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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 visits the world of Cats, Billie Eilish drops a new gem, Celine Dion displays her inner strength and Khalid checks in from the road. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
The Songs That Different Factions of Swifties Will Adore:Taylor Swift, “Beautiful Ghosts”Taylor Swift feat. Shawn Mendes, “Lover (Remix)”
This week, Taylor Swift dropped two tracks that can be viewed as wildly disparate collaborations united by her meticulous songwriting: first, she unveiled a new version of her Lover title track with Shawn Mendes in tow, and then released “Beautiful Ghosts,” the only new song from the upcoming film version of Cats, that Swift co-wrote with Andrew Lloyd Webber. While the “Lover” remix re-imagines Swift’s paean to unyielding passion as a conversation between two affectionate parties, “Beautiful Ghosts” transports one of the biggest artists in modern pop music to the world of musical theater, with a piano leading Swift and her broken memories forward before the music swells into a show-stopping finale. The songs are two modes of the same vision, and while “Lover (Remix)” and “Beautiful Ghosts” are aimed at different audiences, Swift has given top 40 fans and Broadway diehards a bounty so soon after the release of Lover.
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The Song To Wake Up To & Ease You Into Your Day:Billie Eilish, "Everything I Wanted"
A first listen to Billie Eilish’s new song, “Everything I Wanted,” reveals a gesture toward the trappings of newfound fame: “I tried to scream, but my head was underwater / They called me weak, like I’m not just somebody’s daughter,” the new superstar sings, after proclaiming that getting everything she wanted has turned from a dream into a nightmare. Another listen, however, demonstrates why Eilish has become such a big name in popular music. “Everything I Wanted” is immaculately arranged, knowing when to sink into Finneas’ moody, near-relaxing rhythms and when to pull back and let Eilish’s vulnerabilities float in space. It’s only been eight months since Eilish’s debut album was released, but she’s already making us hungry for more -- especially if she’s going to dissect her time in the spotlight with such unflinching emotion.
The Album That Will Make You Fist-Pump One Moment and Tear Up The Next:Celine Dion, Courage
When it comes to Celine Dion, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the mythos — to focus on the Las Vegas residency, or Titanic, or any number of karaoke-friendly 90s smashes. Such a clinical reading of the pop legend’s current standing in the industry would ignore the fact that her recent music has been both sumptuous and surprisingly urgent. 2013’s Loved Me Back To Life was a winning effort, but Courage is even more vital, with a propulsive opener in “Flying On My Own,” a devastating title track (“I love to think that we're still making plans,” laments Dion, whose husband Rene Angelil passed away in 2016), and lots of worthwhile reflections in between. Dion may no longer be a top 40 staple, but her focus on loss, recovery and personal empowerment makes for one of the most mature, and impressive, pop releases of 2019.
The Song That Unlocks Another Piece of a Pop Artist’s New Puzzle:Camila Cabello, "Living Proof"
Camila Cabello’s sophomore album, Romance, has been preceded by a string of tracks -- “Liar,” “Shameless,” “Cry For Me,” “Easy” -- that have given fans both a delightful new treat on multiple Fridays and a larger hint as to where the pop singer-songwriter’s sound may be headed when pieced together. “Living Proof” nods to Cabello’s adventurous side: the vocal choices she makes, particularly during a chorus in which she’s seemingly gasping for air, are bold and veering toward unorthodox, while Mattman & Robin’s production fills the empty spaces with chattering beats and shards of acoustic guitar. Like most Cabello songs, “Living Proof” is deceptively simple, a charming pop track that reveals its respective tics upon closer examination.
The Song That Fits In Nicely With Your Favorite Fall Playlist:Khalid, “Up All Night”
Khalid will be heading to Australia over the next few weeks to perform at various arenas down under, but before he goes he’s left his stateside fans a loving postcard from the road. “Up All Night” was written during Khalid’s months-long 2019 tour -- “I’ve been touring the world, and interacting with my fans each night has been really inspiring,” he says about the track in a press statement -- and as such acts as a low-stakes jam, a stop into a relatively new star’s psyche as he soaks in international success. Khalid has become a master at imbuing ordinary phrases with heartstring-tugging emotion, and the way he threatens to dip into his falsetto while singing the phrase “Catch me up all night” is a tiny yet effective artistic choice. Cozy up to “Up All Night,” which sneaks up on you as a large-hearted check-in.
The Album That Shines a Light on a Late Artist’s Legacy:Lil Peep, Everybody’s Everything
In the two years since Lil Peep’s untimely passing, his cultural impact and sonic influence have become all the more pronounced; that has little to do with any specific posthumous release, yet Everybody’s Everything, a new collection of fan favorites and rarities that is accompanied by a documentary of the same name, admirably attempts to capture what made Peep so compelling during his too-brief career. Lil Tracy, iLoveMakonnen and Rich The Kid are among the guest stars, and their contributions rest comfortably on the 19-song track list alongside fiercely championed early releases like “Ghost Boy” and “White Tee.” Everybody’s Everything is designed to honor Lil Peep rather than re-contextualize his accomplishments, but completists and casual fans alike can get lost in the words and feelings of this album.
The Album In Which A Country Group Gets Its Groove Back:Lady Antebellum, Ocean
“It felt like the early days again,” Lady Antebellum’s Dave Haywood recently told Billboard about the group’s latest recording process following their transition to Big Machine Label Group. Although a new label deal doesn’t necessarily inform an artist’s creative process, Ocean does find the Lady A members sounding rejuvenated without trying to recreate their storied past. “Crazy Love” finds Haywood, Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott selling a standard romantic ode with a zealous unity, while the sunny “Alright” lets Scott give you some inspirational life advice. Lady Antebellum’s sound had not stagnated prior to Ocean, yet the new album simplifies the trio’s formula in a smart, convincing manner.
The Video That Will Make Your Cat Want To Nod Along, Too:J Balvin, “Blanco”
J Balvin’s new single “Blanco” continues his hot streak, offering two-and-a-half minutes of sweaty percussion, confident rhymes and a hook that glides along in search of a packed dance floor. Yet Balvin’s triumph here is a visual one: the “Blanco” music video is particularly bonkers, with the Colombian star commanding some sort of dance spaceship that includes contortionists and cats that appreciate the song’s respective bounce, too. Balvin has long been pairing his club hits with eye-popping visuals, and “Blanco” is one of his most fantastical yet.
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