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, Willow makes us feel even more than everything, Charlie Puth remains an elite pop songwriter, and Quavo & Takeoff forge ahead as a dynamic duo. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
If Lately I Feel Everything, Willow Smith’s 2021 full-length that featured multiple Travis Barker team-ups, was her reinvention as a new-school pop-punk leader, <CopingMechanism> represents a leveling up on that foundation: across a brisk 29 minutes, the new album features bigger hooks, better vocal performances, more unflinching themes and some of the most complete songs in WIllow’s growing catalog (the gauzy, hard-hitting “Ur a Stranger” comes immediately to mind). Willow is already a star, but with <CopingMechanism>, she becomes even more ambitious, and likely more influential.
Charlie Puth, Charlie
“Oh, I’m such a loser,” Charlie Puth soulfully begins “Loser,” one of the several sparkling, immaculately constructed pop tracks on the singer-songwriter’s new album Charlie. Puth is talking about letting his dream girl get away on the track, but the line also speaks to how Puth, a veteran with a heavy pile of hits at this point, uses his latest LP to prod at his pop identity in ways that are self-effacing and experimental; he works with Travis Barker on “I Don’t Think That I Like Her” and Jung Kook on “Left and Right,” and both collaborators make sense in Puth’s complex, melodic world.
Quavo & Takeoff, Only Built For Infinity Links
Only Built For Infinity Links demands context, as an album from Migos mainstays Quavo and Takeoff that wholly boxes out the other member of their trio, Offset, in a way that creates rumors and speculation. Yet that uncertainty largely disappears when Only Built For Infinity Links gets rolling as one of Quavo and Takeoff’s most relaxed, playful projects since Migos’ early mixtape days, with the pair of simile slingers bouncing their wordplay off one another in breathless fashion.
Stray Kids, MAXIDENT
Capping off a breakthrough year that included a No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200 and sold-out arena shows across multiple continents, Stray Kids’ MAXIDENT finds the group continuing to innovate their sound and challenged preconceived notions of popular K-pop. Tracks shape-shift, then explode; each member finds their niche, then doubles down on it; and as Stray Kids continue to accrue fans across the globe, MAXIDENT will help impress casual listeners by refusing to color inside the lines.
Following last year’s Los Dioses, his collaborative full-length with Anuel AA, Ozuna brings the spotlight back to himself and his Puerto Rican roots with Ozutochi, an arresting mix of sounds and flavors from his home country. The new album toys with Ozuna’s blend of reggaetón and trap by bringing in an intriguing collection of rising artists, from El Cherry to Feid to Chencho Corleone, to introduce new voices and ideas into Ozone’s signature delivery.
Jean Dawson, Chaos Now *
Growing up in Tijuana but crossing the border to attend school in San Diego, Jean Dawson would spend that extended commute inhaling music of all styles and time periods, an early interest that has developed into a bold songwriting streak. Chaos Now*, the singer-songwriter’s third album which arrives with amplified hype, showcases a natural flair for genre-melding, with pop, grunge and hip-hop synthesized into intensely emotional chant-alongs that sound ready to dominate festival fields next summer.