It’s been 5 years since Rihanna appeared on a musical recording. And it’s become a bit of a running gag. She’s not afraid to square up against fans desperate for a taste of new music, who think that 5 years is a long time to wait (talk to Guns ‘N Roses fans, Diana Ross fans, or Foxy Brown fans if you want to know what a long wait is really like). Though she hasn’t been putting out music, reports indicated that she did record on and off, and she’s more than kept herself busy. In the last half decade Rihanna became a billionaire beauty brand thanks to Fenty Beauty, journeyed into motherhood, and lived her damn life. All that didn’t stop fans from begging for her return to music. As the woman herself once said though, the wait is over.
“Lift Me Up” serves not only as Rihanna’s long-awaited musical resurgence, but also as the lead single to the similarly-anticipated Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, arriving in theaters November 11. The touching ballad seemingly picks up where ANTI left off: with a focus Rihanna’s voice. Over bare bones production, Rihanna’s unique tone comes front and center as she delivers a touching vocal. It’s a tribute song that sounds akin to a lullaby steeped in melancholy, landing somewhere between a plea and a prayer.
The song is clearly built for a crucial moment in the film, one that will likely illuminate how the script handles the devastating and sudden loss of Chadwick Boseman. It’s billed on Apple Music as a remembrance of Boseman. This will be an underwhelming listen for some, namely those hoping for something more upbeat and anthemic. It’s certainly not the banger many will hope for, which will likely arrive with the long-awaited album. However, “Lift Me Up” has a catchy, emotionally-charged melody, giving it strong replay value. Coupled with vocal-forward production, it’s ripe for the remixing. In fact, a quick search of SoundCloud will already yield a number of unofficial results that reinforce the song’s remixability.
Listening to the content of the record, it’s as if Rihanna never missed a step. On ANTI, she was exploring the texture of her voice, utilizing it more prominently than she had before in her more confectionary, radio-ready material. “Lift Me Up” continues that thread. Look at how she delivered vocals on the buzz single “FourFiveSeconds,” or album cuts “Love On The Brain,” and “Higher.” They were a marked difference from previous records. “Lift Me Up,” is certainly more akin to those records than earlier ballads “Unfaithful” and “Hate That I Love You.”
And look, Rihanna’s never going to top the greatest singers list. But she’s staking her claim for inclusion on the list, and it’d be foolish to exclude her. Remember, we don’t go into a Britney Spears record expecting Christina Aguilera-level vocals. Don’t come to Rihanna expecting Beyoncé-level vocals. And don’t mistake that for an inability to affect. For every “The Voice Within” and “1+1,” there’s an “Everytime” and “Lift Me Up.” Let her lift you up in her own way.