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, Lil Nas X plugs in with a new anthem, Sam Smith shakes up their formula with Kim Petras’ help and Joshua Bassett continues his evolution. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
Lil Nas X, “Star Walkin’ (League of Legends Worlds Anthem)”
“Star Walkin’” may exist thanks to a partnership with enormous multiplayer video game franchise League of Legends (which also helped produce the Imagine Dragons top 10 hit “Enemy” earlier this year), but Lil Nas X’s 2022 World Championship anthem is far from a corporate stopgap for the superstar: the single sits at the intersection between hummable pop and mass-appeal hip-hop that Nas has made his home over the past few years, with a hook full of motivational sloganeering (“Racin’ to the moonlight, and I’m speedin’!”) and some comedic one-liners baked into the origin-story bars. Like “Enemy,” “Star Walkin’” works even without the gamer context, and should be another hit for an artist who’s now piling them up.
Sam Smith feat. Kim Petras, “Unholy”
“I think joy for me, and for a lot of queer people, is quite a dangerous place,” Sam Smith told Billboard in their recent cover story. “We’re all masters of pain, and I think it’s actually a very courageous act to step into the queer joy of it all.” “Unholy,” a daring collaboration with Kim Petras from Smith’s upcoming album, not only unites two of the most prominent artists in the past decade of queer pop music, but does so without sonic reservation — simply put, the song sounds nothing like any of Smith’s past material, with their careful balladry replaced by sweaty bass and undulating voices. There’s certainly danger in a torch song like “Unholy,” and in some ways, it’s intoxicating.
Joshua Bassett, Sad Songs in a Hotel Room EP
As he forges ahead with his recording career — separate from his High School Musical series work, away from the rumored allusions of a certain pop superstar from 2021 — Joshua Bassett’s gifts as a delicate vocalist and emotionally intelligent songwriter are only going to become more evident. His new EP, Sad Songs in a Hotel Room, captures a 21-year-old figuring out his next moves but understanding the medium in which he wants to express them, alternating between guitar and piano as the foundation of his vulnerabilities and letting his strongest moments, like the wrenching “Lifeline,” cut through the noise around Bassett’s career to date.
Muni Long, Public Displays of Affection: The Album
Muni Long is enjoying a breakthrough year thanks to the top 40 success of her sumptuous R&B ballad “Hrs and Hrs,” although the artist born Priscilla Renea Hamilton had been a successful songwriter for over a decade before scoring this hit for herself. That backstory makes Public Displays of Affection: The Album even more of a must-listen: Muni Long, who sings about lust and betrayal with technical precision, represents an exciting new talent in mainstream R&B, but she naturally constructs highlights like “Plot Twist,” “Ain’t Easy” and “Cartier” with the skills of a veteran.
Kelsea Ballerini, Subject To Change
A song like “Muscle Memory” on Kelsea Ballerini’s fourth album Subject To Change showcases why the singer-songwriter remains a country-pop force: at three-and-a-half minutes, the track hums along like a sun-kissed afternoon drive, full of affecting details and sweeping melodies. Ballerini has always excelled at her craft, and while Subject To Change is a more straightforward offering than her 2020 album Kelsea and its acoustic counterpart Ballerini, her latest also focuses on personal growth (as its title suggests), with Ballerini telling her stories of love, loneliness and maturation the best way she knows how.
GloRilla feat. Cardi B, “Tomorrow 2”
Since turning heads over the summer with viral hit “F.N.F. (Let’s Go),” GloRilla signed with CMG, scored the best feature on Duke Deuce’s album Crunkstar, and now stands toe-to-toe with Cardi B on a new collaboration — not a bad run for the Tennessee newcomer. Cardi comes correct against all haters and naysayers on the track (“I don’t speak dog, ho, I don’t care what no bitch say,” she seethes), while GloRilla equally shines alongside one of the brightest personalities in hip-hop, rolling her eyes at Twitter drama and rhyming “running back” and “lumberjack” in a way that somehow makes both lines work.