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, Niall Horan sends out his sophomore statement, Jay Electronica finally resurfaces and Lil Uzi Vert isn’t satisfied with just one new album. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
The Album That Continues The 1D Member Maturation:
Niall Horan, Heartbreak Weather
With the release of Niall Horan’s Heartbreaker Weather, we’ve reached a moment in which the majority of One Direction members have released their sophomore albums — and three months after Harry Styles continued refining his classic-rock sound on Fine Line, Niall Horan has done the same with his acoustic-pop approach, using 2017’s successful debut Flicker as a springboard for a more polished and confident release. Heartbreak Weather still posits Horan as a guitar-toting everyman experiencing love, heartbreak and newfound adulthood as we all would, although his songwriting has sharpened, his ‘80s influence has intensified (listen to the opening title track and “Black And White”) and his experiments, like the delightful Brit-pop single “Nice To Meet Ya,” make more sense within his skill set. Horan’s solo career has been officially up and running for a bit, but on Heartbreak Weather, he improves, and points toward a fruitful future.
The Album That Rap Fans Have Been Waiting On For Over A Decade:
Jay Electronica, A Written Testimony
At the beginning of the 2010s, New Orleans rapper Jay Electronica was one of the most exciting new voices in hip-hop; his 2009 single “Exhibit C” still carries a wit and freshness that demonstrates why the world was so hungry for a proper full-length statement. Yet that statement never came — his album was pushed back for years, turned into a Detox-esque myth, and ultimately forgotten about by many of the early supporters. Now, Jay Electronica has emerged with a project he began recording in late 2019, featuring his Roc Nation label boss Jay-Z as an essential co-pilot, and presenting a vision that feels modern in construction while artistically frozen in time. Take your time to explore the spiritual, complicated story that Jay Elec unfurls here — and bask in the sound of new Jay-Z verses as well, since they’ll always be a hot commodity.
The Album That Makes Lil Uzi Vert Fans’ Cup Runneth Over:
Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Uzi Vert vs. The World 2
Imagine being a Lil Uzi Vert diehard 10 days ago — anxiously awaiting the long-promised Eternal Atake album, unaware that you were about to get not one but two full Uzi albums in back-to-back weeks. Following last Friday’s surprise unveiling of his highly anticipated new project, the Philly rapper teased a deluxe edition on social media, and now we have it, 14 new songs to complement the 18 that arrived a week ago. Lil Uzi Vert vs. The World 2, a nod to his breakthrough mixtape, features more guest stars than Eternal Atake — Future, Young Thug, Gunna and Lil Durk all show up, compared to the lone collaboration from Syd on its predecessor — which makes the impression of a piece of indulgence rather than laser focus. Yet Lil Uzi Vert vs. The World 2 contains enough standout moments, like the Chief Keef team-up “Bean (Kobe),” to be a must-listen for Uzi fanatics and beyond.
The Song That Creates A Brand New Pick-Up Line:
Lil Yachty & DaBaby feat. Drake, “Oprah’s Bank Account”
The title of this new collaboration between Lil Yachty, DaBaby and Drake comes from this line from Yachty’s chorus: “Diamond in the rough, you look as good as Oprah’s bank account.” Time will tell whether or not such a compliment is effective in modern social situations, but it works here as a means of capturing the low-stakes, zonked-out charm on display. Drake vibes along with Yachty’s Auto-Tuned zaniness, while DaBaby bats cleanup, driving the song home with some counter-programmed harder rhymes. The entire affair brings “Broccoli,” Yachty’s hit with D.R.A.M., to mind, suggesting a talent for pulling superstars like Drake and DaBaby into his cartoon universe.
The Album That Parents Will Have On Repeat In Their Cars:
Various Artists, Trolls World Tour (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Anyone with little kids in the house knows that the soundtrack to the first Trolls film was more than just a showcase for Justin Timberlake’s No. 1 hit “Can’t Stop The Feeling!,” with other worthy pop tracks and reanimations of legendary hits. The Trolls World Tour soundtrack functions in a similar fashion, with an uptempo Timberlake single leading the way (this time alongside R&B star SZA on “The Other Side”) as well as participation from Kelly Clarkson, Anthony Ramos (who reworks Daft Punk’s “One More Time” for a new generation) and a happy-go-lucky Anderson .Paak, on his most kid-friendly behavior as he sings with JT and Mary J. Blige. There’s also Kenan Thompson rapping, as a troll, on the same track in which Anna Kendrick channels Cyndi Lauper for “Trolls Wanna Have Good Times.” The title is difficult to deny.
The Song That Tries To Follow Up On The Biggest Hits of the Year:
Tones and I, “Bad Child”
“Dance Monkey” by Australian singer-songwriter Tones and I has become one of the more unlikely U.S. pop hits in recent memory, reaching the top 10 of the Hot 100 thanks to an undeniable chorus and a voice that boldly stands out on top 40 radio. Follow-up “Bad Child” has the unenviable task of trying to recapture that magic, but Tones and I is savvy enough as a songwriter to repeat her successful formula without a sense of staleness. “I guess I’m always gonna be the bad child!” she cries, railing against a situation that she won’t conform to, as synthesizer stabs push her forward. Regardless of commercial success, “Bad Child” is a worthy follow-up that shows that Tones and I has more than one trick up her sleeve.
The Song With A Chorus You’ll Want To Belt At Karaoke:
The Killers, “Caution”
Since they reached alternative radio 15 years ago with “Somebody Told Me,” the Killers have flaunted an understanding and appreciation of wide choruses — the type of sing-along that dares you not to participate, and has spent years uniting strangers in arenas and festival fields. New single “Caution” possesses one of those choruses, and the atmosphere of both the refrain and overall song toes the Springsteen line closer than any Killers project since 2006’s Sam’s Town. Not that that’s a bad thing: Brandon Flowers swaggers through the jangling pop-rock like a stadium god, and sells lyrics like “She can go straight from zero to the Fourth of July!” like they’re scripture. In these trying times, it’s comforting to know that the Killers still lovingly embrace this bombast, and that we’ll be shouting along to “Caution” in arenas someday soon, hopefully.
The Song That Provides a Pop Antidote To Working From Home:
Rita Ora, “How To Be Lonely”
Okay, it’s true, Rita Ora’s new single “How To Be Lonely” is not about social distancing in the age of Coronavirus — but as an eloquent ode to battling anxiety and being fine in your own skin, Ora’s return works just as well. Co-written by “Someone You Loved” star Lewis Capaldi, “How To Be Lonely” finds the U.K. star operating over another mid-tempo piece of rhythmic pop and placing her focus on a highly memorable chorus. Fans of Ora singles like “Your Song” and “Let You Love Me” will be pleased with the results here, and whether or not “How To Be Lonely” takes off in the U.S. more noticeably than those two tracks, Ora has continued defining a reliable lane for herself in pop music.