Rihanna brings pride to Barbados in spellbinding Super Bowl performance

Rihanna on stage during her Last Girl on Earth tour, taken on March 4, 2011. Photo by Eva Rinaldi on Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

The annual Super Bowl halftime show is one of the most highly anticipated performances in the world. Catering to a far wider audience than American football fans, the show often attracts greater viewership than the game itself, and with Robyn Rihanna Fenty — pop star, fashion icon, beauty entrepreneur — as Superbowl LVII‘s headliner, people were understandably eager to tune in.

Public anticipation was fed by new sponsor of the halftime show Apple's trailer for the event, which underscored the fact that this would be the singer's first live performance in about six years. The company also produced a series of short features based on some of Rihanna's hits, including one entitled “Run This Town” (a nod to her collaboration a few years ago with Ye (Kanye West) and Jay-Z). The aspirational spot, which generated a wave of Barbadian pride, opens with a Barbadian woman's voice saying, “But you know it's about time that she come back”:

One Facebook post, referencing the line in the “Run This Town” video where Rihanna declares that she was “just a little island girl flying kites” but she had “big dreams,” affirmed with admiration:

The Right Excellent Robyn Rihanna Fenty, National Hero of Barbados, First of her Name, The Reb’l Fleur, Freedom Flyer of Kites

As it turns out, however, Rihanna's Super Bowl appearance did not, as many fans had hoped, signal a broader musical re-emergence; quite the opposite, in fact, as the star used the stage to announce her second pregnancy:

While some social media conversations, most notably via WhatsApp, felt that Rihanna could have given a shout-out to the land of her birth during the performance, her choice to sing snippets of both “Rude Boy” and “Work” was definitely a nod to her roots, and after the show, she was seen emerging from a trailer waving a Barbadian flag:

Facebook user Harewood Alli Katt commented on the clip:

I remember when Rihanna first come pon de scene and wanna use to say how she don't talk properly but she was just staying true to herself she did then, and she still is now Bajan and proud 🇧🇧

As one Twitter user put it:

On Facebook, The Women's Organisation went a step further, suggesting that Rihanna's performance did way more than acknowledge her island roots:

Representing for immigrants, representing for Barbados, representing for black women – Rihanna.❤️

Naturally, Barbadians were there for all of it, with this Twitter user announcing early on:

Hundreds of Barbadians flooded a few public spaces where the game (and halftime show) was being broadcast, but pride also rippled through the wider Caribbean community, to the point where Barbadian Twitter user Tiffany Griffith quipped:

On Facebook, meanwhile, Guyanese singer Jackie Jaxx shared:

I'm so happy to be born in the Age of Rihanna
To know there's a black, female, half-Bajan, half-Guyanese billionaire who is also a musician and business-woman like me pleases my whole heart.
Many would say her life is a dream but if anything she's shown us Caribbean girls it's that dreams are REAL.
If you're looking closely, you can [see] her teaching women HOW TO FREE THEMSELVES […] true power is having the THE FREEDOM TO CHOOSE how you want to live life.

Fans from Trinidad and Tobago tweeted:

While there were some negative reviews of Rihanna's performance which criticised both her dance moves and the fact that she chose to sing “All of the Lights,” a tune she did with controversial rapper Ye, the main focus, at least in the Caribbean, was an overwhelming sense of pride.

In a piece for Esquire magazine, Barbadian Zahra Spencer explained Rihanna's significance to the region:

When Rihanna steps on the world stage, it feels like a mirror, reflecting the best of us. Our tenacity, our warmth, our vibrance, our pace—because make no mistake, there will be no new album until Rihanna is good and ready, because there’s simply no rushing a Caribbean woman. When she showcases the potential of a very small region, one often overlooked and underestimated, it doesn’t just show the world what the Caribbean is capable of, it shows us as well.

Regional social media users also paid homage to Sheryl Lee Ralph, who has Jamaican roots, and sang a moving rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at the event:

Ralph's daughter tweeted:

For many Jamaicans, Rihanna's presence on the Super Bowl stage was tantamount to Jamaica being there as well:

While others were disappointed that Rihanna didn't appear on stage accompanied by some of Jamaica's biggest names in music as was erroneously advertised, one Twitter user harkened back to a 2019 Twitter hashtag that tried to convince the world Rihanna was actually Jamaican:

Barbadian though she may be, at times like this, Rihanna is indisputably Caribbean.

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