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 and Justin Bieber are happily stuck with each other, Kehlani releases her definitive statement and Hayley Williams tries on her ‘Armor’ as a solo artist. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
The Song That You’ll Dance To With Your Quarantine Partner This Weekend:
Ariana Grande & Justin Bieber, “Stuck With U”
Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber are two of the defining pop artists of the past decade, each accruing regular top 40 smashes and packing arenas. Yet their new collaboration, “Stuck With U,” does not try to conquer the world so much as help it heal a little bit. A sweet, PG-rated ode to appreciating the person that you’re holed up with, “Stuck With U” contains a doo-wop beat, multiple allusions to quarantining during the pandemic (“There’s nobody on these streets / If you told me that the world’s ending, ain’t no other way that I can spend it,” sings the pair) and a charitable slant, with all sales and streams of the song supporting the First Responders Children’s Foundation. Grande and Bieber sound great together, and will hopefully be able to perform “Stuck With U” to a packed audience sooner than later.
The Album That Will Make You Reflect On Your Own Relationships:
Kehlani, It Was All Good Until It Wasn’t
A telling moment occurs in the back half of Kehlani’s long-awaited new album: after combining with James Blake on “Grieving,” a song that masterfully combines the U.K. singer-songwriter’s sparse approach to alternative R&B with Kehlani’s fuller sound, she nimbly hops back into her own mode — and showcases her vocal prowess — with the stunning “Open (Passionate).” Kehlani has always been adept at approaching modern R&B as a singular artist and as a collaborator, but It Was All Good Until It Wasn’t is a masterclass in pacing, complementing features from Tory Lanez, Jhene Aiko and Lucky Daye with some of her most impactful meditations on love, sex, longing and inner peace to date. For years Kehlani has been a promising presence just outside of the mainstream, but with her latest full-length, that promise has been fulfilled.
The Album That Will Make You Want To Read Every Lyric:
Hayley Williams, Petals For Armor
“If there’s resistance, if there’s resistance, it makes you stronger, it’s not the end,” Hayley Williams sings on the Petals For Armor standout “Over Yet.” It’s a fitting mantra for the Paramore leader, who has been open about her personal hesitation to go it alone and put together a solo album — Petals For Armor is the result of Williams overcoming that fear, and contains enough bold ideas and fascinating stylistic explorations to more than justify its existence. The project takes the synth-pop heart of Paramore’s most recent LP, 2017’s After Laughter, and lets that core explode into different power-pop, alt-rock and R&B directions; all the while, the production is clean and the writing is focused. Williams uses this solo project to put her vulnerabilities on display, and comes out of Petals For Armor stronger for it.
The Mixtape That Serves as a Joint Victory Lap:
Young Thug & Chris Brown, Slime & B
Last year, Young Thug released what amounted to a mainstream coronation with So Much Fun, a star-studded album that shot to the top of the Billboard 200 chart; meanwhile, Chris Brown notched one of the biggest hits of his career with the Drake team-up “No Guidance.” Slime & B, a new collaborative mixtape, acts as a musical high-five following the respective success stories, with Young Thug stretching the limits of his warbling rap and Brown crooning hooks in between boasts. Gunna, Too $hort and E-40 are among the guests grabbing champagne glasses during this extended toast to success.
The Song That Tries To Make a Strong Impression in a Short Amount of Time:
Arizona Zervas, “24”
Arizona Zervas recently scored a No. 4 smash on the Hot 100 with “Roxanne,” the type of lightning-in-a-bottle breakthrough that most artists can only dream about. Now the singer/rapper embarks on the arduous task of trying to follow up that hit single, and so we get “24,” a two-minute check-in with one verse and another big sing-song chorus. Zervas is adept at amplifying melodies that would work well on both pop radio and in TikTok videos, and “24” sports another hook that gets stuck in your head with the same agility as “Roxanne.” With “24,” the new star suggests that he’s got more than one universal hit up his sleeve.
The Album That Aims To Bring A Rising Star to the Next Level:
Nav, Good Intentions
What type of hip-hop star does Nav want to be? That’s the question the Canadian MC tries to answer on new album Good Intentions, another guest-heavy affair in which Nav tries to assert himself alongside some of the genre’s biggest personalities. Young Thug, Lil Uzi Vert and Future are all featured, and their respective influences are all over Nav’s work — but while collaborations like “Turks” and “Run It Up” succeed, the most revealing song here is “Saint Laurenttt,” in which Nav toys with his vocals and creates a zonked-out highlight. If Nav is going to continue defining his hip-hop persona and solidifying his lane, tracks like these are the way to do so.
The EP That Hints at an Artistic Evolution:
Hailee Steinfeld, Half Written Story EP
Half Written Story is the first of a two-part release from singer/actress Hailee Steinfeld, with its follow-up due this summer, but its past is more important than its future: Steinfeld, a multi-talented pop voice, hasn’t issued a project since 2015’s Haiz, and has funneled a half-decade’s worth of maturation and ideation into a compelling listen. Half Written Story bursts with heartache and the strength it produces, but Steinfeld also experiments over these five songs, delving into a pop-rap cadence on “Man Up” and refreshing an Annie Lennox touchstone on “I Love You’s.” Steinfeld has made collecting top 40 hits look easy since the beginning of her music career, but Half Written Story provides more depth to her perspective.
The Song That Dusts Off a Classic Single:
“I knew I wanted to do something,” Cher recently declared in a Billboard interview while discussing her motivation to release music during the coronavirus pandemic. The 73-year-old legend has elected to cover ABBA’s 1979 single “Chiquitita” to benefit UNICEF, and has done so in a way both novel to her career — she’s released the song in both English and Spanish versions, marking her first single in the latter language — and tenderly rendered. “Chiquitita” is not ABBA’s best-known hit, but Cher handles it with soul and grace, continuing her exploration of the group’s discography, this time for a good cause.
The Song That You’ll Want To Play On Repeat This Mother’s Day:
Tim McGraw, “I Called Mama”
Why does Tim McGraw call his mama in “I Called Mama”? Just to tell her that he loved her, of course. Spontaneous affection is a well-worn theme in popular country music, but McGraw spins a charming story about gaining perspective in our busy lives and keeping loved ones close. While the song’s lyrics offer a nice mix of the general and specific, McGraw’s vocal performance sells “I Called Mama,” conjuring a grin from the listener when he sings, “I can always hear her smile when I call.” McGraw remains a total pro on tracks like this, and now has a Mother’s Day gem in his catalog.