First Stream: New Music From Taylor Swift, Missy Elliott, Brockhampton & More

Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic
Taylor Swift arrives at the 2019 iHeartRadio Music Awards which broadcasted live on FOX at Microsoft Theater on March 14, 2019 in Los Angeles.

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’s Lover has finally arrived in full, Missy Elliott’s long-awaited return is a reality, and Brockhampton offer another riotous full-length. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:

The Album That Everyone’s Going To Be Talking About All Weekend (Week? Month?):
Taylor Swift, Lover

As a pop record of varying tempo, the pieces don’t always fit seamlessly on Lover, but Taylor Swift’s steadiness as a writer is more than enough connective tissue to prevent any jarring transitions or notable swoons across the track list. Free of expectation or any real narrative outside of her own making, she basically spends Lover doing what she wants when she wants, dialing up the intensity in places and offering some of the most straightforward song structures of her career in others. In essence, Lover is designed as a distillation of everything that Swift has already accomplished, different components condensed to reflect her current interests and longtime strengths as a singer-songwriter. It is a towering work that’s worth both close analysis on headphones and scream-alongs on stadium speakers. (Read a longer analysis of the album here.)

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The Video That Is The Best of the Week, By One of the All-Time Best:
Missy Elliott, “Throw It Back”

Two things that are inarguable: Missy Elliott is one of the most brilliant music-video artists in the history of the medium, and that brilliance has not been seen enough this decade. But Missy is back, and while her surprise new four-song EP Iconology is worth your time, the visual to new single “Throw It Back” finds an expert effortlessly returning to the top of her game. The hallmarks of a great Missy Elliott video are all there — surrealistic settings, lock-step dance moves, untouchable attitude — but it’s still an eye-popping journey back into a world where braided hair can be used as jump rope and shirtless men carry your favorite rapper around everywhere she goes. Missy Elliott is winning the Video Vanguard award at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards for a lifetime of visual wonder; is it too early to nominate “Throw It Back” for video of the year?

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The Album That Finds Every Member of a ‘Boy Band’ On Their A-Game:
Brockhampton, Ginger

Brockhampton has only been releasing music for a few years, and scored a breakthrough within the hip-hop industry in 2017, but the collective has experienced a head-spinning amount within that time frame, from burgeoning audiences to a multi-million-dollar label deal to sexual misconduct accusations to a rocky regrouping when those accusations led to a key member’s dismissal. Ginger, which arrives roughly a year about RCA Records debut Iridescence, is similarly meditative, but is also tighter and more focused than its predecessor, carrying by both the song craft (the knocking “No Halo”) and excellent spitting (“I Been Born Again”) of the group’s still-amazing Saturation series. There’s still a sense that Brockhampton is trying to find a semblance of normalcy following a rocky period, but hearing Kevin Abstract, Dom McLennon, Merlyn and the others try to exist within the chaos is thrilling in and of itself.

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The Song That Will Let You Stay Mad About a Breakup:
Charlie Puth, "I Warned Myself"

Two years ago, Charlie Puth’s single “Attention” veered away from his nice-guy-crooner image and painted the singer-songwriter in a more accusatory, even caustic light. The tactic worked: “Attention” became a top 10 hit on the Hot 100 and essentially made the pop world take note of Puth’s previously unknown range. “I Warned Myself,” Puth’s first new single since his Voicenotes album, is similarly fiery as a lyrical exercise in torching a romantic partner -- “You said you had nothing to hide, that you left him long ago / I should have known that was a lie,” Puth snarls -- but the minimal beat creates a chillier mood this time around, and the song’s brisk pace also feels like a change-up. Even as Puth returns to familiar thematic areas, he keeps revealing layers of himself.

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The Song That Will Inspire Some Excellent Falsetto Sing-Alongs:
5 Seconds of Summer, "Teeth"

It’s rare that an inflection point is so clear for a band’s sound, style and basic existence, but that’s what “Youngblood” has become for 5 Seconds of Summer, once a bratty, pop-punk-leaning quartet, now something more serious and sonically muscular because of that one smash hit. “Teeth” continues the quasi-industrial exploration of 5SOS’s previous single, “Easier,” with a quicker trigger on its hook and more urgency baked into the electrified synthesizers. But the formula is now there, especially given what Luke Hemmings can accomplish vocally whenever the beat drops out. 5 Seconds of Summer sound completely different than they did four years ago, but as “Teeth” shows, they can be trusted to deliver during this evolution.

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The Song That Will Make You Head-Bang, Then Call Your Senator:
The 1975, "People"

From the moment that Matty Healy screams “Wake up, wake up, WAKE UP" in the opening moments of “People,” it’s very clear that this new single from the 1975 won’t be one of their more laid-back affairs. “People” is urgent, desperately so, as garage-rock guitar riffs careen into each other and Healy, focused on ecological and political emergencies as well as widespread apathy, sounds every alarm available. The 1975 already proved that they pull off this aggressive sound with “Love It If We Made It” last year, but “People” is even more affecting, as a plea that’s fashioned into a jolt to our systems. Kudos to the group for embracing such issues, and successfully deploying a tone worthy of them.

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The Song With a Highly Enjoyable Guest Verse Squeezed in the Middle:
Cheat Codes feat. Sofia Reyes and Willy William, “Highway”

Cheat Codes have been adept at making mid-tempo dance music for a few years, and Sofia Reyes charms as the latest vocalist to be given their chorus duties, this time with extended driving metaphors in hand. Yet it’s Willy William - the 38-year-old French DJ best known to American audiences as one-half of “Mi Gente” with J Balvin - who steals this show, sliding in midway through “Highway” and shaking up the song’s energy with a beguiling, bilingual lightness. Need a quick smile and shoulder-shimmy today? Listen to William on Cheat Codes’ latest.

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The Album That Wants To Be Your Late-Summer Country Soundtrack:
Midland, Let It Roll

On the same day in which a former country star, Taylor Swift, releases an expansive project exploring the outer reaches of her pop sensibilities, Midland is back with its own extended full-length, albeit one squarely rooted in the genre in which Swift launched her career. Let It Roll allows the Texas trio to travel into some previously unexplored territory, but across the 14 tracks, Midland does what they do best: maintain an air of instrumental improvisation while actually unfurling pinpoint melodies and polished vocal takes. Singer/guitarist Mark Wystrach especially shines while trying to unpack conflict; the way he sorrowfully sings, “She used to call me on the way back home, but she don’t call anymore,” on “Cheatin’ Songs,” is so delicate that it’s easy to miss the skillful restraint. Midland may not be reinventing the wheel, but Let It Roll finds one of country’s most consistent groups offering another winner.

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The Song That Re-Imagines What Pop Music Can Do:
Poppy, “Concrete”

Poppy remains one of the most fascinating figures in pop, simply from a standpoint of overall ambition: nearly every song of hers sounds like it wants to change the way music functions on a fundamental level. Her latest, “Concrete,” is one of her most wild rides to date: in a little over three minutes, she flirts with menacing electronica, wide-eyed bubblegum, intense prog-rock and the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” somehow. Yet Poppy’s self-assuredness keeps this from jerking around too fast or spinning out of control, her lilting voice containing the frenetic pace and coloring the absolutely breathtaking final 20 seconds as the song fades out. If you can keep up with Poppy, she’ll likely blow your mind.

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