowl LVII — the ads, of course.

Feb. 12, 2023

It also managed to remind us of several important things: A woman is the best judge of what her body can and should do; and any decision she makes is her own to announce, when and if she pleases.


Also: The best surprises are the ones that come as an actual surprise. Rihanna’s halftime show would have been amazing even without the is-she-or-isn’t-she belly tease, but her choice of a “special guest” kept people talking way longer than Tom Holland or Jay-Z ever could.

Which is exactly why Rihanna can go seven years without a studio-produced album and five years without a live show and still remain a star.

Who cares about a few wine glasses when you can walk off with the Super Bowl?