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, Camila Cabello is in the age of Romance, Taylor Swift spreads some holiday cheer and Halsey links up again with a BTS star. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
The Album That Gives a Pop Star Free Reign, To Great Effect:
Camila Cabello, Romance
Camila Cabello walks a highly enviable line in the pop world: she is able to score crossover smashes at a frequent clip, from “Havana” to this year’s “Señorita” with Shawn Mendes, while also being able to liberally play with her sound and vocal approach, including recent tracks like blown-out dance cut “Shameless” and the fragile, contemplative “Living Proof.” The latter two lead off Cabello’s Romance, a project that lets the pop star explore her passions (as the title would suggest), but keeps her grounded in a mainstream understanding that will keep her on top 40 radio for years to come. “My Oh My,” a salacious team-up with DaBaby, is a slam dunk of a future single; elsewhere, “First Man” wants to become a wedding-ceremony staple, with a structure reminiscent of early Taylor Swift. Romance roams across its creator’s musical interests, and while some experiments are more lucrative than others, none of them grow dull; if Cabello spends her pop career collecting hits and simultaneously uncovering more rabbit holes to dive down, consider that a career well spent.
The Song That You’ll Be Singing All Through The Next Three Weeks (And Probably After That):
Taylor Swift, “Christmas Tree Farm”
Taylor Swift has spent her entire career having listeners pore over her lyrics and imagery and wonder aloud what who they’re about, what they mean and which sliver of herself she is sharing. “Christmas Tree Farm,” an utterly delightful new holiday single, is actually pretty personal — Swift did grow up on a Christmas tree farm called Pine Ridge Farm, and its music video contains home footage filmed by her parents during the holidays — although she uses those details as the foundation for a universal message of yuletide cheer. Sleigh bells ring, mistletoe features prominently, and Swift leads a choir at the end that will make even the crankiest heart grow three sizes; “Christmas Tree Farm” is everything one could want from a Taylor Swift holiday single, so add it to your seasonal playlist before you put up a single decoration this weekend.
The Song That Will Be Among The BTS Army’s Favorite Interludes Ever:
Halsey feat. Suga, “Suga’s Interlude”
After BTS teamed up with Halsey on the hit single “Boy With Luv,” the latter has recruited Suga from the best-selling K-pop group for an interlude — although, really, not an interlude — on her upcoming album, Manic. “Suga’s Interlude” may have the shortened run time of a connective-tissue album track, but it’s more fleshed-out than its title suggests: after Halsey unfurls a full chorus that focuses on inner struggle, Suga flies in with quick-hitting rhymes and plays off the mournful, piano-led production. Cynics would point to the commercial might of BTS as the reason Suga shows up on Halsey’s latest album track list, but the creative chemistry on display here suggests a fruitful partnership — and, hopefully, further collaboration in the future.
The Album That Wants To Crash Your 2019 Hip-Hop Albums List:
Roddy Ricch, Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial
Few rappers have had a bigger professional year than Roddy Ricch, as the Compton MC entered 2019 as an unknown mainstream entity and leaves it as a multi-Grammy nominee with a top 20 hit (“Ballin’” with Mustard) and, now, an exciting and well-executed official debut. Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial posits Roddy Ricch as a West Coast student who thrives over complex arrangements and can sing-spit with the fearlessness of Young Thug; “The Box” and “Big Stepper” are slicing solo cuts, he channels the energy of Drip Harder on the Gunna team-up “Start Wit Me,” and “High Fashion” is another winner with Mustard. How high can Roddy Ricch climb in 2020? Based on this album, his ceiling should be higher than you think.
The Album That’s a Solid Step 1 From a Former 1D Member:
Liam Payne, LP1
With his debut solo album, Liam Payne channels the catchy, slightly edgy, hip-hop-influenced rhythmic pop of another former boy band member’s solo debut: Justin Timberlake’s Justified. LP1 doesn’t have the all-timer singles of that full-length, although the project effectively establishes Payne’s persona outside of One Direction, and offers detours into more modern pop than his cohorts Harry Styles and Niall Horan have taken in their respective solo albums. “Heart Meet Break” lets the singer hover above a crackling trap beat, while “Tell Your Friends” finds Payne switching up his flow midway through and capably rapping over a spacious bit of production; later, previously released singles like “Strip That Down” and “Bedroom Floor” showcase Payne’s enduring radio appeal. LP1 is a long-awaited, and hard-earned, first foot forward for Payne, who will be a reliable presence in pop for the foreseeable future.
The Video That’s an Exclamation Point on An Incredible Year:
Billie Eilish, “Xanny”
As much acclaim as Billie Eilish has earned in 2019, she may very well be an underrated visual artist, as her music video prowess and stage constructions are often overshadowed by her acclaimed debut album and chart-topping singles. The video for When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? standout “Xanny,” which Eilish directed herself, is a great reminder of this specific skill: the simple yet haunting clip finds the pop superstar perched on a white bench as disembodied hands smash cigarette butts against her face. When paired with the melancholy song, the result is a delightfully squirmy image that lingers long after the first viewing; in closing out a phenomenal year, the “Xanny” video nods to the uncompromising vision that has made Eilish so riveting.
The Song To Show Your Disco-Loving Aunt:
Harry Styles, “Adore You”
As impressive as Harry Styles’ self-titled debut solo album was two years ago, the straight-faced rock project did not offer many danceable moments; with “Watermelon Sugar” and now the shimmy-ready “Adore You,” Styles’ sophomore album Fine Line can boast at least two. “Adore You” presents itself as a pastel-colored dream, with Styles smiling through the main declaration, “I’ll walk through fire for you! / Just let me adore you!,” as the bass, funk guitar and backing harmonies all recall a bygone era of pop. A guitar solo is tossed out to harken back to Styles’ previous era, but “Adore You” is much closer to the danceable indie-pop of the 1975 or St. Lucia, and molds Styles’ charisma around a sound that comes just as naturally to him.
The Song To Show Your Classic-Rock-Loving Uncle:
Tame Impala, “Posthumous Forgiveness”
As successful as Kevin Parker has been at writing memorable guitar-rock flare-ups, from “Elephant” to “The Less I Know The Better,” the Tame Impala mastermind is equally adept at creating sprawled-out psychedelic detours — a balance that makes an album like 2015’s Currents one of the decade’s best. At six minutes and change, “Posthumous Forgiveness” squarely falls into the second bucket, a melting candle of a song that collapses into a heap of synthesizer halfway through, then shifts into a solemn anthem with a steady beat as Parker’s vocals remain as elliptical as ever. Tame Impala knows its formula and abides by it well; “Posthumous Forgiveness” doesn’t stray too far from past extended slow burns like “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” and “Let It Happen,” but considering how rich those songs are, it never needed to.
The Album That Wants You To Reconsider a Complicated Legacy:
XXXTentacion, Bad Vibes Forever
As we exit the 2010s, it’s worth wondering how XXXTentacion — a rapper whose undeniable influence on the genre was muddied by personal controversy prior to his untimely death last year — will be remembered within the scope of pop culture. Bad Vibes Forever, which is being billed as a “final posthumous album,” aims to represent a last word of sorts to a discography that has included a few huge hits and several fascinating sonic explorations. Several guest stars, from Blink-182 to Noah Cyrus to Rick Ross, appear across the 25-song track list; the length of Bad Vibes Forever could make it feel like a slog to the uninitiated, but X fans will revel in the expansive approach — and, even more than the A-list appearances, appreciate the unfiltered presentation of solo tracks like “Ugly” and “Triumph.”