What a difference four years and a major NFL/Roc Nation deal can make. The elusive (at least when it comes to being a chanteuse) Rihanna has signed on to headline the Super Bowl LVII halftime show, according to a flurry of tweets that dropped Sunday, including ones from her and her record label Roc Nation. The NFL’s head of music, Seth Dudowsky, said, “We look forward to collaborating with Rihanna, Roc Nation and Apple Music to bring fans another historic Halftime Show performance.” The news came just days after TMZ reported that Taylor Swift turned down the gig for the sake of completing the rerecording of her back catalog.
Rihanna, too, had turned down the gig in 2018 in a showing of solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, the NFL player who famously took a knee during the pre-game playing of the “Star Spangled Banner” and was effectively pushed out of his job.
“I couldn’t dare do that,” she told Vogue the year after she turned down the gig. “For what? Who gains from that? Not my people. I just couldn’t be a sellout. I couldn’t be an enabler. There’s things within that organization that I do not agree with at all, and I was not about to go and be of service to them in any way.” Earlier that year, while the Super Bowl aired, she posted on her Instagram stories about a “weirdo” who inquired as to how he could watch the game on the flight she was on. She also posted an illustration of Kaepernick with the caption, “For those of you who thought I was watchin the Super Bowl...we beefin.” Kaepernick publicly thanked her for the support.
So what happened? Well, in 2019, the NFL and Jay Z’s label/agency Roc Nation (to which, as mentioned, Rihanna is signed) partnered up for a deal that, as described in a New York Times profile, “gives Jay Z influence over the league’s most important music events, including the halftime show.” That signing was controversial coming after Kaepernick’s row with the league, but Jay explained his decision to the Times like this: “No one is saying [Kaepernick] hasn’t been done wrong. He was done wrong. I would understand if it was three months ago. But it was three years ago and someone needs to say, ‘What do we do now — because people are still dying?’” Jay Z had an active role in last year’s hip-hop-heavy halftime show, featuring the likes of Dr. Dre and Kendrick Lamar.
To Rihanna’s 2019 point, there are still “things” within that organization that anyone with a functional moral compass would object to, like alleged racist hiring practices and star players accused of sexual assault. And yet football persists. NPR’s Consider This ran an episode on the NFL’s Teflon nature just last week. But this is part of a larger cycle of a groundswell of political engagement that even the protected class of celebrities feels the need to weigh in on, and which ultimately leads to...well, things remaining essentially the way they are. It will be very interesting to hear how Rihanna negotiates her current stance with her previous one, should she elect to share that information publicly.
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