Rihanna, ‘Black Panther,’ and the Panic of Anticipation


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The Navy must be losing their minds. Not the maritime wing of the US armed forces, but rather the internet collective of Rihanna stans, who found out this week that the singer is releasing her first song in six years on the soundtrack of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. That Navy is getting something they’ve been craving for a long time, even if it’s not her long-anticipated ninth album, the internet-dubbed #R9.

Funny thing, anticipation. (Or, for Rocky Horror Picture Show fans, antici—pation.) While Rihanna stans have been waiting for a new album since 2016’s ANTIMarvel fans have been waiting for a sequel to Black Panther since it was released in early 2018. That wait got more prolonged and painful following the sudden death of Panther star Chadwick Boseman in 2020. On Wednesday, when news broke that Rihanna’s new song, “Lift Me Up,” out today, would be a tribute to Boseman, hope for the track reached new levels.

It’s a sin, it seems, to want something so much. Fears of jinxing loom large. Expecting greatness shows faith in artists, but great expectations are too easily dashed. A song meant to herald the return of one of the biggest pop stars of the 21st century and mourn the loss of one of its greatest actors is a massive feat. Then again, if anyone can do it, it’s Rihanna, especially when she’s on a song cowritten by Wakanda Forever director Ryan Coogler, Afrobeats star Tems, and Ludwig Göransson, the Swedish composer who won an Oscar for his Black Panther score.

It used to be that music dropped on Tuesdays, movies came out on Fridays, and TV shows launched in the fall. Some of that, particularly the movie release part, is still true, but with streaming and other digital media services, everything is now about the art of surprise. Ever since Netflix started dropping whole TV seasons at once and Beyoncé started dropping full albumswith visuals, seemingly out of the sky, fans have grown accustomed to never knowing when the next earth-shattering release will come.

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