PHOENIX – Rihanna is putting in the work ahead of her Super Bowl halftime show, focusing so hard on what she promises will be "a jam-packed show” that her upcoming birthday and Valentine's Day almost slipped her mind.
“The setlist was the biggest challenge. That was the hardest, hardest part. Deciding how to maximize 13 minutes but also celebrate — that’s what this show is going to be. It’s going to be a celebration of my catalog in the best way that we could have put it together," Rihanna said.
At a media preview Thursday ahead of Sunday's matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs, the music superstar and new mom said her appearance — her first live event in seven years — feels “like it could have only been now.”
The singer said she was initially unsure about taking on the challenge of performing during a time when she was three months postpartum and wondered “should I be making major decisions like this right now? I might regret this.”
“But when you become a mom, there’s something that just happens where you feel like you can take on the world, you can do anything," Rihanna said. "The Super Bowl is one of the biggest stages of the world. As scary as that was, because I hadn't been on stage in seven years, there’s something exhilarating about the challenge of it all."
A nine-time Grammy Award-winner, Rihanna has 14 No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hits, including “We Found Love,” “Work,” “Umbrella” and “Disturbia.” She and rapper A$AP Rocky recently welcomed her first child.
“At the end of the day, if it flops or it flies, my name has to stand by that. And so I really get involved with every aspect of anything I do,” she said.
Halftime performance sponsor Apple Music held a moderated event Thursday, but moderator Nadeska Alexis was the only journalist allowed to ask Rihanna questions.
Rihanna joins a list of celebrated entertainers who have played during Super Bowl halftime shows, including Beyoncé, Madonna, Coldplay, Katy Perry, U2, Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, Shakira and The Weeknd. Last year, hip-hop was celebrated with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige and Kendrick Lamar all performing.
The singer had previously declined to perform in the 2019 halftime show out of solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. But she has said that the timing and circumstances this time around were right for her.
Country music star Chris Stapleton will sing the national anthem, while R&B legend Babyface will perform “America the Beautiful.” Actor-singer Sheryl Lee Ralph will also perform “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” When asked who they were cheering for on Sunday, Ralph said she was rooting for the Eagles while Stapleton and Babyface said they were backing Rihanna.
Ralph applauded the NFL for making an effort toward being inclusive and “represent all people” through the three songs.
"On a day, Super Bowl Sunday, 200 million people coming together to sit and experience it here, what a time and what a way to bring us all together," she said. “I’m very pleased and very happy to be able to be on the 40-yard line.”
Babyface said he first started singing “America the Beautiful” as a sophomore for a play in high school.
“It's hard to believe that so many years ago, which is a lot of years ago, that I'm here to sing ‘America the Beautiful,'” he said. “Back then, my mom was in the audience and she couldn't believe I was up there on the stage singing. Like the shy kid who actually got up there singing. To think of her looking at this now and see me at this moment singing ‘America the Beautiful,’ it's full circle.”
Oscar winner Troy Kotsur will perform the national anthem in American sign language. Colin Denny will sign “America the Beautiful” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” will be signed by Justina Miles.
Through an interpreter, Kotsur said performing makes him feel prouder to be an American. Miles said “Lift Every Voice and Sing" represents resilience.
"The national anthem never really resonated with me personally, but the Black national anthem is really inspiring and empowering," Miles said. “This song is so positive and so beautiful. You don't really hear or see it very often. There's many folks who don't even know the Black national anthem even exist. It's not only for me to share this experience with the whole world, but to really bring that empowerment to millions of Black, deaf people all over the country who've never seen that before.”
Apple Music this year replaced Pepsi, which sponsored the show for the past 10 years. Terms were not announced, but analysts had expected the league to get at least $50 million per year for the rights.
For more coverage of this year’s Super Bowl, visit: www.apnews.com/SuperBowl