Sunday night marked the long-awaited return of pop superstar Rihanna, who ended a seven-year hiatus to headline the Super Bowl halftime show.

After the billionaire business mogul announced last September she had accepted the gig from the NFL, fans speculated about the possibility of new music and which artists would join her onstage. But mainly, they wondered what kind of performance she would deliver after being away for so long.

Well, new music came last November in the form of two songs for the “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” soundtrack. And while no surprise musical guests joined Rihanna onstage, there was the surprise announcement of her pregnancy with her second child.

As for the halftime show performance, the nine-time Grammy Award-winning artist delivered a nearly 14-minute, visually stunning medley of some of her greatest hits, including “We Found Love,” “Pour It Up,” “Umbrella” and “Diamonds.” Regardless of how some felt about the energy of the performance, the star reminded everyone why the “Rihanna reign just won’t let up”: Her catalog can’t be denied.

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But as we move on from Sunday night, we’re left with the question: Who is next to take the Super Bowl stage?

Here are some acts I’d like to see headline next year’s halftime show.

Usher

Usher is long overdue to headline. Why, you might ask? It could be because of his nine No. 1 Billboard hits. Maybe it’s his eight Grammy wins. How about his selling more than 65 million albums worldwide?

If the numbers don’t convince you, then how about just facts: Usher has proven himself to be generational talent — a singer, dancer and overall great performer who constantly pushes himself every time he steps on a stage.

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The current discourse on social media is that the 44-year-old star doesn’t have enough “pop hits” to carry out a 15-minute halftime show performance, which is asinine. Usher’s career spans nearly 30 years and is filled with songs that continue to prove his consistency and ability to adapt to present day mainstream R&B.

Also, Usher has a Vegas residency that continues to add dates to meet demand. Artists aren’t just handed residencies if there was any doubt about their catalog.

Another important note: 2024 marks the 20th anniversary of Usher’s “Confessions” album, a certified classic. What better way to celebrate that than by performing some of those hits during the Super Bowl?

Janet Jackson

Let’s be clear: Janet Jackson is owed a do-over. More importantly, she’s long overdue for an apology.

Following the February 2004 Super Bowl halftime show where pop star Justin Timberlake ripped a piece of Jackson’s costume, inadvertently exposing her bare breast in a botched stunt, Jackson was harshly criticized and took most of the blame for the “wardrobe malfunction.”

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Timberlake essentially avoided the controversy and years later headlined his own halftime show in 2018, which sparked the annual “Janet Jackson Appreciation Day” on social media, where fans share favorite songs and the star’s most iconic moments.

Not that Jackson needs to perform to enhance her legendary career, but if she decides to return, it would right a wrong that she’s endured for the better part of nearly 20 years.

If there’s any doubt about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee’s ability to hang with the full length of a halftime show, Jackson recently announced her “Together Again” tour, which launches in April and has a stop in Baltimore in May.

Mariah Carey

I could spend all day listing off accolades for Mariah Carey. I could mention that she’s now a part of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, list all the records she’s broken since 1990 or drop the latest streaming stats, but there isn’t any need.

Carey has one of the most recognizable voices in music. She has the range to deliver a powerful yet entertaining performance.

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Former TV and radio show host Wendy Williams said of Carey: “She’s an icon, she’s a legend and she is the moment.”

I would love to see what Carey could do with her endless hits and a great set design.

Taylor Swift

Though I am far from a “Swiftie,” I still can’t ignore that Taylor Swift has become one of the biggest pop stars on the planet.

Swift has captivated audiences with her record-breaking albums, sold out arenas across the world and carved her own lane as a performer who hangs with the best of the best.

According to reports, Swift was too busy re-recording her first six albums to even think about performing this year. But she is the most likely frontrunner for next year’s show.

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Drake

“Draaaake?!?” Yes, Drake is on this list.

While some fans held out hope for the Toronto-born rapper to join Rihanna on stage Sunday night, he didn’t. But Drake has an impressive catalog and the style and charisma to go the distance for his own halftime show.

Whether you like him or not, you can’t deny the 36-year-old’s influence over hip-hop and pop culture.

No rapper has been a solo headliner of the halftime show. Maybe it’s time for offer the opportunity to Drake?

Lizzo

Of the acts listed, Lizzo is definitely the newcomer of the bunch, but she is becoming more and more of a household name.

Every time the 34-year-old Grammy Award-winning artist takes a stage, she gives 110% in her performances.

Lizzo’s versatility in her sound makes her stand out amongst most of her peers in music today.

If not next year, we could definitely see Lizzo headlining a show before the decade is over.

tramon.lucas@thebaltimorebanner.com