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, Blackpink is in your (and every) area, Marcus Mumford has a powerful solo statement, and EST Gee is a star on his own. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
Blackpink, Born Pink
When Blackpink returned with Born Pink lead single “Pink Venom” last month, historic monuments around the world were bathed in pink light; such is the reach of the K-pop girl group’s fandom, as well as the excitement around the follow-up to the quartet’s 2020 debut LP. Across 24 minutes, Born Pink bursts with the confidence of the group’s global appeal, but the highly anticipated project never feels overstuffed — while new single “Shut Down” strikes a chest-thumping pose similar to “Pink Venom,” its charm is as immediate as something like “Yeah Yeah Yeah,” a fluttery pop-rock track that U.S. top 40 radio should herald sooner than later. Born Pink is going to make Blackpink that much bigger commercially, and the project admirably expands their artistic world in the process.
Marcus Mumford, (self-titled)
Ten years ago this week, Mumford & Sons released their sophomore album Babel, a blockbuster LP that scored one of the biggest debuts of 2012, would go on to win the album of the year Grammy, and generally served as a coronation of the folk-rock boom and the quartet most responsible for making it mainstream. A decade later, Mumford & Sons have released more albums and played countless arenas… and although folk-rock is no longer front of mind in pop, Marcus Mumford is still delicately crafting songs that split the difference between intimate and anthemic. Mumford’s first solo outing naturally includes some hushed tracks designed for smaller venues, like the wind chime-aided “Prior Warning,” but his gentle tone is even more affecting as it stands on its own in those moments.
EST Gee, I Never Felt Nun
If Last Ones Left, EST Gee’s recent collaborative project with 42 Dugg, flaunted the combined velocity of the CMG labelmates’ respective flows, new solo album I Never Felt Nun shows how much the Louisville rapper has developed as a leading man, with stronger storytelling and a wider array of sonic approaches across 21 tracks. EST Gee sounds like a slick, urgent star alongside Jack Harlow on the futuristic team-up “Backstage Passes,” but on a song like “Hell,” he wheezes and grinds out memories of his early days, drawing from southern and Midwest rap traditions while offering a singular origin story.
Rina Sawayama, Hold The Girl
SAWAYAMA, Rina Sawayama’s 2020 debut album, found a devoted following upon its release, but the large majority of its listeners discovered the full-length in the months and years that followed… which makes sense, considering its jarring, subversive and ultimately brilliant approach to modern pop deconstruction. Hold The Girl arrives with loftier expectations and a much bigger fan base for the Japanese British singer-songwriter, and fortunately takes as many risks as its predecessor, drawing from country, alternative, hard rock and hyperpop while relying upon Sawayama’s incisive writing and sturdy voice to present one of the most diverse and satisfying pop projects of the year.
Little Big Town, Mr. Sun
Mr. Sun is very much a pandemic album from Little Big Town, as the country quartet was forced off the road in 2020 and separated for an extended period for the first time in their run together. That interruption in their dynamic led to an even deeper appreciation for it, and Mr. Sun — which the band self-produced — revels in personal reflection, from the glistening harmonies of opener “All Summer” to the resilient messaging of closer “Friends of Mine,” as Little Big Town forge ahead in a crowded country-pop landscape while cherishing the bonds that help them still stand out within it.
Maggie Lindemann, Suckerpunch
Speaking of crowded genres, the recent pop-punk revival has included a countless number of young acts hoping to break through and established artists gesturing towards a new generation, but Maggie Lindemann, the 24-year-old Texas native who has showed promise in the scene for years, feels primed for overdue stardom, based on the personality and songwriting on display across her thrilling debut album Suckerpunch. Lindemann pours herself into bite-sized hooks while nailing every sarcastic comment and sneer (“You hate me, but you watch my s–t / You say my music sucks, then copy it,” she sings on “Cages”), making Suckerpunch a must-listen for anyone longing for the Warped Tour to return.