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, Juice WRLD’s posthumous album is full of heartfelt moments, Summer Walker continues to level up and Katy Perry is hoping to make you grin. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
The Album That Will Make You Shed a Tear:
Juice WRLD, Legends Never Die
A generation of full-fledged hip-hop stars has been lost in the past few years: the most notable album release of last week was Pop Smoke’s posthumous debut Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon, and this week we have Juice WRLD’s Legends Never Die, another project in which its creator sorrowfully cannot celebrate. Juice WRLD was a dynamic, complex voice in modern popular music, and Legends Never Die bottles the restless energy that he experienced prior to his tragic passing last December. Much like the Pop Smoke album, this posthumous project splices unreleased recordings with a star-studded guest list — Marshmello, Polo G, Trippie Redd and The Kid Laroi all make appearances, while the contemplative Halsey collaboration “Life’s a Mess” could soon become a pop hit. Yet Legends Never Die is at its best in its solo stretches, Juice WRLD warbling hooks and pondering a world that he should have been part of for longer.
The EP That Checks In On a Rising Star’s Trajectory:
Summer Walker, Life on Earth EP
With her 2019 debut Over It, Summer Walker quickly established herself as an R&B force, undeniable in her vocal power and uncompromising in her point of view. As Walker awaits potential Grammy consideration for the project, she has gifted her fans five new tracks that don’t mess with a winning formula, but do hint at where she might go next. Life on Earth finds Walker crooning about, love, lust and self-worth with a stronger sense of identity and heightened emotional stakes; she name-checks SWV’s “Rain,” duets with PARTYNEXTDOOR and plays with harmony on closing track “Deeper.” Meanwhile, producer-songwriter No1-Noah is featured on two tracks, a major look for a soulful artist who would love to achieve Walker’s newfound heights.
The Song That’s Deeply Personal, and Still Danceable:
Katy Perry, “Smile”
At first glance, Katy Perry’s new song “Smile” is the sort of dizzy glitter-pop that she embraced on 2013’s Prism, its sashaying hook reminiscent of tracks like “Birthday” and “Walking On Air.” Yet Perry is not in the same place emotionally as she was seven years ago, and on the title track to her upcoming album, she welcomes the highs of the dance floor by dwelling on her recent lows. “Had a piece of humble pie / That ego check saved my life,” Perry sings, alluding to the turmoil she has spoken about with regards to her previous album, 2017’s Witness. “Daisies,” the first single off Smile, focused on Perry’s resilience with a mid-tempo arrangement; it’s encouraging to hear the pop star digging deeper while offering some summertime party music.
The Song That Finally Brings Two Visionaries Together:
Kid Cudi feat. Eminem, “The Adventures of Moon Man & Slim Shady”
While Eminem’s enormous influence on popular hip-hop has been undeniable since the turn of the century, Kid Cudi has not-so-quietly become a reference point for a new generation of rappers after debuting in the late 2000s. Both remain commercially viable, both have been active with new music in 2020, and neither has worked with the other, until now. “The Adventures of Moon Man & Slim Shady” marries two disparate approaches to rhyming — Cudi’s patient, sonorous flow contrasts with Em’s quick barbs and internal rhymes — and gives them an extended verse each, similar to Cudi’s No. 1 hit with Travis Scott earlier this year, “The Scotts.” Credit to both artists for finding an entertaining middle ground, and for producer Dot Da Genius for the slightly spooky environment in which they get to roam.
The Song That Will Give You The Strength to Block That Annoying Ex:
Kane Brown, Swae Lee & Khalid, “Be Like That”
“I wish I never met your ass / Sometimes it be like that,” Kane Brown sings in the opening moments of “Be Like That,” giving the listener a heads-up that this single will not be part of his family-friendly country stylings. Brown’s talent stretches beyond his genre, however, and just as he did on the Marshmello collaboration “One Thing Right,” the singer-songwriter sounds at home tossing out kiss-offs to a former flame alongside Swae Lee and Khalid over production from Mike WiLL Made-It and Charlie Handsome. Lee and Khalid have a slew of pop radio cache between them, and “Be Like That” sounds like another hit, shrewd in its deployment of their voices around Brown’s bottle-raising hook. The song is a toast to the exes we wish to forget, and Brown plays the speechwriter admirably.
The Song That Transcends Its Origin Story:
James Blake, “Are You Even Real?”
Ostensibly, “Are You Even Real?” represents a minor entry in the James Blake discography — the U.K. singer-songwriter featured the song in Apple’s “Behind The Mac” series and demonstrated how he edited the track using a MacBook. Divorced from its backstory, though, “Are You Even Real?” is a surprisingly romantic gem from Blake, who continues to push his writing outward after a wildly experimental beginning to his career. A string section swells, Blake’s voice curls into a falsetto, and the song reaches a feverish crescendo in its back half: “Then she ran, then she ran,” he sings, “then she ran her hands through my imagination.” Even if “Are You Even Real?” never makes it onto one of Blake’s albums, the starry-eyed song is ripe for a date-night playlist.
The Music Video That Manages to Dazzle in The Age of Quarantine:
Dua Lipa, “Hallucinate”
It’s a shame that we won’t get to see what Dua Lipa would have done with the visual for Future Nostalgia standout “Hallucinate” under normal circumstances — the coronavirus pandemic makes filming a music video for a massive club banger somewhat difficult — but director Lisha Tan has done a remarkable job providing an animated alternative. Classic cartoon tropes swirl around a bombshell pop artist, who enters a Studio 54-esque atmosphere and ends up blasting through outer space before dancing upon a giant disco ball. “Hallucinate” deserved a video that caused a sugary high, and Lipa, whose music video artistry is becoming an underrated attribute, has delivered.
The Album That Will Sound Great at Music Festivals in 2021 (and Beyond):
My Morning Jacket, The Waterfall II
In a press statement about My Morning Jacket’s semi-surprise new album The Waterfall II, frontman Jim James says, “As so many of us feel out of tune and long for the world to be a better place, we have to look to nature and the animals and learn from them: learn to love, accept, move on, and respect each other.” That quote gets at the vibe of this sequel to the veteran Kentucky-bred group’s 2015 full-length: recorded during the same sessions as its predecessor, The Waterfall II unearths 10 dreamy, at times rollicking tracks in an effort to give fans 45 minutes of peace during a trying time globally. “Climbing The Ladder” is MMJ at their punchiest, while songs like “Wasted” and “Feel You” will have you swaying on a summer night like you’re in a crowded Bonnaroo field.
The Song To Blast To Celebrate The Weekend:
Anitta feat. Arcangel & De La Ghetto, “Tocame”
Brazilian singer-songwriter Anitta has been primed for a stateside crossover for years — her 2019 album Kisses featured artists like Swae Lee, Alesso and Snoop Dogg, and a handful of collaborations with J Balvin have made noise on the U.S. Latin charts. “Tocame” is the strongest argument yet for that crossover, as Anitta delivers a breathless dance workout that sounds ready to explode in a club setting (whenever club settings are safely reopened, of course). Arcangel and De La Ghetto guest, and Ryan Tedder had a hand in the creation, but Anitta rules “Tocame,” knowing when to let the elastic beat ring out and when to step in and dominate. Don’t be surprised if this becomes a defining Latin pop song of 2020’s back half.
The Video That’s an Unlikely Feminist Anthem:
City Girls feat. Doja Cat, “Pussy Talk”
Is the “Pussy Talk” music video from City Girls and Doja Cat… inspirational? It might just be: along with the “Say So” star, the rap duo has given us a body-positive sex anthem and a matching clip in which three women are in control of their various surroundings, including any lame-brained dudes who try to discount their value. The video also, of course, gives City Girls and Doja Cat some fantastical settings in which to talk their talk — is that a magical forest? — but don’t let the cat costumes and fruit close-ups make you lose sight of the power dynamics on display.