Pop

First Stream: New Music From J Balvin & Bad Bunny, Ed Sheeran & Khalid, Whitney Houston & Kygo, & More

J Balvin and Bad Bunny
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J Balvin and Bad Bunny

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, J Balvin and Bad Bunny make sure the Latin world is watching the throne, Ed Sheeran has another can’t-miss collaboration and Kygo receives a legendary assist. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:

The Album That Just Became Your Go-To Beach Party Music:
J Balvin & Bad Bunny, Oasis

In the year since J Balvin and Bad Bunny linked up with Cardi B for the summer-ruling smash “I Like It,” both Latin artists have continued to grow their respective global profiles with recent albums, international tours and enviable collaborations (Bad Bunny with Drake, Balvin with Rosalía... you get the picture). With Oasis, a surprise new joint project, the pair of friends and burgeoning superstars could have phoned in a victory lap and still kept their stream counts sky-high, but the eight-song release remains nimble and engaging, with Balvin and Bunny playing off each other’s pop instincts on some songs and challenging each other to innovate on others. While “Que Pretendes” makes for an obvious lead single and summer anthem, “Yo Le Llego” is especially worth returning to as a continuation of Latin trap that positions their singing and rapping in absorbing new ways. These are two special talents, and it’s generous of them to decide to heat up the summer together.

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First Stream (6/28/19): New Music From J Balvin & Bad Bunny, Thom Yorke & More | Billboard

The Song That Will Make You Reflect In Between The Good Vibes:
Ed Sheeran feat. Khalid, “Beautiful People”

Ed Sheeran and Khalid… with a Marilyn Manson cover? Not exactly, although two of the biggest commercial artists of the past few years have nevertheless teamed up for a cultural commentary that joins the growing collection of recent I-don’t-belong-at-this-party pop tracks. Whereas Sheeran’s other No. 6 Collaborations Project tracks have thus far been relaxed and summer-friendly, “Beautiful People” remains melancholy, musing on the “surrounded but still alone” lifestyles of the rich and famous. The change-up works in part because Khalid, who delivers another charming vocal take, is very comfortably in his contemplative lane here.

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The Song That’s a Simple Reminder of a Legendary Talent:
Kygo & Whitney Houston, “Higher Love”

Amazingly, it has been a decade since Whitney Houston’s name was attached to a new single — the artist, who passed away in 2012, last released new music in 2009. Her cover of Steve Winwood’s 1986 hit was originally issued as a Japan-only bonus track in 1990, and now, Norwegian super-producer Kygo has reworked the vocal into a track that is both modern and timeless. Repeated listens reveal the details in Kygo’s arrangement, but the draw here is clearly Houston’s voice, forever an instrument of joy and transformative power. We will always love it, and always miss it.

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The Album To Listen To On Headphones, Waiting Moments of Utter Beauty:
Thom Yorke, Anima

The rollout of Thom Yorke’s third solo album -- a quasi-surprise release that is accompanied by a short film, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, now available on Netflix -- stands in direct contrast to how insular the Radiohead frontman’s latest release sounds. In the past, Yorke has used his own moniker to explore musical impulses that didn’t quite fit in with his arena-conquering band’s catalog, but Anima is his first project that sounds entirely made for him: skittering, strange, sparse but danceable, Yorke and producer Nigel Godrich have offered nine songs with an electronic sheen but Yorke’s beating heart at their center. “Dawn Chorus” is the moment of astonishment, but “Not The News” is just as impressive, as a slice of restless dubstep that Yorke sinks into wholeheartedly.

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The Album That Squeezes In (Nearly) All of Hip-Hop’s Elite:
Mustard, Perfect Ten

Over the course of his career as a recording artist, Mustard has tended to pull several A-listers, for whom he’s provided production, onto his own albums for star-studded if slightly overstuffed full-lengths. Perfect Ten includes some of these high-wattage moments -- “On God” finds YG, Tyga, A$AP Ferg and A$AP Rocky all competing to own the track’s four minutes and change -- but Mustard’s latest soars highest when he pares down. Top 40 hit “Pure Water” tosses Migos a raucous beat and then gets out of the way for one of the most essential rap songs of the year; elsewhere, the title track cedes the floor to late legend Nipsey Hussle and his unique sense of storytelling. And kudos to Mustard for giving a major chance here to rising Compton star Roddy Ricch, who makes the most of a stripped-down beat on “Ballin’.”

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The Song With The Backstory That Will Provoke One Giant ‘Awww’:
Chris Lane, “Big, Big Plans”

The “big, big plans” steady country singer-songwriter Chris Lane is singing about on his latest track? They involve proposing to his fiancee, Lauren Bushnell, and capturing that heartwarming moment in song form. Lane maximizes the sentimentality by being straightforward with his intention — “I’mma put a diamond on her hand,” he declares — and leaning into a pop hook that sounds like it could be a boy-band singalong with a little extra twang. If the song wasn’t enough, Lane videotaped the actual proposal prior to its release, which you can watch and cry to here.

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The Album With The (Slightly) Misleading Title:
The Black Keys, Let’s Rock

Make no mistake: the Black Keys’ first album in five years does indeed rock, with Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney ending their hiatus with some blistering blues-rock, searing guitar solos and rolling drums. Yet the long-awaited follow-up to 2014’s Turn Blue is, in part, a startlingly subdued affair compared to the production on the group’s previous full-lengths: songs like “Walk Across The Water,” “Sit Around And Miss You” and the opener “Shine A Little Bright” pump the brakes on the riffs and allow Auerbach to roll through some snappy ’60s pop-rock arrangements. The result is a more varied Black Keys album, one that acknowledges the long-running group’s core strengths but refuses to offer one pose.

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The Song That Brings a Pop Star Into a Whole New World:
Ellie Goulding feat. Juice WRLD, “Hate Me”

Ellie Goulding is not a Soundcloud rapper (in case you didn’t know that!), but the U.K. pop mainstay approaches “Hate Me” from the same emo-indebted, trap-beat-heavy territory that helped artists like Lil Uzi Vert, Smokepurpp and Juice WRLD find stardom. The latter pops up here to bridge the gap for Goulding, who sneers “Tell me how you hate me” to her romantic interest over a somber rhythm. A veteran of Atlantic-spanning, kind-hearted electro-pop, Goulding takes a full gulp of the pleasure-and-pain cocktail on “Hate Me,” and the result is quite delicious.

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The Album Where Two Styles Go Together Like Peanut Butter and Jelly:
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, Bandana

The last time hard-nosed Indiana MC Freddie Gibbs and ethereal hip-hop whiz Madlib joined forces, it was five years ago, on the acclaimed collaborative project Piñata. That album uncovered a winning opposites-attract formula that Gibbs and Madlib thankfully return to on Bandana, upon which the producer supplies Gibbs with the type of careful crate-digging most rappers dream about, while the MC remains unflappable, lapping up any jazz-, psych- or soul-influenced beat Madlib stumbles upon. Pusha T, Killer Mike and Anderson .Paak all drop by, but this is a two-man operation, and it still sounds effortless.

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