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, Harry Styles lets us peek into Harry’s House, Red Hot Chili Peppers keep it delightfully simple, and Kehlani re-teams with Justin Bieber. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
Harry Styles, “As It Was”
Harry Styles can go wherever he wants at this point in his career — over the course of his time with One Direction and with a pair of solo albums, he has traveled the world, played to millions of fans, and, thanks to 2019’s Fine Line, added a few more accolades like a Hot 100 chart-topper and a Grammy win, too. Styles’ third solo album, Harry’s House, could be a continuation of Fine Line’s mainstream pop appeal, an off-kilter detour, or anything in between, and his status as an A-list artist wouldn’t be questioned. Yet new single “As It Was,” a synth-pop pivot by way of late ‘00s indie rock, suggests that Styles has determines a path forward that marries artistic evolution and accessible, catchy-as-hell radio fodder.
That combination exists in the contrast between the gleaming, danceable production on “As It Was” and the darn-near-defeated lyricism, as Styles provokes himself into movement while glumly admitting to communication issues and changed feelings. Per usual, Styles executes “As It Was” with grace and attention to detail — the vocal harmonies are subtly crucial, and the bridge gives the back half of the song an excellent kick upward — and whether or not this single previews the sound of Harry’s House, one of pop’s brightest stars remains comfortable in his skin while pushing himself forward.
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Unlimited Love
A looseness underlines Red Hot Chili Peppers’ first album in six years that can partially be chalked up to guitarist John Frusciante returning to the fold for the first time since 2006’s Stadium Arcadium, but even without that reunion in mind, Unlimited Love plays out like a back-to-basics check-in from a legendary collective with nothing new to prove and more good vibes to explore. Anthony Kiedis slings rhymes, Flea pops bass lines, the choruses soar (a song like “These Are The Ways” is going to slay live), California gets toasted; RHCP understand their DNA and put in admirable work playing to their strengths on a welcome studio return.
Kehlani feat. Justin Bieber, “Up At Night”
In a press release, Kehlani describes new track “Up At Night” as “about having a healthily obsessed relationship” — as in, the type of passion that makes one think about their partner so much it prevents sleep. The smooth, sultry texture of “Up At Night” nails that tone pristinely: Kehlani rides a knocking beat while singing with unadulterated joy, while Justin Bieber slides in to play her foil, making for a worthy follow-up to their Changes track “Get Me” and an encouraging sign ahead of Kehlani’s forthcoming album, Blue Water Road.
Shawn Mendes, “When You’re Gone”
“It’s hard for me to let go of you,” Shawn Mendes admits on new single “When You’re Gone,” “so I’m just tryna hold on.” After releasing another post-breakup track late last year, the twinkling piano ballad “It’ll Be Okay,” Mendes translates his hurt into a driving pop-rock arrangement here and comes up with a brilliant step forward: “When You’re Gone” carries an ‘80s-inspired flair and some springy guitar work, but Mendes’ vocal performance — searching, stumbling, a bit desperate and fully open — makes this a new gem in his catalog.
Thomas Rhett, Where We Started
For those not paying attention to the arc of his career, hearing Thomas Rhett duet with Katy Perry over a crackling trap beat on the title track to new album Where We Started could come as a shock — yet over the course of his run into country music’s upper tier, Rhett has always proven adept at expanding the genre while staying true to its central tenets. Where We Started contains straight-ahead country radio offerings like the previously released hit “Slow Down Summer,” yet tracks like “Church Boots” and “Anything Cold” feature the type of playful instrumentation and charismatic vocal performances that have separated Rhett from the pack in his field.
Miley Cyrus, Attention: Miley Live
Miley Cyrus is a gifted live performer who can tap into her various pop-star eras, from the precocious Hannah Montana material to her rebel-rap Bangerz days to her classic rock homage Plastic Hearts, with uniform steadiness and emotion. Attention: Miley Live, Cyrus’ first live album, thrives off of her onstage spirit: newly debuted tracks “Attention” and “You” are must-hears for completists, but the vigor within songs like the eternal sing-along “The Climb,” the Pixies mash-up “We Can’t Stop x Where Is My Mind?,” and the Plastic Hearts highlight “High” will make you desperate to experience Cyrus in concert again.