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, Lady Gaga makes it rain with Ariana Grande, The 1975 delivers another opus and The Weeknd recruits Doja Cat for another pop radio offering. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
The Song That Can Be Described As An International Bop:
Lady Gaga feat. Ariana Grande, “Rain On Me”
If anyone thought Lady Gaga’s “Stupid Love” was a dance-pop red herring leading up to the release of her new album Chromatica, “Rain On Me,” her new collaboration with Ariana Grande, quickly dispels such notions. The new team-up shimmers to an even more spectacular degree, gobbling up house and disco touchstones to become a gigantic dance record about embracing pain as a marker of humanity (“I’d rather be dry, but at least I’m alive,” goes the post-tears refrain). Lucky for us that Gaga selected the perfect collaborator for the track: Grande sounds reinvigorated here, her melismas filling gaps in the song and her verse becoming a full-on diva showcase. If the rest of Chromatica is this propulsive, we’ll be grooving to it well into 2021.
The Album That’s Worth The 80-Minute Run Time:
The 1975, Notes on a Conditional Form
For those of you desperate to hear The 1975 deliver a concise (read: shorter) body of work after their first three albums contained at least 15 songs each: album number four, the 22-track Notes on a Conditional Form, will not grant your wish. Yet the self-indulgence and air-gulping ambition of Matty Healy and co. have also produced wide-screen brilliance on a consistent basis, and Notes on a Conditional Form demands your attention because it has several of them. The amount of rock-adjacent sounds covered here is staggering, from the scream-punk urgency of “People” to the coffee-shop acoustic intimacy of “The Birthday Party” to the hilarious gospel/rap/piano-pop mash-up “Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied,” but Healy’s songwriting can handle the sprawl and jump over the potential missteps. Sure, The 1975 could have turned Notes on a Conditional Form into a tighter 12 songs — but then, the most interesting rock band in the world wouldn’t be themselves.
The Remix That Could Lead To Another No. 1 Smash:
The Weeknd feat. Doja Cat, “In Your Eyes” remix
The Weeknd and Doja Cat are two of the most recent artists to top the Hot 100 chart, with “Blinding Lights” and “Say So,” respectively; one is a established hitmaker approaching a decade as a major name in music, while the other is the mainstream’s most in-demand rising star. It makes sense, then, that the pair balance each other out so effectively on the new remix to the Weeknd’s “In Your Eyes,” with Abel providing the steady hand on the track and Doja delivering the breath of fresh air. “Hate the way I feel love, only hurts with real love,” she sings, her voice unexpectedly fragile, her sentiment taking a page from the Weeknd’s pleasure-is-pain brand of pop. “In Your Eyes” just received an injection of feeling from the exact right choice for a remix, and could become another major hit for both artists in the coming weeks.
The Video That Makes Eating Fruit Look Super-Cool:
Harry Styles, “Watermelon Sugar” video
“This Video Is Dedicated To Touching,” reads an intro slide ahead of Harry Styles’ new video, which takes a Fine Line standout, adds some heavy petting (on the beach, no less), and lets us all wistfully reflect on the days before social distancing. The “Watermelon Sugar” clip is celebratory and slightly ridiculous — no one man should have all that citrus, and at one point, Styles casually tosses a full watermelon high behind his head with little concern. Yet Styles’ charm levels remain unending, and watching him pal around on the beach and pose for photos will make you want to do so the same (even if, you know, the snack menu is slightly diversified).
The Album That Could Be The Arrival of a Reliable Hip-Hop Star:
In addition to scoring solo hits like “Skybox” and “Speed It Up,” Gunna has become one of rap’s most in-demand collaborators, hopping on recent tracks by Young Thug, NAV and his Drip Harder partner Lil Baby. Wunna, a new 18-song project, boasts its own share of high-profile collaborations, but kicks off with four solo cuts that showcase the Georgia native’s effortless flow, melodic understanding and flashy-lifestyle lyrics. Come to Wunna for the Travis Scott teaming “Top Floor” and the latest Lil Baby link-up, “Blindfold,” but stay for Gunna running laps around his foes on the crackling “Feigning” and crooning all over the late highlight “Don’t Play Around.”
The Song That You’ll Want To Add To Your Instant-Inspiration Playlist:
“Together” is a song that Sia wrote for her upcoming directorial debut, Music, and the veteran pop mastermind has said in recent interviews that the track was designed as a closing-credits anthem. If that’s the case, rarely will leaving a movie theater feel so empowering: “Together” aims to enthrall its listener with images of rainbows, angels, sharing love and setting the past ablaze, with Sia selling the approach with full vocal enormity. From “Alive” to “The Greatest” to “Elastic Heart,” Sia has fashioned a solo career out of providing hard-fought inspiration; “Together” is a kid-friendly, candy-colored edition of that vision, and an effective way to reach a new generation of listeners.
The EP That Sounds Like An Overdue Hang With Old Friends:
Florida Georgia Line, 6 Pack EP
“It’s beer. Thirty. And I’m. Thirsty.” So goes the opening line on Florida Georgia Line’s new EP, the appropriately titled 6 Pack, and the best-selling country duo is making it clear that, even if these songs don’t represent the proper follow-up to their ambitious 2019 album Can’t Say I Ain’t Country, at the very least they’re going to check in with you and provide a party. “Thank the Lord it’s Friday night and it’s time to chill,” Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard remark on the standout “Ain’t Worried Bout It,” which joins the previously released “I Love My Country” and the impressive Songland product “Second Guessing” on the track list. That sense of relief and welcome distraction pervades the project, with FGL saddling up during a fraught period in the country and doing what they can to entertain over the course of 17 minutes.
The Song That Should Immediately Be Added To Your BBQ Mix:
Deadmau5 feat. the Neptunes, “Pomegranate”
For a too-brief moment in the 2010s, Pharrell Williams revived his career in front of the boards and became one of the biggest pop stars on the planet, thanks to “Get Lucky” with Daft Punk, then his own “Happy,” and his GIRL full-length, which snagged a Grammy nom for album of the year. Williams has seemingly placed his singing career on the back burner in recent years, but no reason that he can’t occasionally slip into the spotlight and deliver another heater, as he does on the deadmau5-Neptunes collaboration “Pomegranate.” With the robe-funk production taken care of by the experts, Williams is given room to glide around his sea of intimate euphemisms (“You’re making faces, probably so am I / We’re in the ocean / Waves are rolling in your eyes”). Even as “Pomegranate” serves as delectable summertime fodder, let’s hope it’s not the last we hear from Williams for a while.
The Album That Pop Twitter Will Be Raving About All Weekend:
Carly Rae Jepsen, Dedicated: Side B
Although Carly Rae Jepsen’s songwriting has evolved thematically with each new release — the young-love meet-cutes of her “Call Me Maybe” days have given way to adult passion and attentiveness — there’s still a mixture of an airiness and inclusivity that has served as her bedrock and turned her into a cult hero. Dedicated: Side B, a collection of cuts from the sessions of last year’s masterful Dedicated, is stronger than most pop stars’ actual albums, and part of that consistency has to do with a lack of pomp or circumstance. Songs like “Summer Love,” “Let’s Sort The Whole Thing Out” and the Bleachers team-up “Comeback” are dreamy, ‘80s-indebted pop tracks that don’t need high stakes or superficial drama to soar. Jepsen remains such a talented song creator that even her castoffs sound blissful.