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Rihanna Is Finally Back With New Music. Here’s What She’s Been Up to Since ANTI—and What’s Next

12 minute read

It’s been exactly 2,465 days since the global pop icon Rihanna released her last album, ANTI, and after years of teasing music but not releasing it, the musical drought is finally over. The “Diamonds” singer released her first solo single in six years, titled “Lift Me Up,” for the new Black Panther: Wakanda Forever movie soundtrack. The song comes after years of dashed hopes for fans. Rumors of a double album never came to fruition, and the singer was spotted at the studio multiple times over the past couple of years.

Her new song, released today, showcases the maturity in her voice—and it’s enchanting. It’s unclear where the song will be placed in the movie, but either way it’s sure to pack an emotional punch in a movie whose emotional stakes are already high, following the death of star Chadwick Boseman. Director Ryan Coogler told The Hollywood Reporter at the film’s world premiere on Wednesday that they were taking the second film in a “different direction,” and his team was “looking for artists who could embody [the film] thematically… and Rihanna was at the top of that list.”

As we prepare for a Rihanna comeback, let’s discuss the new song, what’s on tap for her next, and refresh our memories with all that she’s done over the nearly seven years since ANTI.

What to know about her new Wakanda Forever single “Lift Me Up”

Rihanna lent her vocals to the first single off the soundtrack for the highly-anticipated Black Panther sequel, out Nov. 11. Her voice is crisp and flutters beautifully across the track, showcasing her matured vocals. Written by the burgeoning Nigerian musical star Tems (who was featured on Beyoncé’s RENAISSANCE) along with Rihanna, Oscar-winning composer Ludwig Göransson, and director Ryan Coogler, it’s a moving tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman, who died of colon cancer in August 2020.

The song is not what most people were expecting—for better and for worse, depending on who you ask. The songwriters opted for a soft piano ballad that features very minimal production aside from the Bajan singer’s earnest vocals. Tems told Complex that she wanted to write a song that portrayed “a warm embrace from all the people that I’ve lost in my life” and the song does just that. The overwhelming majority of users on Twitter uploaded positive tweets about the song, with some saying it’s “a masterpiece.”

But it’s not for everyone. Some fans found the song anticlimactic after waiting six years for new material from the superstar. Some thought it was too slow; it was a complete 180 from the first movie’s soundtrack, which featured the smash hit “All The Stars” by Kendrick Lamar and SZA. But given that the song is affiliated with the movie, it doesn’t necessarily mean this is what Rihanna’s new music is going to sound like. That’s still to be seen and yet to be announced.

What’s up next: the Super Bowl Performance and (fingers crossed) more new music

Following the NFL’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick because of his silent protests against racial injustice, Rihanna told Vogue in 2019 that she turned down an offer to do the Super Bowl LIII halftime show in solidarity with Kaepernick. “Absolutely. I couldn’t dare do that. For what? Who gains from that? Not my people.” The tide seems to have turned as she was confirmed to be undertaking the Super Bowl LVII halftime show on Feb. 12, 2022—her first performance in five years. All eyes will be on her return to the stage and whether fans can expect some solo music before or after her (presumably) epic performance.

A comprehensive list of everything she’s been up to since 2016

Fenty x Puma Fashion Line—August 2016

Towards the tail end of the world tour supporting her last album, Rihanna teamed up with the sportswear brand Puma. Together, they released four collaborative collections throughout four seasons: Fall 2016, Spring/Summer 2017, Fall/Winter 2017, and Spring/Summer 2018. They included dresses, hoodies, pants, chokers, and more, with the shoes, in particular, proving especially popular.

Met Gala Appearances—May 2017 – May 2021

The epitome of the colloquial phrase, “understood the assignment,” Rihanna has long been the one of the most sought-after and highly anticipated Met Gala attendees because of her dedication to not only serving a look, but interpreting each gala’s theme. Her prowess on the red carpet, from her show-stopping and highly-memed yellow Guo Pei cape dress in 2015 to a no-holds-barred Commes des Garcons dress for 2018’s Rei Kawakubo-themed event, eventually led to her co-hosting the gala in a custom John Galliano pope-inspired get-up in 2018 for the Catholicism-themed gala. In fall of 2021, at the first gala since the pandemic, her Balencaiga puffer jacket dress artfully hid her growing baby bump and in May of this year, while she was unable to attend the 2022 Met Gala, Vogue paid homage to her fashion legacy at the event by creating a virtual statue of her birth announcement cover shoot for the magazine and digitally reconstructing it in the museum’s sculpture hall.

Read more: The Internet Is In Complete Agreement. Rihanna Is the Undisputed Queen of the Met Gala

“Wild Thoughts” by DJ Khaled featuring Rihanna and Bryson Tiller—June 2017

This song was everywhere and instantly became a contender for the song of the summer. Rihanna was the natural fit for this Carlos Santana-sampling track, and she slinked around its thumping bass and plucking guitar, basically making the song her own. It debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 with over 36 million streams in its first week, growing to its current 918,000,000.

Fenty Beauty—September 2017

Fenty Beauty’s mark on the beauty industry is undeniable. Her foundation product set out to change the industry by having a more inclusive shade range to fit a multitude of complexions. It stretches to 50 shades, pushing other makeup brands to reexamine their inclusivity, or lack thereof. She’s continuously pushed for inclusivity in this brand and every other she’s created so far.

Read more: Rihanna on Building a Beauty Empire: ‘I’m Going To Push the Boundaries in This Industry’

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets—July 2017

This isn’t Rihanna’s first movie (see: 2015’s Battleship) and it’s not particularly noteworthy, due to its generally mixed reviews from critics. (Rotten Tomatoes has the movie at a 48% approval rating.) But she did play a role as a shapeshifting alien entertainer alongside her long-time friend, Cara Delevigne.

TIME 100—April 2018

Rihanna’s first time on TIME’s 100 most influential people list was in 2012, but in 2018, her influence was again undeniable with an ever growing business empire that now includes Fenty Beauty, Fenty Skin and Savage x Fenty, all under the Fenty Corporation. TIME tapped another global superstar, Adele, to write the blurb for her. “The innovative and groundbreaking world of Rihanna that no one else will ever be safe in and get away with copying,” Adele wrote. “She makes her own rules and bends ours.”

Savage x Fenty Lingerie Collection and Runway Shows — May 2018 – November 2022

When Rihanna launched her Savage x Fenty lingerie line, it marked her definitive stake in the fashion industry beyond her wildly successful Puma collaboration. Built on her foundational values of radical inclusivity and self-expression, the lingerie collection garnered rave reviews, especially after her runway show in Brooklyn showcased a wide range of racial and body diversity, with models like Paloma Elsesser, the Hadid sisters, and a pregnant Slick Woods all walking. The following year, Rihanna innovated yet again with a televised streaming special for her Savage x Fenty show, which is not only a celebration of inclusivity and diversity, but also filled with musical performances, celebrity cameos, and major choreography. The streaming makes the show accessible to all fans, furthering Rihanna’s ethos of inclusivity; something she continues for all her Savage x Fenty shows leading up to the upcoming show, Savage x Fenty Vol.4, which will make its debut on Nov. 9.

Read more: Rihanna Keeps Reinventing the Lingerie Fashion Show with Savage X Fenty

Ocean’s 8—June 2018

Starring alongside Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Mindy Kaling, Anne Hathaway, Awkwafina, Sarah Paulson, and Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna rounded out this feel-good female heist film spin-off of the “Ocean’s” franchise. The film was touted for the chemistry between the stars, with Rihanna playing the genius hacker Nine Ball. The New York Times wrote that she was “underused,” and Refinery29 said in their review that Rihanna’s performance was “both funny and authentic, and her willingness to go against type is refreshing.”

Fenty Fashion House—May 2019

When Rihanna created Fenty, her ready-to-wear high fashion brand for luxury powerhouse LVMH in the spring of 2019, she became the first Black woman to lead a major fashion house. The line generated plenty of buzz, with its sleek yet sexy silhouettes, affinity for sumptuous materials, and high-profile shoe collaboration with the footwear designer Amina Amuaddi. But it was mutually put on pause by LVMH and the Bad Gal in February 2021, in the midst of pandemic uncertainty.

Autobiographical Phaidon book, Rihanna—October 2019

When Rihanna released her self-described, eponymous autobiography—a 504-page, 15-lb large-format tome from art book purveyor Phaidon—it was less reading material for the Navy than it was an epic photo dump, albeit the most glossy, glamorous photo dump ever. Comprised of 1,050 color photos, three different paper stocks, and seven single and double gatefolds, the book, though hardly a substitute for an album, is an epic visual memoir full of behind-the-scenes snapshots, party photos, and sweet memorabilia ranging from Robyn’s early life to her ascendence into superstardom.

“Believe It” with PARTYNEXTDOOR—March 2020

Rihanna has a thing for collaborating with Canadian sad boys. In March of 2020, four years after her collaboration with the most recognizable Canadian sad boy, Drake, on “Too Good” for his 2016 album Views, she assisted Canadian artist PARTYNEXTDOOR on his track, “Believe It.” While it was a minor part—her voice only appears on the chorus and some ad libs—it still gave fans some musical content after not having heard from her in a while.

Fenty Skin Launch—July 2020

One of the latest installments in her ever-growing empire of beauty and lifestyle brands was the launch of Fenty Skin in July 2020. She had already conquered the makeup market, lingerie, and apparel, and it only made sense that she take on a common celebrity endeavor: skincare. But hers was arguably the most skillfully done because she sought to make products that were for everyone; multiple beauty sites that have reviewed Fenty Skin say that she did just that.

Named Barbados’ 11th National Hero — November 2021

In November 2021, Barbados officially became a republic by swearing in its first president, Sandra Mason, thus ending its final ties to British colonialism after declaring its independence 55 years ago. In conjunction with the milestone, Barbados named Rihanna the country’s 11th national hero for, among other things, “her extraordinary commitment to the land of her birth.”

Pregnancy announcement—January 2022

After she announced her pregnancy in January, Rihanna, as is her wont, blazed a trail for all expectant people after her, by sporting the most striking (and possibly the most belly-baring) looks in the history of maternity wear. From a sheer black negligee over a matching bra and panties worn to a Dior show in Paris to a metallic silver crop top and matching low-slung skirt at a Fenty Beauty event, she raised the bar for pregnancy looks and made baby bump baring not only a trend, but a point of pride.

May Vogue Cover—April 2022

This May cover shoot was a milestone for many reasons: it marked Rihanna’s 30th Vogue cover and it helped cement her as a fashion-forward maternity style icon. The Bajan singer has graced the covers of American Vogue, British Vogue, Vogue Arabia, Vogue China, and more. She spoke about how excited she was for her bundle of joy while donning couture and doing so in the most Rihanna way possible.

Savage x Fenty Sport—October 2022

In 2014, Rihanna wore a Swarovski crystal-embellished gown to the Council of Fashion Designers in America awards. The gown was designed by Adam Selman, whom she appointed as the creative director to her Savage x Fenty sport line, which is set to launch on Nov. 8. The two creative forces collaborated on what Selman told Vogue is “lingerie-inspired activewear” and Rihanna said she was inspired to create this line because “being pregnant is a sport.”

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Write to Moises Mendez II at moises.mendez@time.com and Cady Lang at cady.lang@timemagazine.com