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Charting Black Excellence | Rihanna & the Super Bowl's declining power

Da’Shan Smith

 // Oct 19, 2018

Google // Free use

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.


“I said 'no' to the Super Bowl/ You need me, I don’t need you” has to be one of the most profound bars delivered in a song this year. Of course, that famous line came from none other than JAY-Z on “APESHIT,” who declined performing at the 2018 Super Bowl halftime show in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and other players who've kneeled during the national anthem to protest police brutality. Now, the torch has been given to JAY-Z's protégée Rihanna. For the 2019 telecast, reports are coming out that she, too, has passed on the offer of performing on the stage -- Rihanna's likes on social media basically confirming the news.

For a while, Rihanna as the headliner of one of the world’s most annually viewed television performances seemed like a no brainer, especially considering the magnitude of her career in the past 13-14 years. Rihanna would have had one of the most unpredictable set lists based on the infinite number of global-spanning hits in her discography. There’s also the notion of Rihanna being one of the only female pop artists of excellence from the 2000s that still hasn’t graced the Pepsi-sponsored stage. We’ve experienced two shows from Beyoncé -- one featuring Destiny’s Child, another with the Black Panther-cameoing "Formation" set -- and others from Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. Not to mention, their legendary inspirations Janet Jackson and Madonna have also delivered memorable sets.



So, when we put all of this in consideration, what would be holding Rihanna back from saying “yes”? Especially when factoring in the impending release of #R9 and the amount of promo Super Bowl halftime shows give artists with upcoming album releases. Lately, when looking at Rihanna’s empire moves -- from her diverse Fenty Beauty makeup line, to the all-inclusiveness of her Savage lingerie -- it’s become apparent that the now-cultural ambassador from “the left side of an island” is against exclusion and injustice. Performing on behalf of a sports league that’s willing to blackball players resisting the racists ways of America would not fit her brand at all. And taking out the brand side, and just being a decent human being who understands the daily plight of living in society as a black person, her decision makes even more sense.

But, why I felt the need to center this week’s "Charting Black Excellence" on Rihanna and her decision extends beyond the refusal of the Super Bowl. I was alarmed when the news came out that there are some individuals in the black community who've expressed their opinion that Rihanna isn’t black or “black enough.” Yes, you read that correctly. There are some people in our community who believe the woman who said she’s the Black Madonna isn’t one of us -- or better yet, that her artistic persona isn’t “curated” for black audiences.

There are many ways to disprove this claim. So, I’ll try my best to be narrow with it. There’s always been this underlying discourse with black Americans denying the blackness of Caribbean people, as if the Christopher Columbus voyage of the 15th century didn’t affect all of the Americas and the Caribbean, as well as their afro-presence of today and yesterday. It’s crazy that I have to spend an iota of time bringing this up. But, like the rest of us, Rihanna is attached to the traverse effects of this history, making her Bajan and Guyanese blackness just as legitimate as that of an Atlanta-bred African-American.



Throughout her career, people have tried to rob Rihanna of her black identity to the point where she’s even been snubbed covers and prestigious honors from black enterprises of the media. Music audiences still have a problem with accepting the fact that black artists can make music outside of R&B and hip hop. And Rihanna being diverse in her genre catalogue receives a lot of this criticism. She’s not the only black pop star to experience this, as Beyoncé has had to inform the world about “Jackson 5 nostrils” inspired by Michael Jackson -- who also had to defend his own cultural identity countless times.

Rihanna’s refusal and alignment with Kaepernick is a testament that she understands the struggle. Just like JAY-Z, she’s her own boss. A mogul that can rightfully deny conducting business with an entity that only wants us when they feel like spectating the hard earned talents that we strived to obtain. Whether that’s scoring a touchdown for the Vince Lombardi hardware or standing on a stage singing, “I call the shots!”

In “APESHIT,” JAY-Z finishes his Super Bowl bar with, “Every night we in the end zone/ Tell the NFL we in stadiums too.” In the case of Rihanna, she’s constantly in her own end zones scoring accomplishment after accomplishment. And when #R9 is released, all of her respective navy members will most likely be championing her on a worldwide tour, if she so chooses to have one. So, the last thing on her mind is catering to the NFL’s bullshit for a brief 15-minute set.


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