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, DJ Khaled and Drake offer not just “another one,” but another two; the Chicks still aren’t ready to make nice, and that’s fine with us; and Ellie Goulding explores her inner self, to riveting effect. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
The Songs That Will Serve as the Summer Vacation You Weren’t Allowed To Have:
DJ Khaled feat. Drake, “Popstar” & “Greece”
Before he returned with his recent album Changes, Justin Bieber teamed up with DJ Khaled for a pair of radio-ready singles, “I’m The One” and “No Brainer,” and kept his commercial momentum intact. With “Popstar” and “Greece,” which will both be featured on Khaled’s upcoming album Khaled Khaled, Drake has similarly tided fans over as they await his own full-length, and even name-checks Bieber (and his manager Scooter Braun) on the former. While “Popstar” finds Drake in full imperialist mode, oscillating between thoughts about his mainstream supremacy and boasts about his lifestyle, “Greece” dives headfirst into that lifestyle as he entices a female companion into a high-class getaway. With so much travel cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, at least we can vicariously experience Drake’s lavish vacay.
The Album That’s Been a Long (Long, Long) Time Coming:
The Chicks, Gaslighter
Adult romance, infidelity, looking back on your regrets and imparting wisdom to your children — these themes are just a few that comprise the soul of Gaslighter, the Chicks’ first proper album in a whopping 14 years. Yet the current running through all 12 tracks here is strength: the best-selling country trio write from the perspective of a group that has been to hell and back personally and professionally, and is ready to tell a story that may inspire longtime listeners and a new generation of fans. The songwriting is impeccable, from the scorned-wife anthem “Tights On My Boat” to the sexually vulnerable “Texas Man”; there are no stray turns of phrase, but for every manicured line, there are three beating hearts beneath it, prepared to march for any cause worth believing in. As an addition to an already towering discography, Gaslighter gives the Chicks a crucial new chapter.
The Album That Finds a Pop Star Still Evolving:
Ellie Goulding, Brightest Blue
It’s been five years since Ellie Goulding’s last album, and in that time, the British pop singer-songwriter has grown up, gotten married and changed the focus of her music. Brightest Blue, a 19-track opus that’s divided into two halves, finds Goulding still musing on love and attraction, but also reflecting on her own struggles and aspirations more — check out the stomping centerpiece “Love I’m Given” — also while displaying her pop craft and hook expertise. Goulding opted to keep the first half of Brightest Blue mostly solo, and stuff the second half with guest spots; the result is a powerful self-examination followed by satisfying team-ups like the Diplo/Swae Lee hit “Close To Me” and the bittersweet Juice WRLD collaboration “Hate Me.”
The Song That’s Destined To Be a Teen Drama Theme Song:
Anne-Marie feat. Doja Cat, “To Be Young”
“We’re all a mess, but I guess, this is what it feels like to be young.” So goes the thesis of Anne-Marie’s new single, in which the youthful experiences of falling in love, drinking too much and dreaming of becoming a billionaire are portrayed as universal rites of passage. At a time in which much of the world is in disarray, the British singer-songwriter approaches the exploits of growing up with a sense of empathy, using her own point of view to assure her listeners that the chaos, even now, is normal; meanwhile, Doja Cat arrives in the second half to share her thoughts on upended expectations. Doja fans who only know her hit singles will be startled by the vocal and songwriting maturity on display here, although fans of her album Hot Pink will have already been aware of her multi-dimensional appeal.
The Song That You And Your Parents Can Groove Along To:
Kygo & Tina Turner, “What’s Love Got To Do With It”
Last year, Kygo unearthed an obscure Whitney Houston cover of Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love,” originally released on the Japanese version of her 1990 album I’m Your Baby Tonight, and turned it into a fresh-sounding top 40 staple. The Norwegian producer’s reworking of Tina Turner’s iconic “What’s Love Got To Do With It” functions as a spiritual sequel — a different legendary chorus is once again given a production facelift, with modern flourishes complementing the eternal hook — but this time, Tina Turner is along for the ride at the age of 80. While the idea of tinkering with what many would consider pop perfection is inherently risky, Kygo makes sure this new version of “What’s Love Got To Do With It” comes from a place of adoration, and keeps Turner, who still sounds like a force of nature, front and center.
The Album To Put On In The Morning To Ensure a Good Day:
The Aces, Under My Influence
“We began writing Under My Influence with one thing in mind: if the vulnerability scared us, we were headed in the right direction and we had to keep going,” rising pop-rock band the Aces write of their sophomore album. Indeed, the quartet is bigger and bolder here without sacrificing any of their early charm: “Lost Angeles” snaps into view as an ode to metropolitan loneliness, while “My Phone Is Trying To Kill Me” is about… well, you can probably guess. The big swings connect, too, most notably “Kelly,” a cymbal-heavy take on gender fluidity. Under My Influence contains a slew of highlights for those looking for a 45-minute summery escape, but the Aces have made good on their intent to dig deeper, and close listeners can now reap the rewards.
The Song That Nicely Fits Into Any Summer Pop Playlist:
Troye Sivan, “Easy”
Don’t let Troye Sivan’s kicky, uptempo arrangement fool you: “Easy” is all about hurt, finding temporary solutions to lasting pain and committing to a relationship that’s very much crumbling. Sivan, who’s currently trying out some new styles in between his second and third albums, uncovers a warm, glossy feeling here, letting his vocal delivery relax slightly to match the swirling synthesizers. Yet his songwriting is sharper than ever: “I can’t even look at you / Would you look at the space just next to your feet? / The wood is warping, the lines distorting / This house is on fire, woo!” he sings in the chorus, noticing the collateral damage and not the primary cause. Following the one-off “Take Yourself Home,” “Easy” provides Sivan with another rabbit hole to fall down as he considers his next full-length.
The EP That Lets The World Prepare For a New Star:
Pink Sweat$, The Prelude
Philly-based R&B singer-songwriter Pink Sweat$ has titled his new EP The Prelude because it previews his long-awaited debut album, Pink Planet. If these six songs are any indication, that album is going to announce his long-awaited mainstream arrival: on The Prelude, Pink Sweat$ showcases a mighty falsetto (“Not Alright”), delves into dreamy soul (the minor hit “17”) and even dons a throwback pop outfit reminiscent of recent Bruno Mars smashes (“Icy”). Following his Volume 1 and Volume 2 EPs, The Prelude is more well-rounded, with Pink Sweat$’s confidence growing in leaps and bounds, which bodes well for the next chapter of his career.
The Album To Listen To on a Good Set of Speakers:
Lianne La Havas, Lianne La Havas
British singer-songwriter-guitarist Lianne La Havas’ first album in five years is also her first self-produced album with her full band, and the most remarkable aspect of the long-awaited project is how alive every inch of it feels. La Havas’ soft, soulful vocal approach and splicing of R&B, rock and folk elements has earned her critical adoration in the past, but Lianne La Havas, which ostensibly centers on a single relationship, is the sound of an artist settling into her skin and finding natural beauty in her skills and imperfections (the album cover, fittingly, is a photo of La Havas grinning as her hair blows into her face). Curl up with songs like “Can’t Fight,” “Bittersweet” and “Green Papaya” and exhale along with them — or, if you’re also a Radiohead fan, marvel at La Havas’ moving cover of “Weird Fishes.”