Warning: this article contains spoilers for 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.'
Rihanna was not alone in the creation of "Lift Me Up": Collaborating with artist Tems, this single served as the opening song of the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack. She released "Lift Me Up" two weeks before opening night, exciting fans for both the rest of the soundtrack and the film itself.
As an artist who has consistently used her platform to spread awareness of or honor important societal issues or events, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was the perfect medium for Rihanna’s return to the music industry.
Since dropping the wildly successful ANTI in 2016 (reaching Platinum status in less than two days), save for a few measly features, it's been crickets for Rihanna on the music front. However, she’s certainly been focusing her energies on other exports, founding two businesses and maintaining her status as a social advocate.
Launched in 2017, her Fenty Beauty line has been lauded for its diverse and inclusive shade range, coming in an impressive 40 different tones. For comparison, the average brand hovers around ten. Rihanna included options both lighter and darker than the typical offerings, catering to anyone and everyone. The next year, she also created a presence in the clothing industry with her Savage X Fenty brand, which promotes inclusivity by featuring models of different sizes and skin tones. Furthermore, she was a prominent celebrity spokesperson for the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, using her platform of 138 million Instagram followers to bring awareness to the George Floyd tragedy, and issues of police brutality and systemic racism in general.
Returning to the music scene in the next Black Panther installment allows her to continue uplifting the Black community in the industry where she first made a name for herself.
The first Black Panther made waves with its release. The beautiful scenery, elegant costumes, dominance of a Black nation, and incredible acting sparked such a positive reaction across the Black community. Sadly, Chadwick Boseman—who played the titular character—passed away at only 43 years old after losing a noble battle with colon cancer in August 2020.
Fans around the world were devastated by his loss, mourning his talent. After the initial shock and sadness passed, the question arose: What was in store for the Black Panther franchise?
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever chose not to recast Boseman, instead honoring his memory through a powerful moment of silence in which a compilation of Boseman’s best moments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe rolled across the screen. As described by Letitia Wright (Shuri) on The Tonight Show, the movie felt like a “love letter to him.”
After the heartbreaking yet inspiring showing, Rihanna’s strong but solemn voice fills the theater on "Lift Me Up" during the film’s end credits. Her tone is deep and rich, dominating her foray into the lower octaves, each note bursting at the seams with feeling.
In addition to honoring Boseman’s legacy, "Lift Me Up" also marks a distinct change in Rihanna’s vocal style. Distancing herself from the dance–pop anthems such as "Rude Boy" and "Umbrella" she was previously known for may reflect her new status as a mother. This May, she welcomed a baby boy with her boyfriend A$AP Rocky, marking a maturation in both tone and content for her music.
On release day, fans discovered that Rihanna would also be closing out the movie soundtrack, with another ballad–esque release titled "Born Again." Around halfway through the song, Rihanna’s voice takes on a distinct air of resolve, as she belts “I’d die and come back just to love you / Just tell me what I need to do.” There’s a similar line "Lift Me Up," where she sings “Keep me in the warmth of your love when you depart / Keep me safe, safe and sound.” Both songs deal with intense themes of love and loss, honoring Boseman’s noticeable absence from the film.
The accompanying video splices scenes from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever with Rihanna on a beach in all–white. Some moviegoers were dressed in this color to honor Boseman’s passing, another small tribute to his impact.
Rihanna’s choice to re–enter the music scene not only with a movie that was so impactful for the Black community, but also with a tribute to an actor who played many prominent Black historical figures (James Brown, Jackie Robinson), shows her commitment to uplifting and honoring Black success.
Coming up next, Rihanna has announced that she’ll be headlining the Super Bowl’s halftime performance—however, she’s made no concrete plans for the release of her ninth studio album. Until Rihanna decides that the time is right to release, fans can listen to her other eight studio albums, watch her February 2023 performance, and appreciate the cultural significance of "Lift Me Up" and "Born Again."