Song of the Week: Rihanna Returns to Music After Six Years with “Lift Me Up”

King Tuff, corook and Katherine Li also dropped essential tracks

rihanna lift me up
Rihanna, photo courtesy of the artist

    Song of the Week breaks down and talks about the song we just can’t get out of our head each week. Find these songs and more on our Spotify Top Songs playlist. For our favorite new songs from emerging artists, check out our Spotify New Sounds playlist. This week, Rihanna returns with a song written for the new Black Panther movie.

    It’s been over six years since Rihanna released new original solo material, 2016’s ANTI. Contrary to what some might have expected, though, the latest from the artist and business mogul isn’t an explosive comeback to introduce us to 2022 Rihanna — rather, the gentle, tender “Lift Me Up” features her singing over a sparse instrumental.

    Co-written with rising Nigerian artist Tems, Oscar-winning composer Ludwig Göransson, and director Ryan Coogler for Marvel’s upcoming Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the song was crafted as a tribute to the late, great Chadwick Boseman. “Keep me in the warmth of your love/ When you depart, keep me safe,” she sings. Boseman, of course, famously portrayed King T’Challa in a performance that re-shaped the conversation around representation in film, particularly the mammoth superhero genre.


    The loss of an actor like Boseman, who was known to be as luminous and generous in everyday life as he was on the big screen, is a devastating one. “Lift Me Up” focuses specifically on the idea of those who are gone continuing to love and protect the living, which is also a prevalent theme in the Black Panther films themselves; the first installment featured Boseman’s T’Challa unpacking the pressures of leading with his own departed father in a sacred ancestral plane.

    While few specific plot details are known at this point about Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, trailers have put the women in the story — including those portrayed by Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, and Danai Guirira — front and center, underscoring Rihanna as a perfect choice for a focus song for the film.


    “Drowning in an endless sea/ Take some time and stay with me/ Keep me in the strength of your arms,” she sings, proving that when it comes to making a comeback, a quiet, stripped-down song can make an impact, too.

    — Mary Siroky
    Contributing Editor

    Honorable Mentions:

    Palaye Royale – “Line It Up”

    Amid the release of their new album Fever Dream and a major appearance at this month’s When We Were Young Festival, Palaye Royale have shared “Line It Up,” a heartfelt track featuring singer-songwriter LP. “Line It Up” has an almost unexpected tenderness that finds the band reflecting on their touring lifestyle — lead singer Remington Leith vows that he’d “rather die/ than live my father’s life,” and asks, “Why should I go back to earth/ when all that’s there is tears and hurt?” It’s a commitment from the band to keep chasing their dreams, and as Leith and LP trade raspy, soaring high notes and defiant tales of ambition, it’s clear that both Palaye Royale and LP are exactly where they need to be. — Paolo Ragusa

    Nakhane – “Do You Well (feat. Perfume Genius)”

    South African musician Nakhane has teamed up with Perfume Genius for an effervescent club anthem, “Do You Well,” and it’s bursting at the seams with joy. About the track and collaboration, Nakhane says, “I liked that it’s a song that was not necessarily what people would expect from us: a sad, trauma-mining ballad. Instead I wanted us to make a banger.” Indeed, both of their energies are completely aligned, and it’s deeply satisfying to hear them combine their distinct voices in service of a dance floor release. It’s about the frenetic moment under strobe lights where you feel inseparably drawn to a partner, and with a sound that hearkens back to the original disco strut of Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder, it’s a passionate and unrestrained slice of queer joy. Nakhane and Perfume Genius are begging you: “Stay in the light!” That light has never looked so glorious and beautiful. — P.R.

    Anxious – “Where You Been”

    Anxious are starting to establish themselves as a certified banger factory. It was less than a year ago that the band dropped their debut full-length Little Green House, and apparently, an album’s worth of catchy, enthralling, emo-tinged indie rock tunes wasn’t enough. Now, following their recent single “Sunsign,” the group is back with “Where You Been.”


    Like the single that preceded it, “Where You Been” continues Anxious’ mission to find the stickiest, most engaging choruses ever put to tape. With its strong dynamics, layered production, and engaging lead vocals, the tune is as close to completing that goal as they’ve ever gotten. — Jonah Krueger

    King Tuff – “Smalltown Stardust”

    With an upcoming album of the same name, King Tuff is set to return with his first album since 2018’s The Other. As a first taste, the indie-psych artist has shared the album’s title track, an expertly-produced piece of psychedelic indie rock. The track swings back and forth between lo-fi, loose vibes and luscious, tightly performed high points. With its chord progression, compressed drums, and spaced-out lead vocals, the tune falls somewhere in between Yoshimi-era Flaming Lips and Father John Misty at his most unhinged. “Smalltown Stardust” is a triumphant return, one that certainly raises interest for King Tuff’s coming album. — J.K.

    Caroline Rose – “Love / Lover / Friend”

    Two years after releasing her 2020 full-length, Superstar, Caroline Rose returns with a song that showcases a different side of her talent. Where much of her past work has been grooving, satirical indie pop, “Love / Lover / Friend” is a considerably softer turn for Rose. With tumbling finger plucking and rising orchestration, the track demonstrates the artist’s range as both songwriter and producer as it ponders “the experience of commitment and the confusing dance that takes place finding your roles within it,” as Rose said in a press statement.


    It’s an intriguing and ambitious turn for Rose, one that fans will hopefully get a deeper sense of when she takes the road for a run of newly announce spring 2023 tour dates. Get tickets to all those upcoming dates (including stops at New York’s Webster Hall, D.C.’s 9:30 Club, Nashville’s Brooklyn Bowl, and Los Angele’s Fonda Theatre) here. — Ben Kaye

    Suzie True – “Backburner”

    Expressing intense anger, devotion, or insecurity doesn’t have to come at the expense of femininity. Just take Los Angeles’ Suzie True, who channel catharsis through blasts of sugarcoated pop-punk like their latest single “Backburner.” Equal parts queer love story and angsty self deprecation, vocalist/bassist Lexi McCoy turns clichés into unrestrained expressions of affection: “I wanna get drunk on the metro/ Yeah I wanna cause a scene/ Want you to kiss me in the rain/ Like some romantic comedy.”

    But Suzie True don’t skirt around the fact that nothing highlights your own shortcomings quite like an unrequited crush. “I know my place/ Backburner, slow learner, no I don’t deserve her,” McCoy hollers on the chorus over a roaring guitar. “Backburner” is the type of song you add to a playlist for mourning a relationship that never even happened. — Abby Jones


    corook – “smoothie”

    Nashville-based artist corook might be quirky — she’s a self-described dork — but when it comes to the idea of self-worth, she’s not playing around. “I was really shy and kinda droopy, I got blended up and smoothie,” she says between lines about the perfect pair of new jeans and “killing it like Carole Baskin.” The idea of self-image has been discussed at length in music, particular in the last decade, but you’d be hard-pressed to find another song that uses the imagery of blended fruit as the vehicle of choice for the subject. Somehow, corook is the kind of voice that makes it all work — everything sung here feels believable, raw, and true. — M. Siroky