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, Justin Bieber and Chance The Rapper offer some spiritual pop, Sam Smith returns to the dance floor and Anitta scores a major assist from Cardi B. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
The Song That Reunites Two Like-Minded Stars:
Justin Bieber feat. Chance The Rapper, “Holy”
Although it feels like it was released in another lifetime when our world was a whole lot different, Justin Bieber’s last album, Changes, is only seven months old, arriving in February before the coronavirus pandemic shook the United States and “social distancing” had entered the cultural lexicon. Bieber could presumably still be spinning singles off of that album — “Yummy” and “Intentions” were both top 10 hits, after all — but after joining forces with Ariana Grande on the quarantine-friendly No. 1 hit “Stuck With U,” he has teamed up with frequent collaborator Chance The Rapper for another new single, “Holy.” Here, Bieber shifts away from the futuristic R&B of Changes and towards spiritual pop, singing about his relationship with God and the happy marriage that has been a product of his faith. Chance’s verse includes some inspired similes (“Life is short with a temper, like Joe Pesci!” he declares), but the song is highlighted by its quietest moments — a piano line buoying Bieber, his voice carrying an earnestness that makes “Holy” especially heartfelt.
The Song That Will Have You Weeping on the Dance Floor:
Sam Smith, “Diamonds”
Sam Smith broke through in the mid-2010s thank to their sterling voice and how it was deployed over slower tempos, but recently, the singer-songwriter has gravitated more towards subtle grooves than somber fare like “Stay With Me” and “Too Good at Goodbyes.” Fans of hits like “How Do You Sleep?” and “Dancing With a Stranger” will embrace new track “Diamonds,” in which the drama of a messy breakup is paired with a funky bass line and elliptical percussion; for their part, Smith chews up lines like “You lied to me, lie-liiiiied to me / Then left with my heart ‘round your chest,” knowing just how delicious they are. Pop “Diamonds” on when love’s got you down, and proceed to dance the pain away.
The Song That Will Inspire Some Flirty Texting Across The Globe:
Anitta feat. Cardi B & Myke Towers, “Me Gusta”
While Anitta scoring a Cardi B feature on a new single is a major win for the Brazilian star, it also shouldn’t come as a shock: Anitta has developed into a major talent in the global pop scene, and with “Me Gusta,” she may have found the right U.S. crossover track. Cardi reliably shines, rapping in Spanish and comparing her curves to Shakira’s, but Anitta’s sexuality drives the song forward as the drums burst open and the various hooks unfurl. Don’t leave the party before Puerto Rican rapper Myke Towers enters the scene, though: as these two established women take care of business, Towers does his best to provide the song’s back half with an extra energy shot.
The Song That Will Inspire You on a Monday Morning:
Alicia Keys, Alicia
It may seem like an obvious statement that Alicia Keys’ seventh studio album needs to be listened to front-to-back to be fully appreciated, but considering that the R&B stalwart has already unveiled seven of the 15 songs on Alicia ahead of its release, an immersive experience may not feel required. Here, it is: Alicia contains complex shades for a complicated time, whether it be through meditations on police violence (“Perfect Way To Die”), understanding your own personality (“So Done” with Khalid) and taking action on urgent issues (“Authors Of Forever”). Throughout, Keys remains a steady, soulful presence, adopting her seat as an R&B veteran but still prodding at new ideas.
The Album That Presents a Compelling Hip-Hop Point of View:
Lil Tecca, Virgo World
It’s fitting that the first song on the new Lil Tecca full-length is titled “Our Time”: Virgo World, the 18-year-old’s official debut album, acts as a type of mission statement for not only the New York native but for his general hip-hop class. Hooks splash down and quickly evaporate, songs collapse before reaching the two-minute mark, and Tecca, who broke through with his top 10 hit “Ransom,” remains captivating in his ability to warble and rhyme, sometimes within the same line. His use of melody is most fully on display on “When You Down,” a thrilling summit of like-minded rappers with Lil Durk and Polo G (the latter’s storytelling remains exquisite), while Tecca admirably stands alongside Lil Uzi Vert on the chilly “Dolly.”
The Album That Even Anti-Country Listeners Need To Check Out:
Keith Urban, The Speed of Now Pt. 1
Take the beginning of Keith Urban’s new album — which opens with a rollicking track featuring both Nile Rodgers and “My Truck” star Breland, then moves into a soulful duet with P!nk — as a showing of the country star’s vitality. Now squarely in his fifties and wrapping up the third decade of a storied career, Urban is still taking risks, and while the rest of The Speed of Now Pt. 1 isn’t quite as experimental as opening tracks “Out The Cage” and “One Too Many,” those songs set the tone for a more playful listen than 2018’s Graffiti U. Take the kicky rocker “Tumbleweed” or the radio-ready “Forever,” as well as the previously released hits “We Were” and “God Whispered Your Name,” as more proof that Urban sounds as energized as he has in years on his new project.
The Song That Continues The Disco Revival Trend With… Some Actual Disco:
Kygo & Donna Summer, “Hot Stuff”
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies to both Donna Summer’s iconic 1979 smash “Hot Stuff,” as well as Kygo’s recent practice of reviving classic vocal performances and putting a modern twist on their productions. After the success of the Whitney Houston version of “Higher Love” last year and a new take on Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It” this year, why shouldn’t the Norwegian producer try his hand at “Hot Stuff”? This time, Kygo treats his latest undertaking as something akin to a remix, leaving the heart of Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte’s track intact while tinkering with the pacing and presentation. Thus, Kygo gives us the “Hot Stuff” we all love, but with some imaginative new details for discerning listeners.
The Album That Never Wants You To Stop Moving:
Ava Max, Heaven & Hell
“I couldn’t just have one ballad,” Ava Max recently told Billboard about the lack of slower songs on her debut album, Heaven & Hell. “If I’m gonna have an album with a ballad, I need at least four solid ballads. And we just didn’t want to take out the dance and anthems that were already on there.” Indeed, Heaven & Hell is an unrelentingly uptempo body of work from the rising artist best known for “Sweet but Psycho,” with many of its 15 tracks sporting the same type of electro-pop sheen as her breakthrough hit. No one should be complaining: there’s a lot to love here, from Max’s vocal theatrics on “OMG What’s Happening” to the finger-snapping thinly veiled threats on “Take You On Hell” to the wondrous “Naked,” which has one of the year’s best chorus openings: “Well, you can take off all my clothes,” Max sings, “and never see me naked.”
The Song That Could Serve as a Breakthrough Hit:
Ali Gatie feat. Alessia Cara, “Welcome Back”
Canadian singer-songwriter has been percolating on streaming services for a minute, as songs like “It’s You” and “What If I Told You That I Love You” bringing his sensual voice to the lower reaches of the Hot 100. With “Welcome Back,” a new collaboration with Alessia Cara that’s more contemplative than it appears at first glance, Gatie may have found his biggest single yet. The song plays out like a conversation between a couple trying to save a relationship — the “welcome back” of the title nods to the version of themselves that they once were — and both Gatie and Cara sound genuinely affected by the concept, pleading for resolution as the beat pushes their love story forward.