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Rihanna, 'Lift Me Up'

This is not a drill. After years of speculation and frustration from fans, Rihanna has finally returned to music. Her signature vocals float effortlessly atop "Lift Me Up," a beautiful ballad and the lead single from Marvel's upcoming Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack. It's been nearly seven years since Bad Gyal Riri's record-smashing album ANTI dropped in 2016, and well over two years since we've even gotten as much as a hook out of the pop princess turned mogul with her feature on PartyNextDoor's 2020 single "Believe It."

Co-written by Tems, Ludwig Göransson and director Ryan Coogler, "Lift Me Up" is a tribute to the life and legacy of actor Chadwick Boseman who died in 2020, as his role playing King T'Challa/Black Panther affixed him as an iconic figure to the Black community. "Lift Me Up" is tender at its core, Rihanna's vocals paired with sentimental lyrics taking center stage among a swirling interplay of strings. "Burning in a hopeless dream / Hold me when you go to sleep," she sings. "Keep me in the warmth of your love / When you depart, keep me safe / Safe and sound."

With Rihanna slated to perform at the 2023 Super Bowl, "Lift Me Up" raises the question of what this reemergence means in terms of where she's going musically. The Rihanna here on "Lift Me Up" is reminiscent of the rising pop star we saw back in the early 2000s, in the vein of the vulnerable, exposed singer heard on 2006's "Unfaithful." Even the cover art for the new track is remarkably similar to that of A Girl Like Me. With a legacy of eclectic production and arrangements behind her, if "Lift Me Up" is the beginning of a new Rihanna era then it might be one that centers her — stripped down, without the bells and whistles that have helped make her a pop icon.

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Ashley Pointer
Ashley Pointer is a news assistant for NPR Music.