First Stream: New Music From Eminem, Halsey, BTS & More

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, Eminem barrels back into our lives with a surprise album, Halsey delivers her best full-length yet, and BTS drop a single that shows why they’re on top. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:

The Album That Dropped Out Of Nowhere But Will Dominate Your Weekend:
Eminem, Music To Be Murdered By

For the second straight project, Eminem has returned with practically zero warning: just like his 2018 album Kamikaze, Music To Be Murdered By appeared on streaming services with nary a heads-up, a shock-and-awe approach to delivering 20 tracks of new material. And while not every superstar could make a habit of effectively surprise-releasing material, the strategy somehow juices up the Detroit hero’s high-octane wordplay, as we happily digest a barrage of syllables we didn’t think would be coming so soon. The intro sets the stage for an unyielding hour, with Eminem declaring himself “still as fly as your zipper” and taking aim at a middling Rolling Stone review; Ed Sheeran, Young M.A and Don Toliver all stop by, the Juice WRLD collaboration “Godzilla” sounds like it could be a bittersweet smash, and the music video for “Darkness” revisits the tragic Las Vegas mass shooting from 2017 before ending with a plea to vote out pro-gun politicians, spiking the surprise drop with a sense of urgency.

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The Album That Could Make Noise at the 2021 Grammys:
Halsey, Manic

“Is it really that strange if I always want a change?” Halsey asks in the opening minutes of her new album Manic. Much of the singer’s third full-length is a self-examination, prodding at her feelings of restlessness and respective place within the social ecosystem; yet that dissatisfaction has also led to artistic evolution, as Manic is by far the most mature and accomplished project of her career. The genre-hopping hinted at on previously released tracks like “You Should Be Sad” and “Finally // Beautiful Stranger” continues across Manic, highlighted by “interlude” guests ranging from Alanis Morissette to Dominic Fike, yet the most startling aspect of the album is the clarity of Halsey’s songwriting — see “I Hate Everybody,” in which she searingly captures her alienation and need for human connection. Halsey has been a shapeshifting top 40 presence for years, but on Manic, she pins herself down and makes her strongest statement yet.

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The Song That Lets Every Member of a Superstar Group Step Up:
BTS, “Black Swan”

Over the course of their journey to international fame, the members of BTS have established their individual personalities both within the group’s work and occasionally outside of it (Suga, for instance, appears on another major release this week, Halsey’s album Manic). “Black Swan,” the first single from the group’s upcoming Map of the Soul: 7 album, not only showcases the personal gifts that each member brings to the group, but never sacrifices a sense of cohesion along the way. And that sense is needed to pull off a complex lyrical concept about fearing that music and showmanship will eventually no longer drive them in the way it once did, with mournful trap beats and a sprinkle of guitar accentuating the interwoven hooks, rap verses and falsetto exclamations. “Black Swan” is another high-wire act from BTS, but their sonic ambition is one of the reasons why they’ve become ubiquitous -- along with the distinct personas that once again shine here.

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The Album That Will Make You Want To Revisit an Artist’s Entire Catalog:
Mac Miller, Circles

The posthumous Mac Miller album Circles is a joyful celebration of a musician who made everyone around him smile; it is also a sorrowful project, a pastiche of what would have been Miller’s next project had his life not ended far too soon in 2018. The point of Circles is not to provide easy answers or obvious reactions, but to allow Miller’s fans to see a little bit more of the rapper’s heart, as he ditched his early frat-rap, mused on life’s complications and made jazz music more of a focal point within his beats. Hearing Miller warble “I’m way too young to be getting old” on “Complicated,” knowing he will never grow old, is heartbreaking, and yet by the next track, the spry and cheeky “Blue World,” you’re smiling through the tears.

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The Song That Could Be Your Valentine’s Day Mash Note:
Jonas Brothers, “What A Man Gotta Do”

Jonas Brothers took a full decade off between album releases before returning last year with the triumphant, chart-topping Happiness Begins, but they’re not making fans wait around very long at all for new music this time, as “What A Man Gotta Do” offers another radio-friendly hook seven months after the trio issued a project full of them. The JoBros are entitled to a victory lap, and “What A Man Gotta Do” -- an ode to romantic yearning, with Nick, Joe and Kevin praising the object of their devotion over a driving kick drum -- is a particularly enthralling one, with its start-stop chorus supremely catchy and its beat designed for corresponding handclaps. The group will release three music videos for “What A Man Gotta Do,” each starring a Brother and his respective wife; it’s a riff on the smash visual for No. 1 hit “Sucker,” but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

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The Album To Soak In During a Long Walk or Car Ride:
070 Shake, Modus Vivendi

070 Shake is still best known as a protege of sorts to Kanye West, who has signed the New Jersey native to his G.O.O.D. Music imprint and featured her on his own projects over the past two years. The long-awaited debut album Modus Vivendi showcases a highly original voice playing with the boundaries of R&B, hip-hop and electronic music, in a way that actually is reminiscent of West’s boundless creative impulses. Songs begin and then quickly swivel in an unexpected direction; “Morrow” morphs from an acoustic strum to a moody R&B track, while the string sections on “The Pines” punctuate a gripping mix of harmonies and fuzzed-out shouts. Modus Vivendi demands your attention by boldly stacking ideas without abandon and never becoming inscrutable; in a just world, the pure pop of “Guilty Conscience” would be a radio hit.

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The Album That You’ll Want To Play When The Sun Goes Down:
Little Big Town, Nightfall

Can Little Big Town really make an after-dark album? The country quartet, famous for smart radio hits like “Girl Crush” and “Better Man,” has turned its attention toward the complexities of the post-dusk hours on its latest album, yet Nightfall is less interested in seediness and more focused on thoughts before sleep, cries heard in lonely bars and the nuanced consequences of alluring looks. Nowhere is this more beautifully rendered than on “Sugar Coat,” a song about a broken wife spending a night wishing she had the strength to take action against her untrustworthy husband. Little Big Town have become crossover stars thanks to their songwriting, and they’ve given Nightfall the type of thematic congruity to make curious listeners want to experience the entire project.

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The Song That Might Just Make An Appearance at the Super Bowl:
Shakira & Anuel AA, “Me Gusta”

As she approaches her shared Super Bowl halftime showcase with Jennifer Lopez, Shakira has offered a different type of mass-appeal collaboration, this time with Puerto Rican trap mainstay Anuel AA and an interpolation of Inner Circle’s undying 1993 hit “Sweat.” The “la la la la la” revival works well enough, but the chemistry between the artists makes the song a nice playlist addition: Shakira’s voice and Anuel’s flow snake around each other, creating an interplay that begs for a longer running time than three minutes and change. Super Bowl halftime shows don’t often veer toward performances of brand-new material, but “Me Gusta” is fun and familiar enough that it may be worth consideration.

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The Song That Will Whet Your Appetite For One of Rock’s Most Anticipated Albums:
The 1975, “Me & You Together Song”

This week, the 1975 announced that their new album Notes On A Conditional Form would now be arriving on Apr. 24, a delay from a previously announced release date. The silver lining? “Me & You Together Song,” a wildly charming new track from the upcoming album that finds Matty Healy and his merry men commanding pop-rock melodies in a way few other groups in the world could pull off. Like the 1975’s best tracks, from “UGH!” to “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” to “Chocolate,” there’s an effortlessness on display in both the lyricism (in the thrilling second verse, in which Healy jumps from daydreaming of parental bliss to cheekily addressing rumors of his sexuality) and the song construction, with a jangly setup that will still work wonders in arenas. Three months isn’t too rough of a wait for a new 1975 project, especially if “Me & You Together Song” is a preview of what’s to come.

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