All I want is a 2007 Prince Purple Rain Super Bowl halftime T-shirt. You know the performance? The one where the coolest man on the planet obliterated a 12-minute set amid a torrential downpour from a stage designed to look like his love symbol.
The shirt, unfortunately, doesn’t exist—I searched, vigorously. Though, to be honest, I didn’t even realize that was a thing a Super Bowl halftime performance artist could produce and sell, let alone something I’d want. Rihanna showed me otherwise. The newly minted billionaire dropped her Savage X Fenty (the clothing line she owns) Game Day collection and a Fenty collaboration with the NFL and apparel company Mitchell & Ness.
Rihanna, for the blissfully nescient few untouched by the Venn diagram of football fans and the Rihanna Navy (the artist’s music-starved fanbase), is headlining the 2023 Super Bowl halftime show—the first in the league’s partnership with Apple Music and RocNation, where she’s signed.
Despite recording two new songs—”Born Again” and “Lift Me Up” for the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack—Rihanna hasn’t released an album since 2016’s critically acclaimed Anti. Who could blame her? Since then, her attention has turned to becoming a requisite icon in fashion, a beauty industry mogul, mom, genius-level businesswoman, and commander of a self-made multi-billion dollar empire. Whether her 12 minutes at the center of Arizona’s State Farm Stadium ends with an announcement of new music or not, one thing is already clear: Super Bowl LVII is, for all intents and purposes, a celebration of the encompassing brand of RiRi.
“This year’s Super Bowl is the perfect stage for Rihanna—it’s a win-win strategy,” Ying Mu, U.S. general manager for Shanghai-based brand marketing agency Labbrand, wrote in an email to Fortune. Brands like AirBnb, Nespresso, and Marvel work with Labbrand when they need help entering the Chinese market, and Mu says the agency has been using Rihanna and her Fenty empire as a case study on the impact and culture context of America.
“Rihanna is already leveraging the opportunity very well. When we first saw the news, we anticipated that there might be sport-related collaborations or launches,” Mu says. “Of course, it’s an opportunity to elevate the Fenty brand and raise its awareness, but also it’s a moment for Rihanna to shift the focus on her music as well.”
While she won’t get paid for the performance (Super Bowl halftime performers never do), it’s the perfect opportunity to promote, well, Rihanna—a strategic move that’s already paying off; some of the items in her Game Day collection have already sold out. (Representatives for Roc Nation and the NFL did not respond to Fortune’s requests for comment.)
Rihanna’s music encore
There are likely teenagers getting ready for school dances for whom Rihanna is more synonymous with Fat Water toner and 50 shades of soft matte foundation than her single “Rude Boy.” Even still, Rihanna has a litany of brands as well as music industry accomplishments under her umbrella (it had to be said).
Her eight studio releases have sold more than 60 million albums and 215 million digital tracks, according to Roc Nation. And, per the Recording Industry Association of America, Rihanna still sits at No. 3 among artists with the most certified digital singles sold—putting her above Beyoncé, Kanye West, and Taylor Swift. (Drake and Eminem hold the top two slots.)
Music has obviously treated her well: Insider reported that according to Billboard, Rihanna pulled in some $20 million in 2016 from sales, streaming, and royalties. Her last tour, for 2016’s Anti, grossed roughly $110 million. Obviously, a mini Rihanna concert—something we haven’t seen since her 2018 Grammy performance—at the Super Bowl is gonna focus on the music. In fact, a lot of the hype, probably a solid 90%, has to do with whether she has plans to release a new album.
Even Mu, a self-admitted fan, said the halftime show is “bigger than just the performance itself, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she announces new launches, tour dates or—dare I say it—a new album.”
Page Six reported this week that there’s buzz around a possible tour announcement. Because that’s how you market RiRi.
If you’re a music artist in the modern day, streaming has eaten into your bottom line so you know that touring’s where the money is. PricewaterhouseCooper tagged live music as a $26 billion a year business and growing in its 2017-2021 entertainment and media outlook. But even then, for a pop icon, it wasn’t music but Fenty Beauty and Savage X Fenty that made Rihanna the youngest self-made woman billionaire.
Ready for her business close up
Rihanna’s reported $1.4 billion net worth is due in large part to her beauty and fashion business holdings. While LVMH didn’t break out individual 2022 revenues in its year-end report, the conglomerate said Fenty Beauty doubled its revenue. And last year, Bloomberg reported that Savage X Fenty could be valued around $3 billion or more as Rihanna and advisors contemplated an IPO.
That’s what’s going to be on display roughly 30 minutes into Sunday’s game—and for the full broadcast, if we’re being generous: the business of Rihanna.
“Fenty’s laser-focused and sharp brand positioning since the beginning,” Mu says. “It’s like she has planted a well-thought-out seed in the ground—core brand values—then all the brand actions reflect these values: the products, marketing campaigns, social communication, tone of voice, etc. And the seed will naturally grow into a tree that stands the test of time.
“With the hype and buzz surrounding Rihanna and the ‘Game Day’ products she has launched through the Fenty brands,” Mu continued, “it will help the NFL to attract viewers who might not have a strong interest before.”
Rihanna, Mu says, has shown herself to be a branding genius. Fenty Beauty has cemented itself as a symbol of diversity and inclusion among customers in the beauty and fashion industry in the same respects, Mu says, that Coca-Cola has branded to be associated with happiness and Disney with magic. Rihanna, however, has done it in far less time and has an opportunity to put her entire empire under the brightest lights the marketing world has to offer.
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