The Super Bowl LVII took place last month, and with Rihanna headlining the halftime performance it brought us, as viewers, to consider the aspects of what makes a good halftime show and review this year’s performance. Each halftime performer has fifteen minutes between halves of a globally broadcasted football game, to prove their artistry with a medley of songs from their discography. The halftime show is a huge annual feat requiring input from experts in a variety of fields, with the overall focus being on choreography, vocals/audio, and visuals (lighting, costumes, etc).
This year, Rihanna provided a simplistic yet engaging show which advertised all elements of a good halftime show, with choreography by Parris Goebel and a setlist featuring many of her most popular hits including: “B*tch better have my money,” “Umbrella,” and “Only Girl.” The show excelled in the choreography department; Goebel, currently the world’s top hip hop choreographer, crafted modern, minimalistic and engaging movements with the dancers almost entirely in unison, changing formations around the central singer. A standout aspect of this year’s performance were the ungendered costumes. Covered head to toe in baggy white attire, the dancers’ outfits bore no distinction based on gender identity. This was rare for a show in the football scene, where traditionally, women’s outfits reveal more skin and tend to be sexualized on stage. Franklin dance teacher Sonia Kellermann said she really admired this aspect of Rihanna’s show. “The way that [women] were presented did not sexualize the female performers… In fact, the gender of the performers was unclear, it wasn’t the important part of the show,” she noted. The National Football League (NFL) has a history of presenting women in a narrow way, usually in scantily clad clothing–for example, the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders–and this halftime show went against that.
Many viewers speculated that Rihanna was lip-synching her songs during the show, garnering some judgment and skepticism. Past performances by Katy Perry and The Red Hot Chilli Peppers have also been accused similarly. According to Kellermann, “Rihanna was not singing most of [the show] live.” Kellermann, a performer with past experience in the industry, says that too much pressure is placed on the singer; it is crucial to record plenty of backup tracks in the event something goes wrong at the last minute. “You can’t take the risk that [Rihanna] might lose her voice. Of course she is singing live but there is always plenty of pre-recorded music to fill it in,” Kellermann stated. This is no different from any past halftime show, as each musician is contractually obligated to make and use such pre-recorded tracks in their show, which they can then choose to sing over as much or as little as they like.
With these concerns aside, vocals and audio are another crucial element to every halftime show. Obviously, the performance headliners are huge stars with their own diverse but extensive experience in the music industry. There is a specific skill that goes into almost every part of a singer’s performance. For example, everything is intentional all the way down to how an artist holds their mic. During this year’s show, you can see the movements Rihanna uses in moving the mic closer or further away from her mouth depending on the desired sound. This is a deceptively difficult skill, as seen in older halftime show performances, such as Super Bowl XLV’s Black Eyed Peas, where among other poorly executed aspects, Fergie and Will.i.am had no mic technique leading to extreme volume fluctuation. Of course, when it comes to vocals, usually all pre-recorded tracks sound flawless, but the live singing can be impacted by a plethora of factors. Ultimately, it all comes down to the artist. Pop and hip hop singers such as Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, or Rihanna, arguably can sing circles around everyone else in the industry. These virtuosos seem to never have an off day in terms of vocals. Despite important factors facing a singer like illness, injury, pregnancy, or just having a cold, these artists never seem to sing anything but their best. In other cases where artists are also exceptionally talented but do not share the same capabilities, the singing can sound rather bad in some Super Bowl shows due to either internal or external factors of the singer. Singers hit wrong notes quite often when performing which can be surprising to listeners who are used to the original tracks without any imperfections. Shows done by the Black Eyed Peas, LMFAO, Kid Rock, and more have been scrutinized by the public for their poor vocal performances. The important thing for all Super Bowl halftime artists to master is the ability to recover in the event of a pitchy or flat note and get back on track, which also takes a good deal of skill.
Visuals are one of the most exciting aspects of the NFL halftime show. Regardless of the audio, artist, or choreography, a show featuring extravagant lighting, moving sets, or elements like smoke, bubbles, etc. will make or break a performance. Some of the most successful shows involve some sort of aerial movement, such as Lady Gaga’s suspension in the air, or light work, such as Beyoncé’s stage which was lit in the shape of two women’s side profiles; to their credit, the Black Eyed Peas did implement a unique lighting theme–dressing backup dancers in green LED lights. Typically when recalling past halftime shows, the most memorable thing is the visual set, or the element that sets a show apart from the last. Rihanna was successful in this department as well, with the moving platforms suspending her and some dancers up to sixty feet in the air. “I really liked the use of aerial work that this year’s show had,” Kellermann commented. According to Kellermann, taking advantage of dimensional movement is a standout element in a halftime show, whether it be with set design or the choreography of dancers and how they move through space.
In a NFL halftime show, it is profoundly important to draw the audience in immediately and end strong. A show should have a beginning, middle, and end using the elements of choreography, visual themes, and audio. This year’s performance by Rihanna was, overall, a successful show of talent, strength, and entertainment achieved by the directors, choreographer, technical team, and Rihanna herself. It utilized the specific aspect of aerial work and choreography that combined classic hip hop with modern movements.