First Stream: New Music From Normani, Taylor Swift, Young Thug, Miley Cyrus & More

Sam Massey
Normani

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, Normani fully arrives as a solo artist, Taylor Swift reminds us of her songwriting gifts, Miley Cyrus explores personal turmoil and Young Thug gets his superstar moment. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:

The Song With The Music Video You Absolutely Have To Watch:
Normani, "Motivation"

Normani has already achieved post-Fifth Harmony success as a duet partner, as team-ups with both Khalid on “Love Lies” and Sam Smith on “Dancing With a Stranger” hit the top 10 of the Hot 100. “Motivation,” however, fully displays the type of solo artist Normani wishes to become: sultry and electrifying, rhythmic with a dash of New Orleans brass, the new single (co-written by Ariana Grande) perfectly threads the needle between sun-splashed throwback R&B and modern pop. And yes, you really do have to see that choreo-heavy music video, in which Normani struts, twerks, laughs and generally dominates in a way that recalls Beyonce, Britney Spears, Ciara and Ashanti, among others. Today, you can both hear and watch a new star ascending.

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The Song You Should Slow-Dance To With Your Partner This Weekend:
Taylor Swift, "Lover"

The tempo slows into a strummed waltz on the fourth preview of Taylor Swift’s forthcoming album, as the title track deviates from the bubblier sound of “ME!” and “You Need To Calm Down” and lands a lot closer to the studied reflection of “The Archer.” “Lover” is not a country song, but it certainly nods to the bare songwriting that marked much of Swift’s early career: “I’ve loved you three summers now, honey, but I want them all,” she declares, her voice unadorned, the production from Swift and Jack Antonoff kept to a minimal thump. Both aching and achingly pretty, “Lover” effectively transmits its romantic signals by putting the songwriting of Swift -- a masterful writer who gets the solo credit here -- front and center.

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The Album That Serves as a Beloved Rapper’s True Mainstream Moment:
Young Thug, So Much Fun

The time is now for Young Thug to become a real, live pop star: following years as a cult figure and influential auteur within the hip-hop community, Thugger has spent the past two years collecting a No. 1 smash with Camila Cabello, working with artists like Ed Sheeran and Calvin Harris, and jumping on an “Old Town Road” remix, among other things. As an extended summertime flex with tons of guest stars and a much more buoyant vibe than something like Barter 6, So Much Fun certainly lives up to its title. But this album also represents much more than a romp, as it truly could bring a long-essential rapper to another level. “The London” with J. Cole and Travis Scott is already a hit, and hopefully the slicing solo track “Ecstasy” and the breezy Gunna team-up “Surf” get there someday, too.

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The Song That Will Produce a Big Ol’ Lump In Your Throat:
Miley Cyrus, “Slide Away”

Consider Miley Cyrus’ “Slide Away” the spiritual sequel to Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next,” as a single that immediately combats post-breakup tabloid rumors with raw, unadulterated pop shimmer. Whereas Grande’s chart-topping Pete Davidson kiss-off was self-affirming, however, “Slide Away,” as Cyrus’ first song since splitting with husband Liam Hemsworth is sorrowful in its honesty. “Baby we were found, but now we’re lost, so it’s time to let it go,” she concludes in the verses; later, she asserts, “Move on, we’re not 17,” a reference to the age she and Hemsworth met. “Slide Away” devastates by remaining grounded in reality -- these are not overdramatic overtures from Cyrus, but the unhappy reality of a couple that has drifted apart over time. The emotion is both astoundingly personal, and impressively universal.

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The Album That Powers Through Its Own Backstory:
Sleater-Kinney, The Center Won't Hold

“The music on its own will survive and transcend the departure.” That’s Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein discussing the band’s new album, The Center Won’t Hold, which arrives in the wake of longtime drummer Janet Weiss abruptly leaving the group last month. Although the follow-up to the veteran alt-punk group’s tremendous 2015 LP No Cities To Love will forever carry an unexpected narrative, Brownstein is correct: The Center Won’t Hold is yet another triumph in a career full of them, with producer St. Vincent pulled in this time to help convey both a thematic anxiety as well as tighten the synth-pop influence on the arrangements. Brownstein and Corin Tucker sound at the top of their respective games, as does Weiss, whose whiplash kit work will be missed but still inspires awe here. The circumstances around its release may be a bit muddy, but Sleater-Kinney’s latest will indeed endure beyond them.

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The Song In Which Two Rappers Battle Over Singing Strength:
Swae Lee feat. Drake, “Won’t Be Late”

One of Drake’s premier qualities when he first became a music star was his ability to effortlessly braid his singing and rapping cadence into one digestible flow; Swae Lee is by no means a new artist, but as he’s released more music outside of the Rae Sremmurd mothership, he’s similarly relied on a talent of combining styles. “Won’t Be Late” is barely a rap song at all, as the two hip-hop brand names trade croons over a cha-cha groove and eschew any one-liners. The shared detour results in a light but compelling collaboration that never intends to become an anthem, but offers more evidence that Lee can hold his own with anyone. Toe-to-toe with a mega-star, Lee never flinches, or loses confidence in his voice.

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The Song That Fits Into All of Your Favorite Summer Playlists:
Rosalia & Ozuna, “Yo x Ti, Tu x Mi”

The respective rises of Rosalia and Ozuna have had less to do with any breakout single or catchy hook that either has deployed, and more to do with a pair of undeniable creative personalities finding the audiences they were born to accrue. New team-up “Yo x Ti, Tu x Mi” has such an understated arrangement — a steel drum flourish here, a slick beat change there — that it must rely on those personalities to succeed, but it does: Rosalia is more than adept at using her voice to fill a production’s empty spaces, while Ozuna’s swagger is in full effect, cooing ad-libs in between his more slender lines. Another similarity between Rosalia and Ozuna? Right now, they’ve both got a sort of Midas touch, duel hot streaks that extend far beyond the Latin music community. There was little doubt that this collaboration would turn out sounding like gold.

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The Song That Will Inspire You To Finally Get Rid Of Those Bad Life Influences:
Charli XCX feat. Sky Ferreira, “Cross You Out”

Charli XCX has a knack for provoking high-grade vocal performances out of her co-stars while also respecting the essence that made them stars in the first place. A few weeks after she teamed up with Christine & The Queens on the virtuosic electro-tinged banger “Gone,” the British singer-songwriter recruits Sky Ferreira -- like Charli, a brilliant and mythical pop figure whose album has been delayed for years -- for a song about finding freedom from what has previously wounded. “Thought it fell apart / But now you're gone, I'm doing fine,” both sing at different points, spinning “Cross You Out” into an empowering torch song over a wildflower bed of synthesizer. These two kindred spirits crackle when placed next to each other, and “Cross You Out” continues to keep anticipation high for Charli XCX’s forthcoming album, Charli.

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The Album That Will Make You Want To Tell Your Crush How You Feel:
Shura, Forevher

On her 2016 album, Nothing’s Real, indie-pop artist Shura expressed her anxiety and inner tension on spectacular pop songs with titles like “What Happened To Us?” and “What’s It Gonna Be?”. On follow-up Forevher, there are no question marks in the song titles, and fewer thematic uncertainties — this is a love album, written while the singer born Aleksandra Denton was using a long-distance relationship as inspiration. The crisp hooks and poignant lyrics remain from her last effort, but Shura sounds both steadier and more human, exploring her heart and letting its desire shine through on her vocal takes. Like her previous singles, Forevher is a pop album worth returning to from a dependably top-notch singer-songwriter.

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