Rihanna has finally returned to music with her first solo song in six years. “Lift Me Up,” the end credits song from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and the lead single for the accompanying soundtrack, is a poignant and heartfelt tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman.
Written by Rihanna, Tems, Ryan Coogler, and Ludwig Göransson, “Lift Me Up” finds Rihanna pleading for a safe haven in the face of a loved one’s departure. “Burning in a hopeless dream / Hold me when you go to sleep,” she croons over a fingerpicked guitar, lullaby-light piano, and rousing strings. The song’s verses immediately call to mind Tems’s penchant for warping lengthy phrases and sentences into undulating melodies. In fact, Rihanna keeps some of Tems’s signature vocal inflections like the ever-so-slight vocal fry on “hold me, hold me,” which adds a bit of grit to an otherwise silky song. “Lift Me Up” utilizes an elegantly simple structure with the somber chorus doing the bulk of the work. The song steadily builds into a final chorus that loops in background vocals from Tems and some tasteful riffs from Rih, but a proper bridge would have helped build the song into a more cinematic affair.
Although we’ve heard Rihanna’s musical voice multiple times since ANTI dominated the world in 2016, it truly is beautiful to hear unaccompanied on an original song once more. She commands the track with a poise and intention that reveals how aware she is of the song’s literal and metaphorical meaning. She may be tributing both Chadwick and the character of T’Challa, but she’s singing for herself as well. Her timbre takes on an introspective bent, particularly when she sings “we need light, we need love” in the third verse, which reminds us that the strength to move forward must first come from within.
“Lift Me Up” is a stark departure from the anthemic upbeat feel of Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s “All the Stars” from the first Black Panther soundtrack and movie. Nevertheless, this darker and more somber approach seems fitting for a film that has to grapple with grief and mourning unlike the MCU has ever seen. With “Lift Me Up,” Rihanna enters the Oscar race for Best Original Song alongside fellow pop stars such as Lady Gaga (“Hold My Hand” from Top Gun: Maverick), Doja Cat (“Vegas” from Elvis), and Billie Eilish (“Nobody But U” from Turning Red). Regardless of what happens on the Oscars stage, none of the aforementioned songs are as touching as “Lift Me Up.”