First Stream: New Music From Taylor Swift, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen & More
Feeling overwhelmed by the new songs, albums and videos being unveiled today? You’re not alone. Billboard’s First Stream serves as a handy guide to this Friday’s most essential releases — the key music that everyone will be talking about today, and that will be dominating playlists this weekend and beyond.
This week, Taylor Swift strikes back against the Internet critics, new projects from Bruce Springsteen and Madonna are unveiled in full, and Miley Cyrus’ alter ego gets a wild intro. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
The Song That Serves as a New Anthem Against Your Internet Haters:
Taylor Swift, “You Need To Calm Down”
A few months after championing self-expression (and spelling) with her single “ME!,” Taylor Swift has dropped a catchy eye-roll toward the trolls with “You Need To Calm Down,” the second offering from her upcoming album Lover. And while her latest track takes aim at those who needlessly try to tear us down with their disingenuous online antics, its second verse takes a turn toward LGBTQ uplift: “Why are you mad when you could be GLAAD?” Swift asks. “You Need To Calm Down” features a similar bubblegum texture to “ME!” but with a subtler melody and sharper lyrics; as Swift’s latest project draws closer, she has dropped another positive pop tune, with a message of inclusion that resonates.
The Album With More Twists and Turns Than You’d Expect:
Madonna, Madame X
Nearly 40 years into her career and at her 14th studio album, Madonna still has plenty to say, and Madame X strikes several new poses for the pop legend. Madame X is more varied and exploratory than its predecessor, 2015’s Rebel Heart, with Maluma, Swae Lee, Anitta and Quavo all dropping by to contribute to the album’s overall vibrancy, while some of the full-length’s most meaningful moments come on the solo songs, like the Nutcracker Suite-sampling “Dark Ballet” and “I Rise,” one of Madonna’s most stirring album closers to date. Yet there are also delights for those searching for great new Madonna pop tracks: “Crazy,” a multilingual electronic waltz, features the type of strength and attitude that made Madonna a superstar. “I’m a force and I won’t tame, babe,” she declares on the track, both statements being unequivocally true.
The Album That Gives a Master Storyteller Some Fresh Ground:
Bruce Springsteen, Western Stars
Later this year, Bruce Springsteen will turn 70 years old, and while new album Western Stars presents more character studies than personal reflections on a monumental career, the Boss wears the trails of its aging western heroes as lines upon his own face. The result is a poignant landscape of everyday triumph and sorrow, from a songwriter with nothing left to prove but an insatiable curiosity for modern life and how we relate to each other. Western Stars is Springsteen’s strongest album in years, and may very well become his defining studio full-length of the 2010s.
The Song That Aims To Enter the Song of the Summer Race:
DJ Snake feat. J. Balvin and Tyga, “Loco Contigo”
DJ Snake, J. Balvin and Tyga all understand how to make rhythmic radio hits, and with their powers combined on new track “Loco Contigo,” the trio makes a late entry into the race for the top song to rule the hottest months of the year. The formula is pretty simple: Snake concocts an understated beat that harkens back to both Tyga’s “Taste” and Balvin’s “Mi Gente,” and the two vocalists put in work, Balvin first with his buttery singing and Tyga later with bars like “You like salsa? I’m saucy.” The likable “Loco Contigo” doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel for any artist involved, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
The Song With the Heaviest “Rockstar” Vibes:
Bazzi feat. 21 Savage, “Focus”
Andrew Bazzi has become something of a reliable hitmaker over the past year, as the 21-year-old followed his breakthrough single “Mine” with another top 40 hit (“Beautiful” with Camila Cabello) and another single, “Paradise,” that cracked the Hot 100. With new track “Focus,” Bazzi aims even higher: thanks to its hypnotic hook, and the singer’s vocal approach recalling Post Malone’s woozy crooning, the song sounds like it could certainly become Bazzi’s first top 10 hit. Speaking of Posty, 21 Savage stops by as he did on “Rockstar” for a dynamic assist, this time with an even more confident flow.
The Album That Lets a Rock Band Keep Dancing:
Bastille, Doom Days
In between its second and third albums, British alt-rock group Bastille scored its biggest hit to date thanks to an unlikely pairing with Marshmello on the sun-stroked electro-pop track “Happier.” And while Dan Smith and co. did not follow up that international smash by pivoting to EDM -- “Happier” is not included on the track list to their new album, Doom Days -- the Marshmello team-up does seem to have inspired a few more glances toward the dance floor. Recent single “Joy” lives up to its name with an enormous chorus that begs for movement, while tracks like “Bad Decisions” and “Another Place” push the tempo for the group. There are quieter moments here as well, like the heartfelt ballad “Divide,” but Bastille has adopted a more kinetic pace on Doom Days, and they’re better for it.
The Video For The Best Fake Pop Song of the Year:
Ashley O, “On A Roll”
Confused as to why Miley Cyrus has suddenly re-branded as a more cookie-cutter pop star named Ashley O (especially after releasing a new EP under her own name two weeks ago)? Never fear, Miley stans: Ashley O is simply the character that Cyrus plays in a new episode of Netflix’s sci-fi anthology Black Mirror, and “On A Roll” -- which interpolates Nine Inch Nails’ “Head Like a Hole” -- has been given its own standalone music video outside of the show. And that’s a great thing, because “On A Roll” actually rules, a slice of self-aware electro-pop cheese with an wickedly smart reworking of a rock song at its center. We can’t wait to hear Cyrus’ upcoming EPs, but... is it possible to get some more Ashley O songs and videos, too?
The Album With The Most Thoughtful Head-Banging:
Baroness, Gold & Grey
When it comes to alt-metal, Baroness has been operating on its own wavelength for years: frontman John Baizley and co. have earned several accolades (including a Grammy nomination) for testing the boundaries of hard rock while incorporating prog, jazz, sludge metal and psychedelic music into their own. Gold & Grey is another towering achievement, but surprisingly, some of its strongest moments are also some of its most gentle, such as the glacial ballad “I’d Do Anything” and the acoustic red herring of “Tourniquet.” But don’t worry - tracks like “Front Toward Enemy,” “Borderlines” and especially the breakneck “Seasons” assure that Gold & Grey is anything but hushed.
The Song That Could Finally Deliver a K-Pop Group To The Masses:
Monsta X feat. French Montana, “Who Do U Love”
K-pop artists like BTS, Blackpink and NCT 127 have all made lasting imprints on the Billboard charts in recent months, and while Epic Records signees Monsta X has yet to reach the Hot 100 chart, new single “Who Do U Love?” is designed to have the pop group forcefully grab the attention of American audiences. Not only does the English-language single feature French Montana (in one of his goofier modes no less, with a name check of Knicks great Marcus Camby!), it also features a fluttering R&B-pop arrangement straight out of the late ‘90s boy band playbook. Monsta X has developed a dedicated international following, and with the guileless and exuberant “Who Do U Love?,” they’ve clearly set their sights stateside.