Listen To This: Rihanna returns with powerful ballad ‘Lift Me Up’

Read about this week’s most notable singles by SZA, Holly Humberstone and more.

When we heard both Rihanna and SZA were releasing new music this past week, we couldn’t wait for Friday to come around. Neither disappoint with their latest singles — an emotional ballad and a broody R&B track. In this edition, we also feature new songs from Holly Humberstone and King Tuff. Read on for more.

“Lift Me Up” by Rihanna

Paree Chopra, Staff Writer

After a long-awaited six years, Rihanna returns to music with her powerfully emotional ballad “Lift Me Up,” which she wrote for the soundtrack of the upcoming Marvel movie “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” The soft piano at the beginning guides the building of string instrumentals and background choir harmonies that create a tone of somberance. The airy quality of the instrumentals allows for Rihanna’s graceful voice to define the ethereality of the lyrics “Keep me in the warmth of your love / When you depart, keep me safe / Safe and sound.” The song embodies the movie’s purpose as it pays homage to the life and legacy of the brilliant late actor Chadwick Boseman, who played the revered King T’Challa in “Black Panther.” Written alongside Ludwig Göransson, Ryan Coogler and Tems, Rihanna hits every note of pain in a way that pierces the heart, prompting us to remember those we lost. With lyrics like “Drowning in an endless sea / Take some time and stay with me,” the song feels like an acknowledgement of strength in surviving the agony of loss, but also like a warm hug that keeps you “safe and sound.” The song brushes the stroke of a comeback years in the making as it becomes a universal reminder of light and love at the end of a dark tunnel of pain. It only builds up the anticipation for what direction the icon will take in her upcoming Super Bowl 2023 performance.

“Shirt” by SZA

Yas Akdag, Music Editor

SZA might have some of the most patient fans out there. After teasing it two years ago, the artist finally released her newest single, “Shirt.” TikTok connoisseurs may recognize the song’s pre-chorus and chorus, which blew up on the app in early 2021. Over a boomy 808 bass, SZA sings in her loose, stream-of-conscious manner, “All I got right now / Feel the taste of resentment / Simmer in my skin, it’s all about,” before continuing, “Blood stain on my shirt / New bitch on my nerves.” The production, by Rodney Jerkins and Freaky Rob, is minimalist, featuring a flickering beat, spacey vocal chops and a subdued synth with reverb, chorus and tremolo effects on it. All of this allows for SZA’s vocals to take center stage, forcing you to pay attention to her words and melodies, which are dynamic as ever. Although it’s not her most groundbreaking song, on “Shirt,” SZA proves that her vocal presence and lyrical sharpness have only grown stronger. 

“Can You Afford To Lose Me?” by Holly Humberstone

Candace Patrick, Staff Writer 

Breakout star Holly Humberstone’s new track “Can You Afford To Lose Me?” is an honest and gut-punching breakup ballad that portrays the complexity of battling heartbreak and anger at the same time. Her slightly bitter lyricism contrasts her soft, whispery vocals that are evocative of artists like Gracie Abrams and Billie Eilish. But through her compelling performance, Humberstone still manages to get across her quiet hostility towards a former lover. Backed by retro-sounding synths and a mellow piano melody, she croons in the song’s chorus, “So go ahead and do your worst / But don’t you go and cry when it hurts / Can you afford to lose me? / Go ahead and pack your bags / But, once you’re gone, you can’t come back.” Later, she likens her role in their relationship to that of a life support machine, implying that she has given up trying to endure her ex’s burdensome emotional baggage and will at last be moving on.

“Smalltown Stardust” by King Tuff

Holden Lay, Staff Writer

On “Smalltown Stardust,” King Tuff infuses new elements into his sound, melding the angular qualities of grunge and a tight rolling drumbeat with the more familiar elements of psychedelic folk. Clocking in at just over three minutes, the eclectic production on this track is chock full of unexpected textures, flourishes and countless layers of guitars. Through this, King Tuff brings a soaring build and a sense of rising complexity to the song’s revolving melodies. He evokes Neil Young-like sincerity as he sings “I’m the one you want / Cuz I’m holding onto wonder / Holding something I can’t touch / Holding onto Smalltown Stardust.” His ethereal patchwork verses tell of “Headlights in an open field / Blizzard on the 91” and “Static on the radio / Broadcast from a dying world,” creating an ominous contrast with the warm purity of his catchy chorus — he seems to suggest something dark beating underneath the naivety of clinging to simple things. This track manages to feel as delicately constructed as it does amorphous. It’s exciting to see King Tuff finely tune his sound just as he blows it up.

Contact the music desk at [email protected].