by Phoebe Renje
After a seven-year musical hiatus, Rihanna returned to the stage with a bang at the Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show in February. Her short performance became the most-watched halftime show in NFL history, with roughly a third of the nation watching. This was not the first time the league contacted Rihanna to headline the game. The NFL contacted her in 2018 to headline the Super Bowl, but she declined, citing the kneeling controversy within the league. The NFL’s concert spectacular is now a bid on what relevant artists the league can find to generate a profit.
Every year, the National Football League (NFL) hosts a thirteen-minute-long concert at the annual Super Bowl. The first few performances consisted of various college marching bands, which later expanded to drill teams. By the third decade marking the Super Bowl’s existence, showrunners wanted to partake in the rise of popular music. Some of the most iconic artists to perform at the Super Bowl include Ella Fitzgerald, New Kids on The Block, and the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. But the artists headlining the Super Bowl do not get paid. Instead, the league invests millions of dollars to produce the show, along with the travel expenses of the performer’s family and friends.
After Maroon 5 was announced to play the halftime show in 2019, fans started a petition requesting them to withdraw. This show would include rappers Travis Scott and Big Boi. Scott agreed to perform if the NFL made a contribution to Dream Corps, a social justice organization that focuses on climate change and prison reform.
The most recent Super Bowl show, featuring Rihanna, raised eyebrows. Her performance caused controversy, with viewers complaining to the FCC over what they deemed vulgar and sexualized dancing. Some called Rihanna’s performance “evil” and “Satanic” due to her deep red jumpsuit that showed off her pregnant figure while her backup dancers wore white.
While this is certainly not the first controversy the league has faced (think back to Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s embarrassing malfunction in 2004), the question remains: will the league call it quits and no longer include the halftime show? Not if the league keeps making money, and they certainly are. Getting rid of the halftime show would mean a massive loss of profit for the NFL and Apple Music, the show’s newest sponsor. In fact, the game alone draws tens of millions for the league, which allows them to put on exorbitant shows every year.
But the only ones who aren’t paid for their work are the performers the league clamors for. As contract workers, they are hired with the intention of being paid. The NFL doesn’t pay because the performance gathers exposure for the artists who perform. If the league continues with this business model, it could be a matter of time before the NFL financially suffers. Perhaps if major artists decide to make a collaborative effort to demand pay, the NFL might finally start paying up. Or, if they’re really deadset against paying, they could help artists who actually need the exposure (let’s be honest, Rihanna doesn’t need “free exposure”).
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