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, Sam Smith continues a hot streak, Rosalía is down for fake love and The Kid LAROI brings things back to basics. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
Sam Smith, Gloria
Sam Smith has scored several hits over the course of their career, but “Unholy,” his team-up with Kim Petras that became their first No. 1 single, sounded like none of them when it was released last year; the smash not only revitalized Smith’s voice at top 40 radio, but suggested a major shift in sonic approach. Gloria, their fourth studio album, sports a level of freedom rarely heard in Smith’s past oeuvre of precisely drawn pop: their vocal gifts are positioned toward sweaty, sexually liberated dance floor anthems like “I’m Not Here to Make Friends” as well as fearless midtempo confessionals like “Perfect,” with Smith sounding more relaxed in every mode on the album.
“I don’t need honesty / Baby, lie like you love me, lie like you love me,” Rosalía pleads on new single “LLYLM,” switching over to English and soaring into a falsetto as she explores the theme of fake affection. “LLYLM” is not a complicated single — created in part with Max Martin, the song’s handclaps and muted synthesizers eventually evaporate for a sparse, guitar-led interlude — but Rosalía remains one of the most magnetic vocal presences in music today, and powers “LLYLM” with technical skill and unadulterated emotion.
The Kid LAROI, “Love Again”
Anticipation is high for The Kid LAROI’s first full-length album, and the release of lead single “Love Again” was preceded by a lead-in intro track, “Can’t Go Back to the Way It Was,” last week, and is being paired with a one-of-a-kind Fortnite experience. Yet LAROI wisely decided not to one-up that rollout with an overly grandiose song: “Love Again” recalls the raw acoustic nerve that his breakout hit, “Without You,” touched to make LAROI a star, and this time he offers clipped, unflinching rhetorical questions while trying to find resolution in a relationship.
Chlöe, “Pray It Away”
After years of readying her solo debut, Chlöe’s first album will arrive in March, and “Pray It Away,” an ode to heading to church to shake off the energy of a romantic mistake, displays a greater confidence in personal craft that should excite longtime believers in the powerhouse vocalist. The harmonies on “Pray It Away” are downright gorgeous, even as Chlöe admits to unsavory thoughts and decisions — a gleeful juxtaposition of soulful R&B and pissed-off exclamations that the singer handles masterfully.
Zach Bryan feat. Maggie Rogers, “Dawns”
With his epic project American Heartbreak last year, Zach Bryan enjoyed the type of breakthrough year that Maggie Rogers, who issued her sophomore album Surrender, experienced three years earlier with her debut LP Heard It In a Past Life; the artists may be at slightly different chapters in their respective stories, but as two supremely gifted songwriters, a collaboration was always going to yield an interesting product. “Dawns” is delightfully haunted, a broken howl of a duet on which Bryan sounds lost as he navigates a breakup, and Rogers steadies his hand and centers the song’s intensity.
Lil Yachty, Let’s Start Here.
Let’s start here: Lil Yachty’s new album is not a rap project, even slightly. Those expecting the veteran hip-hop star to follow up his recent viral rap single “Poland” with a mainstream victory lap will be upended by this freaky, fuzzed-out psychedelic rock album, which Yachty created with a host of guitar-toting collaborators in an effort to capture his love of Pink Floyd. Somehow, the full-throttle detour completely works: Yachty’s warbling sounds natural over the swirling ‘70s-indebted production, and even when the instruments pile up, Let’s Start Here. never implodes, or bores the listener.