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, Selena Gomez hits a home run on her long-awaited new album, Future and Drake are back together, and Mac Miller’s first posthumous album gets a beautiful opening shot. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
The Album In Which It All Comes Together For a Pop Superstar:
Selena Gomez, Rare
And just like that, we’ve got the first great pop album of 2020: Selena Gomez’s Rare, her first full-length since 2015’s Revival, makes good on the extended wait time by offering the quintessential project for the singer’s skill set and personal focus. Whereas Revival found Gomez trying on different sounds like costumes and figuring out which ones fit her adult aesthetic, she is fully formed on Rare, which is thematically preoccupied with overcoming hardship — romantic and otherwise — but also sleek, celebratory and danceable in a way that’s congruent with her breathy vocal delivery. Those coming to the album with the expectation of more somber ballads along the lines of No. 1 hit “Lose You To Love Me” will find more emotional reflections but swifter tempos: “Vulnerable,” “Let Me Get Me” and the title track exude self-confidence over warm production beds, while the funk-tipped “Dance Again” provides a thesis statement for the album when Gomez, who’s overcome more than her share of health struggles and tabloid-ready heartache, declares, “Feels so good to dance again.” This is the album Gomez has been working toward her entire career, from her Disney days with The Scene to her growing pains as a solo recording artist; she took her time with Rare, and emerged triumphant.
The Song That’s A Reunion Between A-List Friends:
Future feat. Drake, “Life is Good”
After joining forces for the joint mixtape What A Time To Be Alive in 2015, Future and Drake have spent the past few years circling in and out of each other’s music while remaining two of the most prolific superstars in hip-hop. New single “Life is Good” keeps the pair relatively separated — the beat change that signals the end of Drake’s half of the song and the beginning of Future’s is reminiscent of the abrupt switch in Travis Scott’s smash “Sicko Mode” — but once again demonstrates why these two make so much sense on the same track, with Drake’s flippant dismissal of haters, and anxious recollections that he still has to file his taxes, serving as the perfect counterbalance with Future’s materialism and melancholy. Time will tell if “Life is Good” is another signature hit for the pair a la “Jumpman,” but regardless, Drake and Future fit together naturally, and a proper sequel — What A Time To Still Be Alive? — is in order.
The Song That Will Make You Smile Through The Tears:
Mac Miller, “Good News”
Fans of Mac Miller may find it difficult to listen to “Good News,” the first new music from the rapper since his untimely 2018 death and first taste of an upcoming posthumous album, Circles; over gently plucked strings, Miller’s words (“I’m running out of gas, hardly anything left / I hope I make it home from work”) can often deliver a heart-wrenching wallop given the context of the song’s release. And yet “Good News,” sprawled across nearly six minutes and featuring Miller’s charming stream of consciousness, serves as a celebration of an MC whose music had gradually become more jazz-influenced and cerebral. While posthumous releases can be tricky, “Good News” brims with Miller’s prodding spirit — it’s authentically Mac, and thus, a comforting listen.
The Song That Wants To Soundtrack Your Next Girls’ Night:
Megan Thee Stallion and Normani, “Diamonds”
It’s fitting that “Diamonds” is the lead single to the soundtrack for upcoming Harley Quinn cinematic opus Birds of Prey, as Megan Thee Stallion and Normani are more than capable representatives for a superhero movie with no significant male protagonist in sight. The rapper and pop-R&B singer continue their upward trajectories from 2019 by staying true to themselves when paired together over an intermittently squelching beat, as Megan remains unflappable while hopscotching between flows and Normani imbues the hook with a sense of allure and a whiff of danger — “Southern girl like me, I ain’t afraid to catch a case,” she sings with a wink. Both Megan and Normani have made it a point of empowering young women of color, and as we enter a new decade, “Diamonds” makes the case that both are new-school heroes in their own right.
The Song To Add To Your Late-Night Driving Playlist:
Ever since he broke through with “Location,” Khalid has used his warble to soothe, settle and stitch together tracks that can generously be described as vibes. New single “Eleven” takes that calming approach to another level: Khalid’s syllables unabashedly melt into each other here, hypnotizing the listener regardless of whether or not they can make out the bleary lyrics about after-hours cruising. Khalid already has plenty of hits in his short career — one of them, “Talk,” will soon compete for record of the year at the Grammys — and although “Eleven” contains a hook that could compete at radio, it’s ostensibly the sound of a popular artist pushing his limits, and capturing the haze of the wee hours with a bold vocal take.
The Song That’s An Unexpected Entry Into the Yee-Haw Agenda:
Halsey, “You Should Be Sad”
As Halsey has approached the release date of her third album, Manic, she’s proven that she’s as reliable of a hit-maker as any modern pop star thanks to singles like “Without Me” and “Graveyard”; she’s also demonstrated an even more intriguing fearlessness in setting a blowtorch to her perceived sound, thanks to the punk flare-up “Nightmare,” acoustic lullaby “Finally // Beautiful Stranger,” and now, the country-fried “You Should Be Sad.” While the arrangement and guitar loop make for an unexpected trip to Nashville for the pop star, the lyrics to the post-breakup track showcase the attitude that makes Halsey such a singular presence (“I’m so glad I never ever had a baby with you,” goes one memorable sucker-punch). What will Manic sound like? With daring tracks like “You Should Be Sad,” Halsey wants us guessing until she releases what’s sure to be the most wide-ranging project of her career.
The Album That Could Help a Rising MC Level Up:
Moneybagg Yo, Time Served
Less than eight months after scoring a top 10 debut on the Billboard 200 albums chart with 43va Heartless, Memphis native Moneybagg Yo continues his workmanlike approach to rhyming with Time Served, another star-studded showcase. General hip-hop fans will peruse the new project thanks to flashy guests like Future, Megan Thee Stallion and DaBaby, but the 28-year-old who serves as the glue of the LP is worth sticking around for on his own, as he slings couplets with the efficiency and know-how of Southern rap’s biggest personalities. “Match My Fly” exhibits Moneybagg’s sensitive side, and hearing him matched up with Summer Walker on “Real Luv,” on which he offers to be his girl’s getaway, is a treat; if you’re here for the club cuts, though, the one-two punch of “U Played” with Lil Baby and “Pop My Shit” is difficult to overcome.
The Song That Will Make You Feel Like You’re in a Time Warp:
Nicky Jam & Daddy Yankee, “Muévelo”
After Daddy Yankee found top 40 success last year with “Con Calma,” a sultry reggae ton jam that reimagined Snow’s eternal 1992 single “Informer,” he returns to the ‘90s alongside Nicky Jam with “Muévelo,” which interpolates Ini Kamoze’s 1994 smash “Here Comes the Hotstepper.” It’s a smart move: “Here Comes the Hotstepper” rules, a reggae fusion jam with multiple hooks that refuse to be denied, and a quarter-century is more than enough time to have it lay dormant in popular culture before a proper revisit (side note: “Muévelo” is on the soundtrack to Bad Boys For Life, another resurrection of beloved IP from decades past). Jam and Daddy Yankee are charismatic on their own, of course, and the chirping production puts enough of a twist on “Hotstepper” that it doesn’t feel too reheated. We can’t be too far away from an artist lifting and refashioning Rednex’s “Cotton Eye Joe,” right?
The Song That’s Way More Wistful Than We Expected:
Ozzy Osbourne feat. Elton John, “Ordinary Man”
Is Ozzy Osbourne, metal icon and prince of darkness, actually the big softie that his run as a TV dad suggested? “Ordinary Man,” the title track of his next solo album, is a duet with Elton John that brings the Ozzman into his guest’s normal habitat of thoughtful pop balladry: as the piano keeps them steady, the legends ponder their legacies and refusal to settle for a forgettable life — or, just as poignantly, to go quietly into the unknown. “Ordinary Man” gets an extended guitar solo that pads its running time, but its most winning moments are those in which Osbourne and John sink their teeth into the drama, howling at their own mortality and showing that, despite their wildly different approaches to rock over the past five decades, their indispensability binds them.