Pop

First Stream: New Music From Ariana Grande, Sam Smith, Dua Lipa and 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, Ariana Grande finds peace in romance, Sam Smith finally returns in full, and Dua Lipa still has more Future Nostalgia for us. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:

The Album In Which A Superstar Finds New Fulfillment:
Ariana Grande, Positions

If Ariana Grande’s last two albums -- 2018’s Sweetener and last year’s Thank U, Next -- were devastatingly powerful explorations of personal trauma from one of pop’s biggest artists, new full-length Positions represents a sustained healing brought on by new love. Grande’s sixth full-length captures a superstar in blissful transition, keeping her guarding up while pursuing happiness through love, sex, personal understanding and professional achievement. Her voice remains a main attraction, and the strings layered upon the R&B production gives Positions the sheen of an especially unified statement -- yet the highlights of the album come from completely different areas of Grande’s skillset, speaking to her status as one of music’s most well-rounded A-listers. Positions is ostensibly about the excitement of a fresh relationship, but regardless of the subject matter, Grande continues to grow by leaps and bounds as a recording artist.

Click here to read full breakdown of the entire track list to Ariana Grande’s Positions.

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The Album That Caps Off a Winning Era:
Sam Smith, Love Goes

For everything that they’ve accomplished for LGBTQ visibility and mainstream representation, Sam Smith has become one of the more important pop artists of the past half-decade -- and although that standing wouldn’t change no matter how well their new music performs commercially, Smith has achieved prolonged success with the singles leading up to third album Love Goes. Pushed back due to the pandemic, the full-length fortunately carries the familiar hits (“Dancing With a Stranger,” “How Do You Sleep?”) in its back half; before that, Smith provides a deep, technically dazzling update of their psyche during a trying year, from the sparse, desperately sad opener “Young” to the daring Burna Boy team-up “My Oasis” to “Kids Again,” a gorgeous coda to a relationship that wouldn’t stick. Smith’s perspective, in and out of their music, is always appreciated, and Love Goes makes for a pleasing check-in.

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The Song That Happily Prolongs a Great Era:
Dua Lipa feat. Angèle, "Fever"

Can you really blame Dua Lipa for extending the victory lap that is Future Nostalgia? Since the release of her exquisite sophomore album in the spring, the U.K. star has released a “club mix” version of the LP, a remix of “Levitating” with DaBaby, and now “Fever,” a collaboration with Belgian singer Angèle for the full-length’s deluxe edition. The track slows down the thump of the album, simmering instead of boiling over, with Lipa deploying another slick hook to encapsulate her yearning as Angèle turns in a satisfying assist. Who knows -- if “Fever” takes off as Lipa’s latest single, perhaps she’ll perform it on the 2021 Grammys, where Future Nostalgia figures to play a major factor.

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The Album That Will Likely Flood Every Streaming Hip-Hop Playlist:
Trippie Redd, Pegasus

Canton, Ohio native Trippie Redd has existed on the precipice of hip-hop stardom for a few years now, scoring top 10 album debuts and appearing on a plethora of enviable A-list projects but not quite crossing over to the upper reaches of the Hot 100. Pegasus, his ambitious, 26-song third album, tries to flood the zone in search of that greater platform, with Young Thug, Lil Mosey, Quavo and Lil Wayne among those stopping by to assist the melodic rapper. Some of the album’s choices are delightfully unexpected -- witness “Red Beam,” a short reintroduction to Sean Kingston -- and with “Never Change,” a high-wattage team-up with Future, there’s at least one potential smash on the track list.

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The Song That Represents Two Latin Stars’ First Collaboration (Of Many, Hopefully):
Becky G & Ozuna, "No Drama"

From the opening verse of “No Drama,” the debut duet between Becky G and Ozuna, it’s obvious that the pairing is going to work: the dulcet tones complement instead of compete, Ozuna’s syllables rolling off the acoustic guitar strums and into Becky’s sharp crooning. Both artists are adept at squeezing rap bars in between their sung hooks, and along with their shared chemistry, “No Drama” is rife with effortless skill, two pros operating at a high level and making it sound easy. If this single takes off, Becky G and Ozuna need to take it as an indication that we need a more in-depth musical collaboration.

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The Albums That Will Make You Unpack The Stockings A Few Weeks Early:
Meghan Trainor, A Very Trainor Christmas & Tori Kelly, A Tori Kelly Christmas

Although this weekend is still a time for Halloween costumes and scary movies, the Christmas music world is ready to be saturated -- first Carrie Underwood, then Dolly Parton, and now a pair of new-school pop singers have unveiled their debut contributions to the holiday market. A Very Trainor Christmas, which marks Meghan Trainor’s second full-length of 2020, accentuates the modern doo-wop that made the “All About That Bass” singer a star, with original track “My Kind of Present” an immediate delight; meanwhile, Kelly romps through the classics with a relaxed control on A Tori Kelly Christmas, confident in her ability to belt to the heavens when necessary. Come November 1, take down those spooky decorations, pick up some eggnog and toss these albums on back-to-back.

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The Album That’s Been Long-Awaited, and Delivers:
Cam, The Otherside

“It’s not much time for you / It’s been decades for me,” Cam sings a few seconds into her sophomore album, The Otherside. Although the country singer-songwriter has been a constant presence in Nashville since breaking through on her major-label debut Untamed, that project was five years ago now, and Cam has experienced a label reshuffling and a healthy dose of artistic growth since its release. The songs on The Otherside are sturdier than those of its predecessor, with frequent collaborators Tyler Johnson and Jeff Bhasker helping Cam to convey her turbulent experiences while still letting moments of light break through -- see “Classic,” a charming new single that’s far more spontaneous-sounding than the album’s long gestation period would suggest.

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The Video That Will Make You Want To Sprint Around a Faraway Land:
Harry Styles, "Golden"

The last time Harry Styles released a music video for a Fine Line single, that song, “Watermelon Sugar,” harnessed its positive momentum to deliver the pop superstar his first Hot 100 chart-topper. Time will tell whether “Golden” embarks on a similar ascent, although based on its 26 million views in a few days on YouTube, it’s safe to say that a cinematic clip of Styles blissfully running around exotic locations -- and sometimes standing, shirtless! -- has produced a positive fan response. “Golden” is Fine Line’s gorgeous, hummable opener, and if this clip ends up closing out Styles’ biggest solo project to date, it has done so with a pristine kiss-off.