Halftime Leisure

“Lift Me Up” is a soothing, triumphant tribute from Rihanna

November 18, 2022

Design by Dane Tedder

A minute left before the Oct. 28 midnight official release of Rihanna’s “Lift Me Up,” time slowed to an agonizing crawl as a million questions surged to the forefront of my mind. Was this actually happening? Would I even like it? But as the first few notes rose softly into the darkness, all the worry faded away, a gentle calm falling upon the night. 

After six excruciating years of musical silence, pop icon Rihanna finally returned to the music scene with a stunning announcement. Shortly after announcing she would be the Super Bowl LVII halftime show performer, the Barbados-born singer—now beauty entrepreneur—revealed that she would lend her voice to the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) soundtrack with her single “Lift Me Up.” Elated fans took to Twitter, commiserating about surviving the extended drought in Riri music.

Anxiety was also palpable. After all the time spent focused on her lucrative makeup and beauty line, Fenty Beauty, and other non-music-related endeavors, would Rihanna live up to the hype built around her return? Beyond that, would the song even live up to the expectations surrounding the highly anticipated release of the Black Panther (2018) sequel? 

Following the tragic passing of beloved lead actor Chadwick Boseman, fans of the franchise wondered how the Marvel Cinematic Universe would adequately pay tribute to the originator of the Black Panther role. Living up to the legacy was a tall order—and Rihanna attaching herself to a high-stakes project like this stirred fear in fans. 

Rihanna fans have also struggled to navigate the singer’s controversial choice to feature Johnny Depp in a portion of her upcoming Savage X Fenty fashion show. Many longtime Rihanna supporters—including Olly Alexander, who announced he would no longer be supporting Fenty—expressed concerns over lionizing Depp. These concerns come in response to years of abuse allegations posed against Depp by his ex-wife, Amber Heard, and the high profile trial that concluded earlier this year, especially given the ruthless and often misogynistic public relations campaign mounted against Heard. Balancing all that, fans wondered: Was the wait worth it? 

With a resounding yes, “Lift Me Up” is the answer to years of muddled emotions and building anticipation delivered in a deceivingly simple package. Rather than the party anthem many expected for Rihanna’s return, the song is a sweet whisper that wraps its listener in a blanket of warm catharsis. From the first second, each lyric and note is steeped in a comforting sincerity that nudges the listener to embrace vulnerability as the song gently straddles the line between grief, melancholy, and hope.

“Lift Me Up” opens like a breath of fresh air as Rihanna’s soft humming builds over a slow rising, serene instrumental. Her vocals are clear and tender as she sings the first chorus: “Lift me up / Hold me down / Keep me close / Safe and sound.” Her satisfyingly simple lyrics lay bare a base yearning for comfort and security. Rihanna’s vocals parallel the bittersweet relationship many have with grief, and the lyrics channel a characteristic weighty disillusionment: “Burning in a hopeless dream.”

However, in its prevailing gentleness, “Lift Me Up” champions healing above all else. Responding to pandemic-induced loss and dislocation, the single comes as a ray of light peeking through hazy grief. Hold tight the memory of love and warmth, she says: “Hold me when you go to sleep / Keep me in the warmth of your love.”

“I wanted to write something that portrays a warm embrace from all the people that I’ve lost in my life,” co-writer Tems told Variety. “I tried to imagine what it would feel like if I could sing to them now and express how much I miss them.”

Despite its lyrical simplicity, “Lift Me Up” channels hidden complexity in its instrumentals and Rihanna’s phenomenal vocals. Steady use of light, gentle instrumental motifs are reminiscent of a new day’s sunrise. The instrumental is rousing from start to finish, maintaining a prevailing sense of new life after death as the song progresses. The ethereal combination of piano and harp accompaniment pairs perfectly with Rihanna’s sweet and steady vocals as the song walks the listener through the highs and lows of grief. 

Carrying a central thesis that love prevails beyond loss, the song is a strange-yet-comforting concoction of a lullaby, a funeral procession, and a healing chant all rolled into one. The rawness of Rihanna’s vocals don’t diminish: As the song reaches its climax, she repeatedly calls for the love and comfort of lost loved ones in a brilliant falsetto that feels like a final, joyful release as she repeats, “I need love / Hold me,” before finally ending, “(Keep me safe) We need light / We need love.”

While “Lift Me Up” is far from Rihanna’s first foray into ballads (see the heart-wrenching “California King Bed” or the eternal “Stay”), the song still came as a drastic, yet welcome, change in pace for the singer. It’s undeniable that Rihanna is most well-known for her more dance-centric, R&B-leaning releases; “Lift Me Up” is squarely out of her comfort zone, no matter her history of genre-hopping.  

With her iconic tracks like “Bitch Better Have My Money,” “Umbrella,” and even songs that tapped into her Caribbean roots like “Pon De Replay,” Rihanna cemented herself as a singer who thrived on her more upbeat or gritty records. However, with “Lift Me Up,” Rihanna proved that she was far more versatile than many gave her credit for; the song taps into a realm of vulnerability—love surviving through loss—never before explored by the singer. 

As the world celebrates the long-awaited release of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, fans can rest easy as this single sets the perfect tone leading into the film. Shrouded in grief, the Black Panther sequel aims to reconcile the still-felt loss of Boseman while also carefully navigating what it means to “move forward.” “Lift Me Up” seamlessly intertwines itself within the film’s narrative while also tenderly addressing the audience as they experience fresh waves of grief for a cultural icon. It shepherds the move forward for Boseman fans and regular listeners alike, asking listeners to welcome the next chapter lovingly.

Ajani Jones
Ajani is a Junior in the College majoring in Linguistics. He is the Executive Editor for Resources, Diversity, and Inclusion. He is also really, REALLY excited for the Percy Jackson TV show and will not shut up about it (still won't).

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David Moore

Wow, your insightful description of this song and how Rhianna sings it is beautifully done. “tenderly addressing the audience…” is exactly how I received it live at the theatre. Thank you.