First Stream: New Music From Twenty One Pilots, The Strokes, Selena Gomez & 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, Twenty One Pilots has a new survival anthem, The Strokes roar back for the first time in years, and Selena Gomez offers a few new additions to the Rare era. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:

The Song That Will Inspire Some Socially Distanced Romance:
Twenty One Pilots, “Level of Concern"

“Would you be my little quarantine?” Tyler Joseph sings in the pre-chorus of “Level of Concern,” a surprise new Twenty One Pilots song that also doubles as perhaps the first true anthem of the coronavirus age. Any listener’s immediate attention is going to be drawn to the lyrics that reflect our troubled time (“Just need you to tell me we’re all right, tell me we’re okay,” goes the desperate hook), but even more fascinating is the sound of “Level of Concern”: after taking a hard turn away from pop radio with their 2018 album Trench, Twenty One Pilots take another big shot at the mainstream here with some loping, starry-eyed dance-rock. The song could prove to be another crossover success for the duo, especially with words that anyone could relate to at this moment.

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The Album That Will Revive Those Garage-Rock Revival Memories:
The Strokes, The New Abnormal

The Strokes’ two-decade career can be divided into two uneven halves: the seismic shift their first two albums caused in the world of New York City-based guitar rock, and the experimental corridors they’ve been wandering down (and sneakily thriving in) ever since. The New Abnormal, the group’s first album in seven years, is perhaps their most effective marriage between those two modes -- even the first two songs, the taut rocker “The Adults Are Talking” and the dreamy yelp-along “Selfless,” reflect the Strokes’ strengths of the past and present. And even if the band never recaptures the zeitgeist like Is This It did way back when, the best moments on The New Abnormal, like when the chorus rushes in on “Bad Decisions,” are just as compelling as the material widely considered classic.

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The Album That Was Already Great, and Just Got a Little Bit Better:
Selena Gomez, Rare (Deluxe Edition)

Nearly three months after its release, Selena Gomez’s Rare remains a triumph, an accomplished piece of pop craft built around a narrative of finding inner strength post-devastation. The new deluxe edition of the album continues telling that story, as Gomez presents herself as focused and empowered as ever over a few new mid-tempo pop tracks. “Boyfriend” will likely draw the most attention -- Gomez declares that she wants one without hesitation over a deliciously elastic rhythm -- but don’t discount “Souvenir,” which teases a dance explosion but instead turns inward, and offers a detailed memory of intimacy.

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The Song That Refuses To Let You Listen While Sitting Down:
Black Eyed Peas feat. Ozuna & J. Rey Soul, “Mamacita”

The Black Eyed Peas revival continues, with a concrete formula: after scoring a surprise top 40 hit with “RITMO,” a single featuring J Balvin and sampling Corona’s “The Rhythm of the Night,” the group’s new bid for a smash includes another Latin pop star and reworks a different iconic hit. “Mamacita,” featuring Ozuna and J. Rey Soul, and sampling Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita,” once again finds Will.i.am and co. trying to fill the dance floors with an amalgamation of sounds and influences, mostly to positive effect. Once Ozuna hits his “Taki Taki”-esque yelp and the beat keeps rolling, “Mamacita” proves hard to resist.

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The Song In Which Two Artists Go Together Like Peanut Butter and Jelly:
Alesso feat. Liam Payne, “Midnight”

Following his time with One Direction, Liam Payne has tried to concoct a solo identity with an array of modern influences, from hip-hop to R&B to dance to traditional pop. “Midnight,” a new team-up with Alesso, harnesses a bit of the power of his past collaboration with Zedd, “Get Low,” turning Payne into the muse of an EDM star’s sonic landscape. The formula once again works: as an accomplished vocalist, Payne handles moments of quiet vulnerability and amped-up propulsion on “Midnight,” which finds its hook via a collection of Alesso’s finest canned strings. If Payne’s recent solo debut LP1 didn’t spin off any crossover hits, he may have uncovered one here, only a few months later.

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The Song That Takes On a Whole New Meaning In This Era:
Leon Bridges feat. John Mayer, “Inside Friend”

If “Inside Friend,” the new collaboration between soulful singer-songwriters Leon Bridges and John Mayer, had been released at any time prior to this year, it would have been described as sexually charged, with the pair crooning offers to meet their respective lovers behind closed doors. Now, in the age of the quarantine? “Inside Friend” sounds a little friendlier -- when Bridges and Mayer sing the words “You can be my inside friend” together, one wonders if they might just be looking for a pal to bunker down with. Regardless of the context, “Inside Friend” is the sound of two pros operating at a comfortable level, with Mayer’s guitar solo bending around Bridges’ vocal shimmer.

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The Album That Gathers Together Several Country Gems:
Maddie & Tae, The Way It Feels

If country fans eyeball the track list to Maddie & Tae’s sophomore album The Way It Feels and read a lot of familiar titles, that’s because the country-pop duo has released 10 of the full-length’s 15 songs before, on a pair of EPs from 2018 and 2019, respectively. Yet instead of making The Way It Feels sound like a re-tread, the slow-roll strategy has re-contextualized some of the earlier highlights such as “Friends Don’t” and “Everywhere I’m Goin’,” and supported them with sparkling new tracks like the gossip condemnation “I Don’t Need To Know” or the rollicking “My Man.” Throughout the old and new tracks on The Way It Feels, Maddie & Tae’s harmonizing and hook creation serve as a worthy bedrock, and one that will still delight longtime supporters.

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The Mixtape That Will Have You Ready To Take On The World:
Tory Lanez, The New Toronto 3

With the release of the latest installment in his The New Toronto mixtape series, Tory Lanez is celebrating the completion of his deal with Interscope Records and his new free agent status. While that circumstance might hint at a lazily tossed-out project, The New Toronto 3 is anything but: Lanez sounds absolutely ravenous here, with tracks like “Stupid Again” and the previously released scorcher “Broke in a Minute” showcasing his grittier storytelling and a more ambidextrous flow to complement his vocal range. Lanez’s emergence as a multi-talented artist has been fascinating so far, and based on The New Toronto 3, his future trajectory may be even more exciting.

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The Song That Will Make You Feel Like an Underachiever in Quarantine:
Charli XCX, “Forever”

Less than a year after winning raves for her long-awaited full-length Charli, pop auteur Charli XCX is finishing an entirely new album while on lockdown, using this moment of being stuck at home to commit to nonstop creativity. If the first song from the project, “Forever,” is any indication, the singer-songwriter’s sense of daring has not lagged one bit under these new circumstances, as Charli manipulates her vocals alongside warm synths on the verses here before the chorus becomes a declaration of love that’s unadulterated, affecting and still somehow danceable. Charli XCX is a master of breaking down pop’s perceived walls, and “Forever” does so even as she can’t leave the boundaries of her home.

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