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 visits the spot where the crawdads sing, Lil Nas X has some thoughts on an awards snub, and Luke Combs embraces his range. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
Taylor Swift, “Carolina”
“About a year & half ago I wrote a song about the story of a girl who always lived on the outside, looking in,” Taylor Swift posted on her social channels as “Carolina,” her new single for the big-screen adaptation of Where the Crawdads Sing. The timing of the creation of “Carolina” — a year and a half ago, Swift was in the midst of her Folklore/Evermore double wallop — clues listeners in on its foundation: produced with Aaron Dessner, the track finds Swift exploring her still-fertile indie-folk instincts, with gentle acoustic finger-plucking, subtle fiddle and banjo contributions, and striking imagery like “Hide me like robes down the back road / Muddy these webs we weave.”
Lil Nas X feat. YoungBoy Never Broke Again, “Late To Da Party”
Has Lil Nas X created the new sub-genre of snub-rap? With “Late To Da Party,” a new team-up with YoungBoy Never Broke Again, the superstar takes an unveiled shot at BET, which received a personal outcry when Lil Nas X scored zero nominations for this weekend’s BET Awards, before moving on to a swaggering pop-rap tone reminiscent of “Industry Baby.” “Late To Da Party” starts off with some vitriol, but the two rappers move on to enjoying the spoils of their hard work, with Nas reflecting on the Met Gala and YoungBoy comparing himself to John Gotti.
Luke Combs, Growin’ Up
Country listeners championed Luke Combs early and often, turning the North Carolina native into a superstar even before his songwriting could evolve and meet his national profile. Now, it has: Growin’ Up, Combs’ third studio album, is steadier in its storytelling, rollicking in the sensual come-ons of “The Kind of Love We Make” with the same confidence as the wistful similes of “Going, Going, Gone,” all while Combs’ deepened twang continues to resonate, particularly alongside Miranda Lambert on the charming duet “Outrunnin’ Your Memory.”
Charlie Puth feat. Jung Kook, “Left and Right”
BTS fans should delight in the fact that “Left and Right,” Charlie Puth’s new single featuring the group’s Jung Kook, is a true duet — instead of Puth inviting his pal onto the track for some light lifting, the pair balance each other pristinely on the song with call-and-response verses and hook trade-offs. Puth thrives in this type of snappy post-heartbreak pop songwriting, but Jung Kook sounds just as comfortable, providing a warmth to his woeful rhetorical questions and keeping up with Puth’s melodic bounce in time with the drum thwacks.
Giveon, Give or Take
Giveon possesses an indisputably classic voice, the type of singular R&B baritone that would cut through any era; sometimes that voice will power crossover hits, like his own “Heartbreak Anniversary” or Justin Bieber’s chart-topping “Peaches (also featuring Daniel Caesar), but any new Giveon project will carry the base line of his tone. Give or Take fortunately boasts several songs worthy of that voice, with accounts of romance, heartache and the trials of success framed as a discussion with his mother, who proudly checks in on an opening voice memo.
Conan Gray, Superache
Like his pal Olivia Rodrigo, Conan Gray is a new-school pop star, a dynamic stage presence whose ornate songwriting and expansive sonic interests can work across sprawling full-lengths as well as within TikTok clips. Sophomore album Superache, which was made with fellow Rodrigo studio collaborator Dan Nigro, contains moments that work as the centerpiece of an immersive headphones experience, like the deliciously off-kilter “Jigsaw,” and others that deserve to go viral, like the rapid-fire hook of the dizzying new single “Disaster.”