Suspended on a platform and flanked by pairs of dancers on platforms of their own, Rihanna entered State Farm Stadium with a sultry and electrifying performance that made one thing clear: Halftime shows are meant for home viewing. Also, she very well might be pregnant again.
Nine months after giving birth to her first child, four years after she last performed live and almost seven years after her last full-length release, Rihanna mounted her comeback with a kinetic and an ever-expanding coterie of dancers in puffy white flight suits, brought down to field level via minimalist, mirrored platforms.
Her vinyl breastplate seemed intended to signal that there would be no 2004-style wardrobe malfunction like the kind that partly derailed Janet Jackson's career before coming back to haunt Justin Timberlake more than a decade later.
Then, shortly after "Hopeless Place," came the crotch sniff. The morality police, primed by Kim Petras and Sam Smith's devilish performance at the Grammys one weekend before, were scanning for any signs of satanic symbolism—but after so long out of the public eye, a bit of provocation was probably inevitable. It was hardly devilish, all devil-may-care.
It wasn't about the fashion, as there were no major costume changes. But with a clever, dizzying use of camera work, Rihanna sang "Diamonds" against the glow of thousands of smartphones capturing video. (As it was sponsored by Apple Music, the platforms that delivered Rihanna and her dozens of dancers to the field looked vaguely like iPhones.) The ever-expanding scale of the choreography quickly became apparent, eventually filling almost the entire field.
Astrid Kane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org