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, Dua Lipa’s second album era starts with a bang, Ariana Grande’s got some Angels on her shoulder, and Miranda Lambert remains a razor-sharp storyteller. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
The Song That Will Wash Away That Annoying Ex’s Latest Text: Dua Lipa, “Don’t Start Now”
“Though it took some time to survive you, I’m better on the other side,” Dua Lipa beams on her comeback single, “Don’t Start Now.” That word “survive” is key: this uptempo post-breakup motivational anthem wants to remind you of a certain Gloria Gaynor classic, and ends up becoming another gem in Lipa’s impressive crown of disco-tinged dance stunners. “Don’t Start Now’s” sonic DNA is closer to the shimmery workouts of Lipa singles like “Electricity” and “One Kiss” than her breakthrough and biggest hit, “New Rules,” but with a more forceful breakdown, as if the pop star wants to shake her audience awake and declare that her new era has finally arrived.
The Soundtrack For a New Generation of Independent Women: Various Artists, Charlie’s Angels (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
One could forgive Ariana Grande if she had decided to, you know, take it easy at the end of 2019 — after all, she’s coming off of two excellent full-lengths released in the past 16 months, as well as an international arena tour. Grande does not have time for R&R, however, when her creativity is flowing to this degree: for the new Elizabeth Banks-directed Charlie’s Angels film, the pop star not only executive-produced the soundtrack but also contributed five new songs to its track list. The result is an inspiring mix of A-listers — the previously released “Don’t Call Me Angel,” with Grande, Miley Cyrus and Lana Del Rey, gets a slower, seductive companion piece in “Bad To You,” with Grande, Normani and Nicki Minaj — as well as emerging talent like Victoria Monet, Kash Doll and Anitta. If nothing else, the soundtrack features a riotous duet between Grande and Chaka Khan; what more could one want from a generations-spanning franchise?
The Album That Will Be The Talk of Nashville In The Coming Weeks: Miranda Lambert, Wildcard
The narrative of Miranda Lambert’s new album is simple enough to map out: following 2016’s The Weight of These Wings, a double-album full of post-divorce contemplation, Lambert is newly married and ready to celebrate on a new album that’s half the length of its predecessor. Wildcard is indeed a more rollicking affair than Lambert’s last, but it’s also wiser than a back-to-basics attempt, as the country vet brings a sense of calm to “It All Comes Out In The Wash” and hard-earned ferocity to the explosive “Locomotive.” Although Wildcard captures Lambert’s current personal bliss, the album also reflects the lessons she’s learned along the way as one of the most accomplished songwriters across all genres.
The Album That’s a Surprise Treat for an MC’s Biggest Diehards: Earl Sweatshirt, Feet of Clay
Feet of Clay is Earl Sweatshirt’s first project since departing Columbia Records, and, untethered from a major label, the Odd Future mainstay has certainly returned to his more experimental side. Described by Sweatshirt in a statement as “a collection of observations and feelings recorded during the death throes of a crumbling empire,” Feet of Clay is even more idiosyncratic than that outline suggests: at seven songs and 15 minutes in length, Earl’s stream-of-consciousness raps here condense and evaporate; elsewhere, Mach-Hommy and Mavi briefly stop by. For fans of esoteric hip-hop of the Stones Throw ilk, Sweatshirt’s detours will always entrance, and Feet of Clay is some of his delightful galactic-brain work to date.
The Song That Will Inspire You To Dance Away Whatever’s Keeping You Down: Haim, “Now I’m In It”
Following the single “Summer Girl” from earlier this year, Haim has offered a follow-up that’s equally sleek and immediately irresistible, if certainly more serious in subject matter. In unveiling “Now I’m In It,” the Haim sisters have told fans that the song focuses on a “depression. not leaving the house type of shit,” yet anyone expecting a more muted affair will be startled by the new single’s buoyancy. This is a jam in line with Savage Garden’s eternal “I Want You,” using a similar breathless vocal delivery to capture frustration instead of infatuation; as with most Haim songs, “Now I’m In It” sports crisp, ‘80s-inspired melodies that in this case move the listener to overcoming his or her troubles, or at least finding a bright spot within the darkness.
The Song That Wants You and Your Partner To... Well, You Know: Teyana Taylor & Kehlani, “Morning”
Teyana Taylor and Kehlani are both artists that have toyed with the limits of popular R&B music, incorporating pulsating dance production at times and poignantly honest lyrical exercises at others. “Morning,” a new collaboration, is at once more traditional than we’re used to hearing from both, a ode with deep bass and finger snaps. Yet hearing Taylor and Kehlani thoroughly succeeding in such a well-trodden lane also speaks to their individual and combined talents; “Morning” honors the R&B standards that has preceded it, and Taylor and Kehlani never let go of the listener’s attention.
The Album That Will Make You Party Like It’s 1994: Hootie & The Blowfish, Imperfect Circle
So many aspects of Hootie & The Blowfish’s story sound improbable: the pop-chart domination of Cracked Rear View in the mid-90s, frontman Darius Rucker’s seamless reinvention as a country headliner, a comeback tour this year that became a commercial smash, and now, Imperfect Circle sounding as fresh and focused as it does, 14 years after the group’s previous album. There’s less rust on the group’s sound due to Rucker’s consistent songwriting work, naturally, but even the classic Hootie tropes work again, like an instrument that’s been taken out of mothballs but has never lost any luster. Those searching for another “Let Her Cry” may want to give an extra spin to “Lonely On A Saturday Night,” a perfect distillation of Rucker’s twangy appeal and his reunited band’s staying power.
The Album That Finds a Latin Pop King Still On Top: Nicky Jam, Intimo
A little under three years ago, Nicky Jam solidified his long-brewing comeback with the aptly tilted Fenix, which included the smash “El Perdon” and scored an album of the year nod at the Latin Grammy Awards. Jam is now a fixture in the Latin trap world — new album Intimo includes “X” with J Balvin, one of last year’s most indelible hits — but has more to say now that he’s sustained the type of mainstream success he long dreamed of. Intimo has its share of top-notch, radio-focused collaborations (“Whine Up” with Anuel AA in particular), but the 15-track project also finds time for Jam to croon over lilting acoustic strums, as he does on the standout “Borracho.” While Jam represented a compelling comeback tale on his previous full-length, he remains one of the genre’s most multi-faceted storytellers.
The Remix That Will (Hopefully) Help New Listeners Discover a Past Gem: Normani Feat. 21 Savage, “Motivation” Remix
When Normani’s “Motivation” was released earlier this year, the delicious pop-R&B track (and its accompanying dance-heavy music video) felt like the inevitable arrival of a natural star, yet the song failed to become as ubiquitous as initially expected. Enter 21 Savage, an Atlanta superstar whose menacing delivery has long been an asset, but who sounds positively chipper alongside the former Fifth Harmony member on a new remix. “She a pop star, got her hanging in the hood,” he asserts before Normani’s hook dances around his intro verse. This unlikely pairing may prove to be the key in giving a standout single its proper due.