The NFL just landed what’s likely to be its most anticipated—and most important—Super Bowl halftime performer since Janet Jackson. Most anticipated because the marquis entertainer for the February 2023 show is Rihanna, an artist who still ranks as one of the most popular singers in the world who also hasn’t given a concert in nearly five years.
And most important for a number of reasons. Her appearance signals a change of heart by one of the most influential artists of her generation, who along with several other popular performers had publicly sworn off performing at the NFL’s biggest event. Rihanna previously stood in protest of the league’s excommunication of quarterback Colin Kaepernick over his silent sideline protests over police brutality. Kaepernick was last on an NFL roster in 2016, the same year Rihanna dropped her most recent album. Since then, the NFL signed a deal with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation management company that was supposed to help the league smooth over relationships with Black entertainers and address its blind spots on social justice.
Getting Rihanna, a Roc Nation artist who just a few years ago wanted no parts of the Super Bowl, to headline the halftime show makes that deal look like it’s paying off for the league—especially given Kaepernick won’t be suiting up anytime soon and the NFL spent all summer defending itself against a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by a coach who’s currently on the staff of one of its teams.