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Rihanna was more entertaining than most of the Super Bowl commercials

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

In addition to the Kansas City Chiefs' down-to-the-wire win against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday's Super Bowl featured Rihanna in a halftime performance that left fans celebrating online and wondering if she was expecting. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says Rihanna's performance entertained better than most of the big game's commercials.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RIHANNA: (Singing) Better have my money. Y'all should know me well enough.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: From the moment she kicked off the TV friendly version of her 2015 hit "Better Have My Money," Rihanna brought a Super Bowl-sized spectacle to the Apple Music halftime show, singing from an illuminated platform suspended high in the air.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RIHANNA: (Singing) Like I'm the only one that you'll ever love.

DEGGANS: In a 13-minute set, Rihanna sang hits like "We Found Love" and "Only Girl (In The World)" surrounded by a football field's worth of backup dancers clad in white jumpsuits with hoodies and black sunglasses. Producers of the television broadcast excelled in capturing the visual grandeur, sending cameras swooping through the dancers in tightly choreographed moves. The fans online were talking as much about Rihanna's appearance. The singer had a bulge at her stomach that made her look as if she might be pregnant. And after the performance, media outlets, including the Associated Press and Rolling Stone, reported her representatives had confirmed she was indeed expecting her second child.

Given that news, Rihanna's triumphant performance was even more impressive. How many other music stars could hold the attention of an entire stadium, and a likely hundred million TV viewers, suspended high in the air while pregnant? If only the commercials in the big game were as good. But one of the most talked about ads was also something of a head fake. M&Ms candies made headlines before the game, saying they were pausing use of animated spokescandy (ph) characters, which had drawn the ire of some political commentators after they were revamped to be more inclusive. Instead, comic actress Maya Rudolph took over, adding clams to the candy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MAYA RUDOLPH: (Singing) Come with me to a magic land - bite-size candies filled with clams.

DEGGANS: The company revealed in a commercial after the game that the characters were coming back.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMBER RUFFIN: (As Purple M&M) I'm glad to be back because this is what I was made for. I mean, as a walking, talking candy, my options are pretty limited.

DEGGANS: Given that advertisers paid up to $7 million per 30 seconds for ad time, there were a lot of clunkers, including John Travolta singing a retooled version of his hit song from the musical Grease, "Summer Nights," for T-Mobile.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN TRAVOLTA: Home internet - what a pain in the...

DONALD FAISON: Hey, neighbor.

DEGGANS: A roast that featured Jeff Ross and other stand up comics making fun of the Planters mascot, Mr. Peanut.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEFF ROSS: I'll make this quick, Mr. Peanut. I know you got some brownies to ruin.

DEGGANS: And a commercial for a new movie about the superhero the Flash, with Michael Keaton delivering a line he first made famous back in 1989.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL KEATON: I'm Batman.

DEGGANS: OK. That one sounded pretty cool. But it's telling that one of the evening's most heartwarming commercials came from The Farmer's Dog pet food company, featuring a young woman growing old with a trusty dog she promises to take care of forever. It's a truism of Super Bowl advertising. A powerful story with a cute puppy always trumps big celebrities or high-price spectacles.

I'm Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF RIHANNA SONG, "WE FOUND LOVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.