Pop

First Stream: New Music From Lil Wayne, Demi Lovato, Taylor Swift & 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, Lil Wayne drives us in a hearse, Dua Lipa makes our bodies work and Demi Lovato is at long last back with new tunes. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:

The Album That Lets a Rap Icon Does What He Does Best:
Lil Wayne, Funeral

Two weeks after Eminem stomped back into the scene to show the hip-hop youth how it’s done, Lil Wayne has done the same with Funeral, a 24-song, 76-minute rap marathon in which Weezy F. Baby uses the titular concept to demonstrate why the claims of his commercial demise were mistaken. At the height of his popularity, Lil Wayne could make complicated bars sound effortless, toss out radio-friendly pop hits like he had a million of them on his hard drive and know when to cede the spotlight to hungry new talent; on Funeral, he does all three, stacking metaphors (“Since Spike Lee, I’ve been doing the right thing / Take my dirty money, and teach 'em about hygiene,” he goes on “Bing James”), teaming up with top 40 talent (“Trust Nobody” with Adam Levine sounds like it could be big) and letting rappers like Lil Baby and Big Sean — disciples of Weezy both — black out on “I Do It” while he plays hype man. 2018’s Tha Carter V would have been a fitting capper to Lil Wayne’s run, but Funeral is even denser and more focused, the sound of a giant rumbling back awake.

Listen on Amazon Music
Listen on Apple Music
Listen on Spotify
Listen on TIDAL
Listen on YouTube Music

The Song That Will Very Quickly Cause a Lump In Your Throat:
Demi Lovato, “Anyone”

The backstory of Demi Lovato’s “Anyone” is as clear as day: the song represents the pop singer’s first new music since her overdose in mid-2018, and in a recent interview, Lovato confirmed that the tune was written days prior to the terrifying incident. Yet even divorced of its context within Lovato’s life, the purposefully somber track stands out as one of her most accomplished ballads, carrying the vulnerability of songs like “Skyscraper” and “Stone Cold” into darker territory. “I feel stupid when I sing / Nobody's listening to me / Nobody's listening,” Lovato asserts as the piano trudges forward; the words, of course, are coming from one of the brightest pop stars of the past decade, and reflect a deeply damaged self-confidence that can exist even among the greatest collection of accolades. Lovato debuted “Anyone” at the Grammy Awards to a standing ovation — here’s hoping the powerful studio version receives an equally strong reaction, and Lovato is given the personal peace and professional acclaim she deserves.

Listen on Amazon Music
Listen on Apple Music
Listen on Spotify
Listen on TIDAL
Listen on YouTube Music

The Song To Blast During That Final Mile on the Treadmill:
Dua Lipa, “Physical”

Dua Lipa wants you to move: ever since breaking through with “New Rules,” the British pop star has delivered increasingly energetic dance floor fodder, from the Calvin Harris team-up “One Kiss” to recent solo hit “Don’t Start Now,” that’s more aligned with classic house than modern, hip-hop-influenced pop. “Physical,” the latest offering from her upcoming Future Nostalgia, is perhaps her most kinetic cut yet, an unyielding electro-banger that dares you to try and remain stationary as Lipa channels Olivia Newton-John and hollers, “Let’s! Get! Physical!” As the bridge hints at a reprieve and then climbs even higher, spiraling upward into an explosive finale, it’s clear that Lipa has quickly become an expert at this style of neon-colored dance-pop. “Physical” is an early contender for pop song of the year, and expectations for Future Nostalgia are now even higher.

Listen on Amazon Music
Listen on Apple Music
Listen on Spotify
Listen on TIDAL
Listen on YouTube Music

The Song That’s a Special Bonus For Diehard Fans:
Taylor Swift, “Only The Young”

Last year, Taylor Swift released an album with 18 songs, the most of any full-length of her career; she also issued “Beautiful Ghosts,” an original song for the Cats soundtrack, and a holiday single, “Christmas Tree Farm.” If that weren’t enough, today we get “Only The Young,” a track featured in her Miss Americana Netflix documentary that was inspired by motivated voters in the 2018 U.S. election but did not make the cut for Lover. “Only The Young” features frequent collaborator Joel Little’s crisp production and some allusions to political despair, but Swift delivers another oversized pop chorus that smacks of what she accomplished on 1989. These recent singles may be aimed at T-Swift completists, but pity those who take an extra sprinkle of her songwriting for granted.

Listen on Amazon Music
Listen on Apple Music
Listen on Spotify
Listen on TIDAL
Listen on YouTube Music

The Album That Will Take You To F*&#%$! Church:
Kesha, High Road

With 2017’s Rainbow, Kesha morphed from an electro-pop siren to an unflinching survivor, ready to use her music to open up about her bitter battle with former producer Dr. Luke. Follow-up album High Road could have suffered from the lack of an obvious next step for the shapeshifting singer-songwriter, but the full-length ultimately serves as a sort of motivational party: the tempos are often fast, the expletives are always flying, but on songs like “Shadow,” “Raising Hell” and the title track, Kesha is stirring you toward personal accomplishment by recounting her own. High Road allows Kesha to roam from cheeky pop (“Birthday Suit”) to soulful country (“Cowboy Blues”), but she has found her center, and carved out a respectable niche in the mainstream.

Listen on Amazon Music
Listen on Apple Music
Listen on Spotify
Listen on TIDAL
Listen on YouTube Music

The Song That’s Worth Adding To Your Date-Night Playlist:
Justin Bieber feat. Kehlani, “Get Me”

If there was any doubt about the return of R&Bieber after the stadium headliner slow things down with his comeback single “Yummy,” new song “Get Me” eradicates that uncertainty: this is a smooth, sensual Bieber we hear, harkening back to his Journals days but with a new tenderness and a few more sexual euphemisms. Kehlani makes for a welcome duet partner, as she references the periodic table (“Like a chemist, how you finishin' my sentences”) and finds room to showcase her formidable voice; there’s not much experimentation here, at least the type that the R&B star embraced on her recent projects, but a straightforward approach gets the point across.

Listen on Amazon Music
Listen on Apple Music
Listen on Spotify
Listen on TIDAL
Listen on YouTube Music

The Album That Re-Imagines a Pop Star’s Professional Future:
Meghan Trainor, Treat Myself

“I’ve heard weird opinions from everyone [about what the album should be], so I kept writing the best songs I could,” Meghan Trainor recently told Billboard about her third album, in which the “All About That Bass” star summarily tears up preconceived notions of her sound and simply tries to make the most memorable project she can. The result is a sonic exploration, with an array of guest stars — Nicki Minaj, Lennon Stella and the Pussycat Dolls all show up — and pit stops in funk, hip-hop, alt-rock and dance music. Trainor’s north star, however, remains her songwriting: even when she can’t totally pull off a style, the arrangements are sound enough to power through, and capture a woman who has outgrown the novelty of her early hits and is ready for an adult career.

Listen on Amazon Music
Listen on Apple Music
Listen on Spotify
Listen on TIDAL
Listen on YouTube Music

The Album That One Direction Fans Have Been Waiting For:
Louis Tomlinson, Walls

Over the course of the last two One Direction albums, Louis Tomlinson’s influence grew within the group in terms of songwriting and vocal presence; it’s part of the reason why fans of 1D have been anxious for the last member without a solo member to finally arrive. Walls certainly possesses the spirit of a classic One Direction effort — tracks like “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart” and “Perfect Now” would have fit in on Made In The A.M. — although Tomlinson is most convincing when diving into an arena-ready Brit-rock sound on songs like “Kill My Mind” and the title track. Tomlinson has taken his time in finding a solo direction (excuse the pun), but he locates that course on Walls, and hopefully will follow it fully on his next project.

Listen on Amazon Music
Listen on Apple Music
Listen on Spotify
Listen on TIDAL
Listen on YouTube Music

The Song Where A Second Nas Is More Effective Than Just One Nas:
Lil Nas X feat. Nas, “Rodeo (Remix)”

When Lil Nas X brought out Nas as a surprise guest during his Grammys performance and debuted a new, all-Nas version of “Rodeo,” you could be forgiven an eye roll at the gimmickry. What did the “Old Town Road” upstart and legendary MC have in common? Turns out, they both sound confident while singing or spitting over the yawning “Rodeo” beat. Lil Nas X delivers the melody, as he did on the Cardi B-assisted original, while Nas sounds giddy while tossing out lines like “I don’t lie to them, it’s no fables / Rap don, country flavor!” Turns out these two opposites do attract, and if this “Rodeo” remix takes off, a double-Nas touring bill should be considered.

Listen on Amazon Music
Listen on Apple Music
Listen on Spotify
Listen on TIDAL
Listen on YouTube Music