Banner Rihanna Superbowl

RiRi is back? Public discourse on Rihanna’s comeback

12 minutes to read
Maaike Lobbezoo

On the 25th of September 2022, the globally famous singer Rihanna posted a picture on Instagram and Twitter of her hand holding an American football. The picture started speculation among her followers. It would be a reference to the Super Bowl, the annual playoff game in the National Football League to determine the league champion. The Super Bowl is exquisitely known for its half-time show, where famous singers have fifteen minutes to perform for around 100 million people all over the world on television. Previous performances have been performed by artists such as Lady Gaga, The Weeknd, and Beyoncé. Later on that day of Rihanna's post, the NFL confirmed on their website that Rihanna is the 2023 Halftime performer at the Super Bowl in February.

In this paper, I will explore Rihanna’s Instagram and Twitter posts and examine the societal and historical context of the posts to get a grip on the different social platforms and their aim, as well as their usage. I will compare the two social mediums and their uptake by analyzing the public discourse on Rihanna’s comeback to the stage. I will examine this data through the lens of two methodological approaches: multimodality and symbolic interactionism.  

History and context

To understand the context of the posts, I will dive into a fragment of history of the singer Rihanna and the NFL Super Bowl.

Rihanna is the second best-selling female music artist of all time (Forbes, 2022) and has 8 studio albums in her name (Spotify, 2022). Even though her last album dropped in 2016, it has not been quiet around her. She has starred in a movie, launched her brand Fenty Beauty, which has been known for their inclusivity and diversity, and has become a mom. Even though her audience kept asking for new music, she never mentioned a date. Until now.

The National Football League, or NFL, is a professional American football league consisting of 32 teams. The NFL is the highest professional level of American football in the world (Jozsa, 2004). The Super Bowl is the annual final playoff game of the NFL to determine the league champion. Each year, during the break, an artist gets to perform. In 2023, it has been officially confirmed by the NFL that Rihanna will perform at the Super Bowl Halftime Show and thus make her comeback to the stage (NFL Official Website, 2022).

Multimodality and symbolic interactionism

To analyze the posts by Rihanna, I will first take a multimodal approach to the data. Multimodal discourse analysis is "an approach to discourse which focuses on how meaning is made through the use of multiple modes of communication as opposed to just language" (Jones, 2021). This approach to the data will help us interpret and define the meaning-making of qualitative data, as it consists of a mix of different ‘modes’, namely visual and textual cues. This will allow to see a distinction in the use of the two social mediums, Instagram and Twitter, and their public discourse.

In addition to this multimodal discourse analysis, I will take another methodological approach to analyze the data, which will be symbolic interactionism. Symbolic interactionism "addresses the manner in which individuals create and maintain society through face-to-face, repeated, meaningful interactions" (Carter, 2015). Symbolic interactionism emphasizes the microprocesses through which individuals construct meaning, as meaning changes due to interaction between people. It studies the various aspects of the social world; events, ideas, objects, people, and more, that impact and change humans (Franzese & Seigler, 2020).

I will use this framework to examine the interactions between users and the uptake the posts have generated and see the differences in the two social media platforms.

Rihanna's football post

The start of this analysis is a comparison between the look and features of the Instagram and Twitter posts by Rihanna on the 25th of September 2022.

Figure 1: Instagram post by Rihanna, Figure 2: Twitter post by Rihanna

Figure 1 is a screenshot of the Instagram post, made 18 hours after posting on the 25th of September. Figure 2 is a screenshot of the Twitter post on the same day.

To analyze these screenshots, I will first take a multimodal approach. In these screenshots, three different modes of communication can be defined. The most important mode we can define is the image of Rihanna’s hand holding the American football. The second main mode is the metadata, or in this case, the fact that the image has been posted by the official account of Rihanna ‘badgalriri’ on Instagram and ‘Rihanna’ on Twitter, and its caption. In the third mode, we take a look at the uptake metrics: the number of likes and the comments on both posts.

To illustrate the various modes, I have used the Instagram post and highlighted the several modes.

Figure 3: Modes in Rihanna's Instagram post

When we look at the data through the lens of multimodality, we can construct the indexical meaning of the posts. This meaning is constructed through multiple mode. First, the image shows the collaboration between the NFL and Rihanna. Second, in the meta data, the first thing we see is the blue check mark. This is an official verification that the account is owned by Rihanna, or her team. The second thing we see in the meta data is that the caption is simply a dot. The use of a dot is very clear, it is the end of a sentence. The image and caption seem very straightforward to mean ‘Rihanna + NFL = .’. The meaning of the post would have been different if the dot would have been a question mark or a comma. The third way to construct the meaning of this post is to take a look at the uptake metrics; the comments and number of likes. In Figure 3, we can see that the Instagram post has gathered 5,8 million likes in the first 18 hours after posting. To make a comparison, most of her posts on Instagram receive between 2 and 4 million likes.

As the image and the caption on both social media platforms is the same, it is interesting to analyze the difference in public discourse on both platforms. To do so, I will use symbolic interactionism as a methodological framework.

Instagram vs. Twitter

I have defined symbolic interactionism before as it ‘addresses the manner in which individuals create and maintain society through face-to-face, repeated, meaningful interactions’ (Carter, 2015). This means that people act toward things on the basis of meanings they ascribe to them. Therefore, we can use symbolic interactionism to analyze the public discourse of these Rihanna posts. We will examine the public discourse on Instagram first and then compare it to the public discourse that is happening on Twitter. Let us first review a comment posted by the account ‘bravowwhl’ in Figure 4.

Figure 4: comment by 'bravowwhl' below Rihanna's NFL post

This comment is the top comment under Rihanna’s Instagram NFL post. The verified account is the official account of the show ‘Watch What Happens Live! with Andy Cohen’ on Bravo TV. The comment says ‘NFL = National Fenty League [crown emoji]’. This is related to the National Football League, but instead of the letter ‘F’ for Football, the account has made a wordplay with Rihanna’s last name ‘Fenty’, which is also the name of her beauty brand. The crown emoji has meaning in popular culture as it being "a representation of a king, queen, or other form of royalty" (Emojipedia, 2022). This top comment has almost 44,000 likes and 280 responses by other users. This comment is a great example to illustrate that users online constantly interact with one another and through this process of interaction create meaning. A second comment we will take a look at is a comment by ‘nadiarosemusic’ in Figure 5.

Figure 5: comment by 'nadiarosemusic’

Nadia Rose is a songwriter and rapper who commented ‘LETS GOOOO RIRI!!!!! [American football emoji] [goat emoji]. The American football emoji is an association to the NFL as Rihanna is holding up the American football in the original post. The goat emoji has been used in popular culture as an acronym for GOAT, ‘Greatest Of All Time’ and has been used to describe influential people and celebrities as them being the best of their kind. On the basis of this emoji, this user compares Rihanna as her being the best. The uptake of this comment is 2,300 likes and 41 reactions by other users. Let us zoom in to one of the responses below nadiarosemusic’s comment in Figure 6.

Figure 6: reaction below nadiorosemusic's comment

This comment says ‘you’re on the album, aren’t you, Nadz? [side eye emoji]’. This refers to the speculation of fans that Rihanna is coming with a new album. The fan suggests that Nadia Rose might have collaborated with Rihanna on Rihanna’s speculated new album. This reply interacts with Nadia Rose’s original comment, which allows us to understand the microprocesses through which people interact and create meaning.To compare the Instagram public discourse to Rihanna’s Twitter public discourse, I will review two Twitter comments. The first one we take a look at is the top comment on Twitter in Figure 7.

Figure 7: top comment below Rihanna's Twitter post

This comment by @DanielRegha argues that Rihanna should distance herself from performing at events as she just had her baby. The uptake of this comment is 679 likes, 303 retweets, and 420 replies to it. We will look at a reply posted 4 days later in Figure 8 to construct the microprocesses through which users create meaning.

Figure 8: reply to the top comment of Rihanna's Twitter post

This reply by @AbigaeliWatieri shows the purpose of Twitter as opposed to Instagram. Through this data, we can see that Twitter seems more about free speech and opinions, while Instagram is about highlights and performance. On the basis of this reply, we can conclude that through the lens of symbolic interactionism, meaning is "constructed through multiple interactions in certain times and contexts" (Franzese & Seigler, 2020).

Figure 9: comment below Rihanna's Twitter post

The last comment I will review is this comment in Figure 9 by @Hazoras, which says “NAVY ASSEMBLE, It’s our timeeeeee!!!” Through the lenses of both symbolic interactionism and multimodality, this comment has multiple layers to unpack. In the meta data, we can see that this account replies to @rihanna with textual, being the caption, and visual modes, being the GIF. The user uses the word ‘navy’, which according to is "a group of strong, loyal people who all love Rihanna and have been inspired by her" (, 2022). This person calls on the fanbase of Rihanna to assemble, and therefore, to interact.

The Comeback

Through this case study I have given insight in the different usage of the social media platforms Instagram and Twitter by users after having seen the same post on both platforms. In short, by analyzing the public discourse on Rihanna’s Instagram and Twitter posts we can understand how users use both social media platforms to render meaning-making in a different way. By taking a multimodal approach to the data, I have examined the various modes that Rihanna uses to get her message across the platform. By taking the approach of symbolic interactionism as a methodological framework, I have zoomed in on various comments below Rihanna’s posts to understand the way users interact with each other and in this process of interaction make meaning. This case study has given an insight into the purpose of Twitter as opposed to Instagram: Twitter has as its goal free speech, while Instagram has performance and personal highlights as its central aim. Through this analysis on the public discourse on Rihanna’s posts, we can understand the way in which Rihanna uses her social media platforms to get her message across and announce her comeback to the stage in February.


Carter, M., Fuller, C. (2015) Symbolic Interactionism. Sociopedia.isa

Diggit Magazine (2022) Multimodal Discourse Analysis. Diggit Magazine

Emojipedia (2022) Crown Emoji. Emojipedia

Forbes (2022) Profile: Rihanna. Forbes

Franzese, A. & Seigler, C. (2020) Symbolic Interactionism. Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences. Springer, Cham.

Instagram (2022) Profile: badgalriri. Instagram

Jones, R. H. (2021). Multimodal discourse analysis. In C. Chapelle (Ed.), Encyclopedia of applied linguistics. Hoboken: Wiley.

Jozsa, F. P. (2004) Sports Capitalism: The Foreign Business of American Professional Leagues. Ashgate Publishing.

Kress, G. (2000) Multimodality: Challenges to Thinking About Language. Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. Vol. 34, No. 2, pp. 337-340

NFL (2022) International icon Rihanna takes center stage for Apple Music Super Bowl Halftime Show. NFL Official Website.

Spotify (2022) Profile: Rihanna. Spotify (2022) Rihanna Navy.

Twitter (2022) Profile: Rihanna. Twitter