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, Taylor Swift returns to the world of Folklore, Kid Cudi comes back to the Moon, and Jack Harlow makes his first full statement. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
The Album That’s a Journey Even Deeper Into The Woods:
Taylor Swift, Evermore
Taylor Swift’s Evermore is an album that masquerades as a sequel (or a Side B) to this year’s Folklore at first glance, but reveals itself to be a more progressive, and even audacious, continuation of a proven aesthetic. She’s still relying on acoustic guitar, piano, string flourishes and programmed beats, but she also takes risks, musically and lyrically: there’s a heartbreaking ode to Swift’s grandmother (that features her archived background vocals from years ago), a skittering kiss-off that recalls mid-period Radiohead, and a swirling duet between Swift and Justin Vernon’s best Bon Iver falsetto that features a rare mid-song tempo change. Those are just the final three of the set’s 15 tracks, and they’re all breathtaking. If Swift seemingly pushed her songwriting to the limit on Folklore, its follow-up finds a new one.
The Album That’s a Rightful Coronation:
Kid Cudi, Man On The Moon III: The Chosen
When Kid Cudi reached the top of the Hot 100 earlier this with “The Scotts,” a team-up with Travis Scott, his first career No. 1 single felt like a hard-earned, long-overdue achievement — after all, there are few artists that have been as influential to the sound and tone of hip-hop over the past decade as Scott Mescudi. With the return to his Man On The Moon album series that helped launch his mainstream career in earnest, Cudi has not completed a trilogy as much as he’s reminded music fans of the vitality of those first two while continuing the saga years later. The Internet is sure to eat up the unlikely Phoebe Bridgers pairing “Lovin’ Me,” and rightfully so; don’t sleep on the Skepta/Pop Smoke banger “Show Out,” though.
The Album That Is Exactly as Poppin as It Should Be:
Jack Harlow, That’s What They All Say
“Whats Poppin” is the type of breakout hit that most artists would kill to have: for Louisville rapper Jack Harlow, the song sported an undeniable hook, showcased his quick flow and pop-culture prowess, and gained a huge new audience thanks to a remix featuring a trio of major hip-hop stars. On major label debut That’s What They All Say, Harlow celebrates his breakthrough and adjusts to the spotlight, nodding back to his hometown while also curious to explore what’s outside of it. If the goal of the album was to flesh out Harlow’s persona and sustain his momentum, That’s What They All Say succeeds — the 22-year-old can really rap, as he demonstrates alongside stars like Big Sean on “Way Out” and Lil Baby on “Face Of My City”.
The Song That Reworks Another Song, and Finds a Deeper Meaning:
Juice WRLD & The Kid LAROI, “Reminds Me Of You”
On the one-year anniversary of Juice WRLD’s untimely passing, The Kid LAROI has found an inventive way to honor his late collaborator: new single “Reminds Me Of You” reimagines the Kim Petras single “Reminds Me,” morphing her electro-pop euphoria into heartbroken emo-rap. The touching tribute caps off a year in Juice WRLD’s music reached a wider audience than ever before, and The Kid LAROI’s lyrical concept is not hard to understand — Juice was everywhere in popular music this year, the reminders of his influence remaining constant.
The Album That Properly Toasts a Rock God:
Chris Cornell, No One Sings Like You Anymore
Anyone who experienced Chris Cornell’s voice in concert knows that the title of this new project is not hyperbole: the Soundgarden leader possessed a singular rock delivery that transcended the grunge movement and powered a fruitful, and too short, career. No One Sings Like You Anymore, a collection of cover songs that Cornell worked on prior to his death and is now steered by Vicky Cornell and her children, serves as a reminder of Cornell’s magnetism three-and-a-half years after his passing. Fans will gravitate toward the different riffs here — the track list’s run of Guns N’ Roses’ “Patience,” Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” and John Lennon’s “Watching The Wheels” is especially stirring — but the main attraction is that voice, which sounds even more timeless when tackling some of the most memorable rock songs of all time.
The Song That Kicks Off An Intriguing New Era:
Gwen Stefani, “Let Me Reintroduce Myself”
Any diehard No Doubt fan will hear a familiar sound in the opening seconds of “Let Me Reintroduce Myself”: Gwen Stefani, an alt-rock icon turned pop headliner and reality TV personality, has returned to the ska/reggae sound that made her famous as a band leader a quarter-century ago. “Let Me Reintroduce Myself” represents a slick return to Stefani’s roots, both self-referential (“I already gave you bananas,” she sings, a nod to “Hollaback Girl”) and forward-looking, suggesting an extended visit on Stefani’s next solo full-length. Although it’s been a while since Stefani had traipsed through this territory, she still sounds natural doing so.