This year’s NBA All-Star weekend halftime show will be an Afrobeats themed performance and it’ll be another of one the increasingly lengthy list of benchmarks that Nigerian music clears with…
●19th February 2023
Rihanna took to the stage for a performance at the National Football League’s (NFL) Superbowl’s halftime show, six and a half years since her last major performance at the 2016 Video Music Awards and even longer since her last album. As expected, the 13 minute set stole headlines from the minute it began, and packed in so many talking points—her pregnancy, her preceding long absence, and then the strength of the performance itself—that needed a few extra days for social media and pop culture to exhaust. Therein lies the power of iconic performances on the biggest sport stages, in the revival of old stories and creation of new ones, that when you watch such a set you know before it even starts that the world will spend the next week analysing, dissecting and relieving some of the moments to come. Which ones, you do not yet know. The NFL’s Superbowl reaches over a hundred million people each year, and a sizeable chunk of this figure is supplied by entertainers contracted to fill in the 15 minute halftime slot allotted to performances, and in the past this has come from acts like Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Eminem, Madonna and other similarly sized names—the biggest stars at the peak of their powers.
The National Basketball Association’s All-Star game is a decidedly smaller platform (asides the relative sizes of the court and field), pulling in less than 10% of the Superbowl’s viewers, but it attracts its fair share of top talents, which in the most recent past has included DJ Khaled, who brought on Mary J. Blige, Ludacris, Lil Wayne, Gunna, Migos and Lil Baby for his performance last year. Chance The Rapper headlined 2020’s show featuring DJ Khaled, Quavo and Lil Wayne; 2019 starred a single headliner, but J. Cole had no problems creating an unforgettable set all on his own. While expectation of top level artists may strongly influence viewership numbers ahead of a halftime show, it is the iconic performances that go on to live in the minds of people: ageless sets that appear to get better with every watch and will trigger a rewatch every time conversation circles back to it.
Rihanna’s performance as a headliner of the NBA’s Halftime show is now so old that a dozen years separates it from this year’s Superbowl, but even the discourse around this much bigger event will struggle to drown memories of the former, and not just because it was held on her 23rd birthday. For her performance of “All Of The Lights”, off Kanye West’s then 3-month old My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the rapper made a surprise appearance that came after she had already brought Drake on stage for a duet of “What’s My Name?”, and given a stripped-down performance of “Umbrella” with the aid of an orchestra. As that was one of the earliest performances of the track anywhere, as well as Kanye West’s first performance in a while, it was smartly timed to coincide with the official release of its music video, and was no doubt instrumental in the song’s seamless insertion into pop culture.
From Pharrell Williams’ headlining performance in 2014 guest-starring American rappers Nelly, Diddy and Busta Rhymes and ending with a delivery of the song of the summer, “Happy”; to Ariana Grande introducing Nicki Minaj in 2015’s halftime show for a partial recreation of hit single “Bang Bang” (without Jessie J) that matured into another joint single, “Side To Side” releasing from their stables the next year, the best halftime performers read the pulse of current pop culture trends, draw from it, and then go on to generate their own culture-defining moments. The global viewership these halftime performances receive make the NBA All-Star game a great platform to reach a multitude of fans even beyond the confines of North America.
Glossing over a list of previous headliners at the NBA All-Stars betrays with each added name a bias toward artists of the Hip-Hop genre. It is to be expected, this tilt in favour of rappers that the NBA holds, for Basketball and Hip-Hop are two fields in close contact in pop culture, drawing from and influencing one another chiefly as a result of the dominant Black American influence they share. This love is often expressed in fashion, where Basketball stars don shiny jewelry and loose fitting denim trousers readily associated with Hip-Hop stars, who in exchange regard authentic basketball jerseys and sneakers as some of their most revered articles of clothing. This close-knit relationship is carried over seamlessly to NBA halftime performances, and it’s no surprise to know that veteran rapper Wiz Khalifa has already kicked off this year’s weekend show with a rendition of his evergreen “Black And Yellow”.
The wildcard is then left to be provided by the main acts themselves, and they are none other than our very own trio of Burna Boy, Tems and Rema. It will be an Afrobeats themed performance, and another of the increasingly lengthy list of benchmarks that Nigerian music clears with alarming pace as it races for domination in global Pop culture. A selection of singers from Nigeria, Africa, may appear odd for a roster for an American All-Star game, but it highlights a sustainable and organic cultural impact backing Nigerian music’s accelerated rise of the last half decade—there is a lot more to our story than streaming numbers and chart positions. Burna Boy and Tems are Grammy award winners, to pick only the cream of their achievements, while youngstar Rema gathers certifications all over the world via the global success of “Calm Down”, and its Selena Gomez–assisted remix.
An NBA performance, especially one where each act can find support and camaraderie sharing a stage with compatriots, gives them a vital avenue to stamp their name more permanently in American culture. It is an uncommon twist from an American standpoint, especially because this year’s All-Star game will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah, and not one of the states with a larger population of Nigerian immigrants, but if Nigerians are famous for anything, it’s a capacity to adapt to and flourish in unfamiliar fields. As our contingent gears up to bring a piece of Nigerian culture to yet another global stage, it is hoped that their performance will be one for the ages, and will go on to generate positive conversations about their artistry and Nigerian music for years to come.
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