First Stream: New Music From Blackpink, Megan Thee Stallion, Haim & 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, Blackpink gives us something we really like, Megan Thee Stallion flips a classic beat and Haim refuse to stop expanding and entertaining. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:

The Song That Could Achieve U.S. Ubiquity:
Blackpink, "How You Like That"

Sometimes, it really is all about the chorus in pop music -- regardless of whatever other traits a song possesses, its hook is so mind-meltingly immediate that we, as a society, are helpless to its charms. While Blackpink’s new single “How You Like That” represents a well-rounded attempt at a greater American crossover for the K-pop quartet, with the members oscillating between singing and rapping over bubbling synth-pop production, the song’s chorus exists on another plane entirely, an undeniable mix of elastic beats and attitude that coalesces around the titular question, “How you like THAT?” It’s a hook designed to get lodged in all of our brains, as well as deliver this promising group to the mainstream; don’t be surprised if it achieves both of those goals, and does so quickly.

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The Song That Will Make You Want To Take On All Haters and Enemies:
Megan Thee Stallion, "Girls in the Hood"

“Girls in the Hood” could have been a victory lap for Megan Thee Stallion, who just scored her first No. 1 single on the Hot 100 chart thanks to a Beyonce-assisted remix to “Savage,” and in some ways it is, with the new single allowing the Houston rap star to flex on her doubters. Yet Megan is generally too inventive to rest on her laurels: sampling the synth loop to Eazy-E’s classic “Boyz-N-The-Hood,” she creates a distinctive anthem for herself and for women everywhere, complete with her top-notch wordplay and unexpected punchlines (case in point: the lyric about watching anime during oral sex). Megan Thee Stallion has become a star by refusing to be generic for one second, and on “Girls in the Hood,” she flips a beloved hip-hop track into a fresh showcase for her skills.

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The Album That Sneaks Up On You, Then Becomes One of Your 2020 Favorites:
Haim, Women In Music Pt. III

Este, Danielle and Alana Haim make the art of songwriting look laughably easy, as if incredibly effervescent melodies can be conjured on command; no matter what your least-favorite Haim song is, it’s still expertly rendered. With long-awaited third album Women In Music Pt. III, however, the trio has wrapped their ornate pop-rock gifts in daring new boxes: there are explorations of soul, punk, U.K. garage and synth-pop here, and some of the most jarring sounds on any Haim album to date, from the somber saxophone crawl of the still-potent bonus cut “Summer Girl” to the shrieks of frustration on “All That Ever Mattered.” While there are still songs that nod to the group’s core formula -- “Gasoline” is a Haim all-timer -- the triumphant Women In Music Pt. III is defined by a curiosity that keeps even longtime listeners guessing.

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The Song That Gets a Pop Star His Mojo Back:
Charlie Puth, "Girlfriend"

After establishing himself as a top 40 radio fixture with solo songs like “Attention” and “How Long,” Charlie Puth spent 2019 trying to figure out where to go next, as tracks like “I Warned Myself,” “Mother” and “Cheating On You” failed to ignite. Cut to 2020, where Puth is back and sounds revitalized on a new single: “Girlfriend” bottles the appeal of his most successful songs by blending classic pop tropes (including a heavy nod to ‘80s songwriting and production) with Puth’s uber-confident personality. He weaves in and out of falsetto, lets the beat drop out to wink at his audience, and fully commits to the synth cheese of the dazzling chorus. “Girlfriend” is exactly the type of song that Puth needed at this moment in his career, sticking to his core appeal while demanding to be played to wider audiences.

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The Remix That Gives a Deserving Song Another Look:
Trevor Daniel feat. Selena Gomez, "Past Life (Remix)”

Houston native Trevor Daniel is still best associated with his new “Falling,” which went viral on TikTok and became a top 20 hit on the Hot 100 chart, but his debut album Nicotine features some impressive songwriting within its 10-song track list. Case in point: the yearning “Past Life,” originally released as a solo track, has now received an enviable reworking with Selena Gomez, who smartly fashions the song into a duet. “Past Life” is a song about breaking out of patterns, and in its new form, Daniel and Gomez support each other as they try to disrupt long-standing cycles; there’s a care and understanding in their interplay, and Gomez impressively tackles the oversized chorus. Regardless of whether this version of “Past Life” receives wider attention, the remix amplifies Daniel’s talent beyond his signature hit.

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The Remix That Surrounds a New Artist With A-List Support:
Jack Harlow Feat. Lil Wayne, DaBaby & Tory Lanez, "Whats Poppin (Remix)"

With “Whats Poppin,” Jack Harlow has gone from an unknown in hip-hop to a rising star with a top 20 hit on the Hot 100 chart in a matter of weeks. The Louisville native decided to inject his breakthrough hit with some new talent, and thus we get a star-packed remix in which Harlow invites DaBaby, Lil Wayne and Tory Lanez to try and keep up with his flow over the racing piano loop. Credit to the guest stars for bringing their A-games rather than phoning this remix in -- DaBaby sounds particularly invigorated, and even references his song “Rockstar” topping the Hot 100 a few weeks ago -- while Harlow still hordes references to Taco Bell, Jimmy Neutron and Gilbert Arenas, all within the opening seconds of the song.

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The Album To Throw On When You’re Ready To Party (In Quarantine) This Weekend:
Jessie Ware, What’s Your Pleasure?

U.K. singer-songwriter Jessie Ware has flirted with going full-on dance for years -- some of the best cuts on her 2012 debut Devotion were sleek grooves ready for shoulder-shimmying, while uptempo remixes to her songs have long repositioned her soaring vocals. On What’s Your Pleasure?, however, Ware repositions herself and dives head-first into the disco revival, creating a fantasy landscape that’s both pleasurable and positive. Tracks like “Save A Kiss,” “Ooh La La” and “Read My Lips” lean into the hallmarks of retro pop, and Ware’s voice -- strong but malleable, contorted in different direction but never less than sparkling -- connects them all. It’s fair to ask what took Ware so long to arrive at this obvious marriage of performer and style, but no matter -- just savor it, now that it’s here.

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The Song That Will Delight More Than Just Diehard Fans:
Melanie Martinez, "Fire Drill"

Last year, Melanie Martinez returned with an opus: K-12, which existed as both her sophomore album and accompanying film starring and directed by Martinez, demonstrated the pop talent’s unyielding ambition. “Fire Drill” played over the end credits of K-12, and as it finally receives a standalone release on streaming services, the song is a nice reminder that Martinez can beguile in more straightforward circumstances as well. She swirls around the accusations in the verses (“Telling me you’re for my kind, still you abandon me / Calling me words I’m not, painting a picture that’s false,” she sings) before landing on a chorus that lingers with the listener after it ends, creating an effect more powerful than your average fan-favorite bonus track.

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