“Now if you’re looking for a savior, well, that’s not me,” Lorde declares on the opening track of Solar Power, her highly anticipated third album. Over the course of her career, the New Zealand singer-songwriter has graced the highs of pop stardom -- her debut single, “Royals,” topped the Hot 100 chart and earned the song of the year Grammy, while her 2017 sophomore album, Melodrama, was one of the best-reviewed projects of that year -- but her latest project wrestles with the balance between professional achievement and personal satisfaction, operating in more muted tones while contemplating escape from the spotlight. The result is another uncompromising statement from one of the strongest songwriters in modern music, sparkling with highlights from the gentle pop-rock of “Secrets From a Girl (Who’s Seen It All)” to the sorrowful, swaying “Big Star.”
Shawn Mendes & Tainy, “Summer of Love”
On last year’s Wonder, Shawn Mendes outstretched his hands and grasped at something greater than himself, examining his identity, insecurities, relationships and the world around him. While the project sounded like the catharsis of an ambitious artist, Mendes also understands the value of a strong, accessible pop track -- which he serves up now alongside Latin pop production star Tainy. On “Summer of Love,” Mendes reminisces about past passion, references his No. 1 hit “Señorita” and generally sounds like he’s having a great time trifling around atop a chattering synth hook.
Ed Sheeran, “Visiting Hours”
The majority of Ed Sheeran’s biggest hits fall into one of two buckets -- uptempo, monster-hook pop singles (“Shape of You,” “Sing”) and heartfelt, waltz-worthy ballads (“Perfect,” “Thinking Out Loud”). After he preceded his fourth solo album with the top 40-ready “Bad Habits,” Sheeran has unveiled a tearjerker to play its counterpart: “Visiting Hours” is a regal ode dedicated to a loved one who has passed, and it achieves its most emotional moments with subtle production flourishes, like distant horns and a choir quickly chiming in to back up Sheeran.
Skrillex feat. Justin Bieber & Don Toliver, “Don’t Go”
In 2015, Skrillex helped Justin Bieber orchestrate a successful comeback with tropical-pop smashes like “Sorry” and “Where Are U Now”; six years later, the pair is still collaborating -- Skrillex contributed to multiple tracks on this year’s Justice -- and Bieber has lent a hand on the EDM legend’s latest single. As a rhythmic pop rumination on everlasting love and melancholic distance from it, “Don’t Go” sounds like it could have fit in on Bieber’s latest project, although Don Toliver’s soulful croon happily shakes up its formula on the song’s back half.
Young Thug, “Tick Tock”
Nope, it’s not a Kesha cover, or an ode to a short-form video app: Young Thug’s new single “Tick Tock” is an original, uptempo party-starter ahead of Punk, the prolific rap star’s So Much Fun follow-up. As Thugger’s helium-coated flow wraps itself around the hook, the beat rolls downward, forcing clipped lines and a chorus that offers onomatopoeic joy around its titular phrase.
Trippie Redd, Trip at Knight
Trippie Redd operates in extremes: whether he’s grinding over bleary-eyed neon synths, pummeling drum machines or dabbling with new-school pop-punk, the rapper dives headfirst into every song and makes sure his voice jolts the listener awake. Trip at Knight is another relentless opus, albeit one that makes the most of its guest stars -- Lil Durk, Polo G, Lil Uzi Vert and a posthumous Juice WRLD contribution are all featured, although the single “Miss The Rage” with Playboi Carti remains the album’s clear-cut high point as a distillation of both artists’ melodic talents.