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, Chlöe makes her official solo debut, Kacey Musgraves moves on from Golden Hour (and her ex), and Ed Sheeran finds himself in need of a winter coat. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
Kacey Musgraves, star-crossed
The last time we heard from country singer-songwriter Kacey Musgraves, it was with her universally acclaimed 2018 set Golden Hour, eventual winner of the 2019 Grammy for album of the year. Follow-up star-crossed is a more ambitious and more personal affair, a 15-track song cycle following her divorce from fellow musician Ruston Kelly in 2020. Deftly produced and deeply heartfelt, the set is vibey but far from lightweight — meriting close listening both for the shades in its quietly devastating songwriting and the intricacies of its immaculately constructed grooves. Star-crossed may ultimately be a little challenging for a repeat performance at Music’s Biggest Night in 2022, so it may have to settle for many repeat performances through your own bedroom headphones.
Chlöe, “Have Mercy”
The first single for Chlöe Bailey apart from her duo with sister Halle is a booty anthem for the ages, with a shout-along hook and booming beat worthy of classic Three 6 Mafia and self-celebratory and playfully teasing vocal worthy of, well, the Bailey sisters’ longtime mentor. Throw in a Karena Evans-directed video featuring a twerking, writhing Chlöe literally turning men into statues, and solo stardom seems like only a matter of time — perhaps officially launching this Sunday with the song’s performance at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Ed Sheeran, “Shivers”
“I never kissed a mouth that tastes like yours,” Ed Sheeran remarks on the third advance cut from his upcoming = (Equals) album. The last time the singer-songwriter crooned about mouth taste, it turned out pretty well for him — and so may the spiky “Shivers,” which has the same kind of nervy pop energy as “Bad Habits,” but with a more specifically Sheeran flavor, including a chorus flecked by acoustic guitars and who-else? lyrics like “I wanna drink that smile.” If pop radio ever decides to shed “Bad Habits,” they could pick this one up this just in time for the cold-weather months.
Baby Keem, The Melodic Blue
The full-length debut for 20-year-old West Coast rising star Baby Keem might be capturing headlines largely for the special guest appearing on two of its tracks — Keem’s cousin Kendrick Lamar, soft-launching his long-anticipated comeback via show-stopping turns on “Range Brothers” and “Family Ties.” But The Melodic Blue is a captivating bow even outside of its scene-stealing cameos, with the rapper/writer/producer arriving close to fully formed as an artist, stunningly versatile and limber with his bars and his beats — both of which switch up regularly, even within the same track. Keem might not be operating in the shadow of his superstar relative for too long.
Sam Hunt, “23”
Sophomore album SOUTHSIDE saw Sam Hunt taking some chances and trying some new approaches, even on its (still very successful) singles. But new single “23” takes no chances and requires no adjustments: It simply goes in for the kill, an instantly irresistible, nostalgic country-pop banger that makes even Morgan Wallen’s “7 Summers” sound like a challenging deep cut by comparison. It’s the perfect end-of-summer jam, though country radio will probably not be overly concerned about what the weather is like outside while playing the song to death.
Troye Sivan, “Angel Baby”
No, it’s not a cover of Rosie and the Originals’ oldies classic of the same name — though Troye Sivan might be the rare pop star studied enough in his history to at least be referencing the 1961 No. 5 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. In any event, Sivan’s latest has the kind of innocent, unassuming sway and open-hearted chorus of such a pre-Beatles pop standard, and the results are ultimately just as swoon-worthy. Expect this to soundtrack any number of prom slow dance sequences (or maybe a first kiss or two) in future teen movies and TV dramas.
Nessa Barrett, Pretty Poision EP
TikTok star Nessa Barrett proved her singer/songwriter bonafides on alternative breakout hits “la di die” (alongside significant other and fellow social media sensation jxdn) and “i hope ur miserable until ur dead,” the latter of which even graced the Hot 100 at No. 88. “Miserable” is also featured on Barrett’s debut EP Pretty Poison, a powerful and impressive opening statement from the emerging talent, which she coordinated to be released on World Suicide Prevention Day. “The biggest thing that I think I wanted to portray with my EP is the fact that the bad times never last as long as they seem they’re going to,” Barrett told Billboard this week. “There’s always light at the end of the tunnel. The best things in life take time.”
Aaliyah, Aaliyah (Streaming Reissue)
The long-awaited welcoming of R&B and pop legend Aaliyah to streaming services kicked off a few weeks ago with the arrival of 1996 sophomore album One in a Million — but this is the one a lot of fans are most excited about. Baby Girl’s third album, released the month before her tragic death in 2001, was a masterpiece of modern soul, the singer’s most confident work to date, and her strongest set of funky and forward-looking jams. It remains a touchstone for contemporary R&B, every bit as impactful 20 years after its release, and just an impossibly strong front-to-back listen — which you’d be well off to reacquaint yourself with (or introduce yourself to) today.