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 unveils Chromatica to the world, Rosalia taps Travis Scott for one of her biggest songs yet, and Anuel unveils his full-length opus. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
The Album That Every Pop Fan In Your Life Will Be Talking About:
Lady Gaga, Chromatica
As the unyielding effervescence of both “Stupid Love” and “Rain On Me” suggested, Chromatica is a homecoming for Lady Gaga, following the cowboy-hat detours of 2016’s Joanne and moments of cinematic grandeur from the 2018 soundtrack to A Star Is Born. When Gaga became a superstar at the opening of the 2010s, she did so by challenging the conventions of mainstream presentation, crashing highbrow influences into gripping electro-pop hooks. Chromatica does not try to reinvent anymore wheels, but after years of diversifying her catalog and conquering different stages, from the Super Bowl halftime show to the Academy Awards, the sound of Gaga hunkering down on giant, juicy choruses remains wildly gratifying, particularly over this collection of house- and techno-tinged songs from producers like BloodPop, Burns and Axwell. There are string-laden instrumental interludes, literary allusions and daring collaborations, but Chromatica’s best moments sound the most effortless, with Gaga’s talent as a songwriter and vocalist presented in its most buoyant form.
The Song That Could Give an International Star a U.S. Hit:
Rosalia & Travis Scott, “TKN”
The last time flamenco-pop provocateur Rosalia and Houston rap titan Travis Scott linked up, it was on the latter’s remix to the No. 1 hit “Highest In The Room,” with the former entering Scott’s sonic world and even re-creating some of his ad-libs. On “TKN,” the tables have turned: Rosalia stomps to center stage and tosses out punchy exclamations over a plinking beat, while Scott warbles in Spanish and generally dishes an assist in the song’s middle third. While Scott now regularly takes trips to the summit of the Hot 100, “TKN” may be Rosalia’s first real shot at U.S. radio play and a mainstream breakthrough; the whole world knows her name, but her new collaboration may help the Catalan star level up even further.
The Album With Sky-High Expectations, and the Track List To Match:
The new album from Latin trap sensation Anuel (formerly Anuel AA) opens with “No Llores Mujer,” a re-imagining of Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” that features Travis Barker. That introduction sets the table for the type of ambition at play on Emmanuel, a sprawling, nearly 90-minute double-album in which one of the more quietly influential figures in modern music — and one of Latin pop’s most in-demand collaborators — makes his overture for a new kind of superstardom. While new tracks with Bad Bunny and Enrique Iglesias could become crossover bids, the standout moments on Emmanuel find Anuel crystallizing his style of unrelenting trap on songs like “Narcos” and “Rifles Rusos” (featuring Tego Calderon). It’s been nearly two years since Anuel was released from prison and was able to restart his career; Emmanuel represents the culmination of his return, and holds nothing back from its audience.
The Album That Will Make You Want To Peruse Every Lyric:
Alec Benjamin, These Two Windows
Alec Benjamin has a gentle voice and a precision with which he tells his stories — every word of his is presented unobstructed, his production often deferring to his lyricism, and the singer-songwriter has accrued a sizable fan base with his sharp turns of phrase. These Two Windows is a compact major-label statement that soars when Benjamin’s pen is complemented by equally thoughtful arrangements: “Match In The Rain,” for instance, utilizes echoing percussion to capture the futility of a relationship, while closer “Just Like You” strips down his reflections on his father with a tiptoeing acoustic guitar. Benjamin has been an industry talent to watch for years, and These Two Windows makes good on his promise by rounding out his sound.
The Song That Continues a Musical Legacy Cut Short:
Juice WRLD & Trippie Redd, “Tell Me U Love Me”
In recent weeks, posthumous releases from Juice WRLD, the talented hip-hop artist who passed away in December at the age of 21, have begun to trickle out, in the form of both solo tracks (like the single “Righteous”) and collaborations (like “Flex,” on Polo G’s The GOAT album). “Tell Me U Love Me” is both a team-up with Trippie Redd as well as a track in which Juice WRLD’s approach to rap and melody dominates: as Trippie handles the hook, the late MC waxes poetic about romantic desperation, text fights, commitment issues and, tragically, drug abuse. “Babe, welcome to my world, dark and confusing / Get lost in it often, the same way I’m lost in you,” he raps over a simmering beat, providing more material for devotees to pore over in the months following his untimely passing.
The Album To Put On For Some Much-Needed Motivation:
Kygo, Golden Hour
Kygo certainly knows how to diversify his guest list — new album Golden Hour, much like the previous projects from the superstar Norwegian producer, is filled with a variety of voices across genres and experience levels. Yet Golden Hour avoids sounding like a grab bag of cobbled-together singles by leaning into dance-floor-friendly inspiration, congealing around Kygo’s brand of earnest electro-pop pump-ups and letting the vocalists channel his vision. That’s how an album with stomping tracks featuring OneRepublic and Zac Brown, shimmering pop showcases for Kim Petras and Sasha Sloan, and Whitney Houston reaching for “Higher Love” can all sound of a whole. While Kygo may not be generally viewed as an “album artist,” Golden Hour finds impressive cohesion as a one-sit listen.
The Album That Will Make You Re-Think One Of Your Favorite MCs:
Lil Yachty, Lil Boat 3
The perception of Lil Yachty as something of a hip-hop jokester — blame it on playful fizziness of early hits like “Broccoli” and “iSpy,” or his wide-smile image, or even the bouncy nature of his helium-coated flow — comes to something of an end on Lil Boat 3. Yachty’s new album is largely serious and hard-charging, with floating trap beats and a newfound focus to his delivery (although he does make room for the occasional goofball double entendre: “Got a stick way too big, I could kill a fox,” he raps on “Wock in Stock”). And as “Oprah’s Bank Account” with Drake and DaBaby previewed, Lil Boat 3 is rife is guest stars to match Yachty’s energy — take special note of Tierra Whack, who steps up alongside Yachty, A$AP Rocky and Tyler, The Creator on “T.D” and absolutely pulverizes the track.
The Song That Will Inspire an Outdoor Exploration:
Cam, “Redwood Tree”
Earlier this year, singer-songwriter Cam returned with “Till There’s Nothing Left,” a sweeping bit of country-pop romance in line with contemporaries like Carrie Underwood and Little Big Town. Follow-up “Redwood Tree,” on the other hand, harkens back to classic Joni Mitchell, leaning upon a decades-spanning piece of nature as a device to help capture personal growth and the passage of time. In the wrong hands a song like “Redwood Tree” could read as saccharine, yet Cam shows restraint in her performance, allowing the track’s folksy subtleties to flourishes instead of aiming for show stopping sentimentality; the result is an even more affecting single than its predecessor, and another win for the rising country artist.