Criticism of Rihanna's Super Bowl Performance Proves Black Pregnant People Can't Catch a Break

Rihanna performed her greatest hits suspended thousands of feet in the air at Sunday's halftime show but still received criticism from unsatisfied viewers.

Rihanna stars in the Super Bowl LVII halftime show

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Just days after a cryptic comment made by Rihanna hinting that she might bring someone to her Super Bowl performance, audiences were graced by her presence at Sunday’s half-time show. Nobody would have guessed that she was referring to a pregnancy with her second child, less than a year after giving birth to her son who she shares with A$AP Rocky. 

While suspended on a platform mid-air, Rihanna delivered hit after hit, including “Work,” “B-tch Better Have My Money,” and “Wild Thoughts,” reminding viewers of her undeniable influence from the late 2000s to the late 2010s. She became the first person to headline a Super Bowl halftime show while pregnant—an incredible feat in itself, however, some on social media have been quick to criticize her performance as bland, lackluster, and disappointing, despite the news of her pregnancy.

The first issue with these comments is that if these keyboard warriors truly knew Rihanna, they’d know she’s never been a high-intensity choreographed performer. It’s just not her style. Of course, she’ll whine her waist and throw down some dance moves but overall her performances are typically lowkey and effortlessly cool, and that’s her charm. This Super Bowl performance was no different – her IDGAF attitude was exactly her vibe and she delivered. Her marshmallow dancers decked out all in white were all the energy we needed. What more did people expect from RiRi?

The idea that Rihanna’s performance may have accommodated her pregnancy seemed to irk a lot of entitled people. As soon as it was clear that she was pregnant, the dragging of her performance should’ve ended because this expectation of continuous labor from Black women should not be normalized.

There seems to be a general disregard for pregnant women’s bodies and for the difficulties endured during pregnancy. Considering the risks of pregnancy are greater for Black women, there’s no doubt that unfairly high expectations have been placed on Rihanna. ​​We don’t know what Rihanna is going through in her current pregnancy, especially having given birth such a short time ago which poses its own set of risks. 

To pile on the insults, people have been comparing Rihanna’s performance with Beyoncé’s performances while she was pregnant with her first child, Blue Ivy, and later pregnant with her twins, Sir and Rumi. It's a learning moment—it is important to understand that not all pregnancies are the same and people’s bodies don’t react the same. Everyone experiences pregnancy differently.

In Beyoncé’s 2019 Netflix documentary, Homecoming, she revealed that she had an extremely difficult pregnancy with her twins as she experienced high blood pressure and preeclampsia. In an interview for her Live at Roseland: The Elements of 4 DVD, she also talked about performing while pregnant, saying "when you're pregnant, it's a little bit harder to breathe, so it was hard doing all the choreography and singing at the same time.” 

Rihanna’s pregnancy reveal also attracted negative comments that further demonized her for “having two babies and no ring." Besides forgetting that we are no longer in the 1950s (marriage is not a prerequisite, guys), this narrative highlights the expectation of pregnant Black women to conform. It feels as though this conversation about marriage and children is only happening because Black women are constantly judged and have to convince people that they deserve respect and freedom of thought while women of other races are given it freely. 

We seldom see Kylie Jenner being criticized for being unmarried and having two children with Travis Scott, yet the standards and expectations are so different for Black women like Rihanna or actress Keke Palmer who have both been shamed and questioned for being pregnant and unmarried. Despite the fact that both women have their own highly successful careers (Rihanna is literally a self-made billionaire), the patriarchy has people thinking that these women are low-value because they are not married. It’s audacious.

The unwarranted critiques are uncomfortably reminiscent of when Serena Williams won her 23rd Grand Slam title at the Australian Open while around eight weeks pregnant in 2017. Her pregnancy announcement sparked excitement and admiration but there were some who were quick to question whether having a child would end her career. The discussions about whether she would be able to physically bounce back to the pro-athlete level and whether she would still have the desire to compete were intrusive and unnecessary.

These types of headlines often open up women, especially Black women, to public debate and scrutiny. The expectation in Serena’s instance was for her to put her career aside and focus on being a mother. She of course responded by making it clear that she was absolutely planning on returning to tennis.

Black women endure bigoted comments throughout their lives and unfortunately pregnancy doesn’t seem to soften the criticism. Someone as iconic as Rihanna will always attract all kinds of hate but what the recent dialogue surrounding her pregnancy and expectations of exceptionalism shows is that people cannot internalize that different people do different things, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Comparing and contrasting women, especially what they do or don’t do (or can and can’t do) while pregnant should not be a point of discussion. It’s a massive overstep. Considering men are not held to the same overall standard and scrutiny, it feels very misogynistic.

In the end, Rihanna did what she had to do and she definitely doesn’t owe anyone anything. For those of us who appreciate Rihanna, we were just excited to see her on stage again.

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