ESPN sports commentator Stephen A. Smith, who makes a living from giving hot takes, is backtracking after his dig at pop musician Rihanna quickly riled fans.
During a Wednesday appearance on Sherri Shepherd’s Fox daytime talk show, Smith was asked about Rihanna’s upcoming Super Bowl halftime show.
“Ladies and gentlemen, she’s a lot of things — she’s spectacular, actually — and congratulations on new mama-hood,” Smith said of the Fenty founder, before pausing and drawing applause from the crowd. “There’s one thing she’s not: She ain’t Beyoncé.”
The crowd erupted into a wave of groans and boos, with sparse cheers.
“We know she’s not Beyoncé,” Shepherd responded, asking the crowd to “hold up.” After Smith tried to clarify by mentioning Beyoncé’s previous Super Bowl performances, Shepherd said, “Beyoncé performed, but she’s had her time. Now it’s Rihanna.”
After intense reaction online, Smith posted an apology video to his Twitter account Wednesday afternoon, first reported by TMZ, where he said he “meant it as no disrespect.” He called Rihanna “phenomenal” and “a sister” and said she’s “gonna be great” during the performance on Feb. 12.
“I want Rihanna to know you’re a superstar, you’re sensational, you’re spectacular. You’re no joke, and you are a worthy person to be doing Super Bowl halftime show,” said Smith, who captioned his Twitter mea culpa, “Apologies to Rihanna for my words, gotta be more careful!”
Even so, Smith spent most of the three-minute video praising Beyoncé, calling her “the greatest performer out there today.” He crowned her pair of Super Bowl halftime show performances — first in 2013, alongside her former Destiny’s Child bandmates, and then a surprise appearance in 2016 — “two of the greatest shows that I’ve ever seen.”
The NFL announced Rihanna’s Super Bowl LVII performance in September. More than six years since the release of her last album, “Anti,” the announcement prompted many of her fans to speculate that a new album was on the way. A month later, Rihanna dropped “Lift Me Up” for the new “Black Panther” film, her first single as a lead artist since 2016.
Smith’s original apology tweet on Wednesday included a jab at Rihanna’s fan base, known as the Rihanna Navy, calling them “worse than” Beyoncé’s Beyhive. That tweet, which Smith blamed on “an overzealous member” of his management team, was quickly deleted.
The Rihanna Navy had been roasting Smith online all afternoon since reports began to circulate about his comments on “Sherri.”
“Shoulda kept his mouth closed cuz nobody wanted to hear that take,” said one user.
Another said the take was “unnecessary” and begged Smith to “let Robyn shine,” referring to Rihanna’s birth name, Robyn Rihanna Fenty. Pop culture journalist Shar Jossell called the take “tacky.”
Many asked why Smith had to compare the two female artists at all, blaming him for trying to create avoidable conflict.
“It’s a pretty sad comment to make comparing two black female musicians who are completely different both performance wise and musically,” wrote a user behind a Rihanna fan account. “The comparison doesn’t even make sense because y’all are stuck in the 2009 … when they both did rnb. Grow up.”
In recent years, Smith also has apologized to the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani for saying the athlete isn’t the best star for Major League Baseball because he doesn’t speak fluent English. And in 2014, he walked back his comments that seemed to place blame on victims of domestic violence.