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, Kanye West's long-awaited religious album is here, Selena Gomez’s back with a pair of bold statements, Coldplay previews an exciting new project and Lizzo brings in Ariana Grande to shake up a new (old) smash. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
The Album That Was Long Promised, Forever Teased, And Is Finally Here In Full: Kanye West, Jesus Is King
At long last, after several missed release dates and a seemingly endless amount of discourse surrounding its existence, Kanye West’s gospel album has arrived — and is every bit as fascinating as one would expect. A reunited Clipse shares a song with Kenny G; there’s a track that can be described as “the Chick-Fil-A song”; the project begins with a Sunday Service Choir, and ends with West crooning about the Lord; and in between, one of the most influential artists in the history of popular music finds a way to marry hip-hop braggadocio with earnest hymns. The 27 minutes that make up Jesus Is King will take time to pore over, but West has once again demonstrated that his vision, whatever it may be, will forever be unrelenting.
The Songs That Introduce a Courageous New Pop Era: Selena Gomez, “Lose You To Love Me” and “Look At Her Now”
While unpacking why Selena Gomez returned with both “Lose You To Love Me” and “Look At Her Now” this week, Julia Michaels, who co-wrote both tracks, told Billboard, “One is talking about needing to let go of something in order to find power, and the next one is owning that power.” Indeed, the two songs that the pop superstar has chosen as a dual reintroduction complement each other thematically while offering dissimilar sonic palettes: “Lose You To Love Me,” a patient and breathtaking ballad, draws its energy from Gomez’s slicing honesty, while the danceable “Look At Her Now” functions as a strong resolution to its emotional questions (with a delectable vocal hook to boot). Gomez has turned into one of pop’s most magnetic presences, and her two new tracks impressively draw in the listener with totally different approaches.
The Songs That Find A Stadium Band Getting (Slightly) Weird Again: Coldplay, “Orphans” and “Arabesque”
In between conquering the rock world over the course of the 21st century, Coldplay has taken a lot of chances — with its visual aesthetic (Viva La Vida, the “Adventure of a Lifetime” video), with its collaborations (from Brian Eno to the Chainsmokers!), with the subject of some of its albums (the “conscious uncoupling” that was 2014’s excellent Ghost Stories). “Orphans” and “Arabesque,” the first two tracks from a rumored-to-be-experimental new double album, find Chris Martin and co. once again getting a bit kooky while maintaining the band’s anthemic heart. “Orphans” is a fairly standard rocker with a slightly off-kilter shout-along refrain, while “Arabesque” is fuzzier, an extended jam with Belgian star Stromae providing vocals and horns courtesy of Femi Kuti. Both songs serve as a reminder as to how interesting Coldplay’s music can be when they stretch out their legs — and will whet your appetite for whatever’s coming next.
The Song With Lyrics That Beg To Be Pored Over: Frank Ocean, “DHL”
Every Frank Ocean release feels like an event, especially in a certain (large) corner of the Internet; however, his first track since 2017, which debuted during a recent Blonded episode, is especially ripe for analysis. “DHL” is a fascinating ribbon of a song, blowing by in four-and-a-half spaced-out minutes as Ocean discusses his life, fame, and penchant for keeping his music on his hard drives for years at a time. “What is Frank trying to tell us by referencing his 2019 Paris Fashion Week outfit?,” we wonder. Even if you’re not hunting for clues into Ocean’s psyche or next musical opus, “DHL” captivates as a morsel of genius.
The Remix That Could Make a Pop Hit Inescapable: Lizzo feat. Ariana Grande, “Good As Hell” (Remix)
After “Truth Hurts” took a few years to top the Hot 100 and turn Lizzo into a household name, “Good As Hell” has been quickly climbing the chart, despite being released way back in 2016. Enter Ariana Grande: the pop superstar has hopped on the rising track with a new remix that lets both artists champion self-worth in the face of mediocre men. “He better know my worth / There’s so much that I deserve,” Grande croons, sounding right at home within the song’s righteous soul-pop. If Lizzo was looking to give her (already very good) single a shot in the arm, she couldn’t have recruited a more fitting pop heroine.
The Song That Should Be Blasting While You’re Finalizing Your Saturday Night Outfit: Kesha feat. Big Freedia, “Raising Hell”
In her recent Billboard cover story, Kesha said, “There was a time where it was really dark, and now I really am so happy, and that’s why I want to make happy songs.” Fittingly, “Raising Hell” is the sound of a pop artist who no longer wants to linger in the darkness, and wishes to return to the celebration that she kicked off at the top of this decade. Big Freedia’s chants goad her on, and a tooting horn effect serves as an unlikely hook. As powerful as parts of her Rainbow album proved to be, hearing Kesha flip her switch back to party mode is downright inspiring: “I don't wanna go to Heaven without raisin' hell,” she cries, and we raise our glasses to her.
The Album That Will Make You Long For A Return to Summer: Old Dominion, Old Dominion
In a crowded country landscape, the guys of Old Dominion have carved out a lane as sun-kissed chorus slingers and reliable radio presences. Their self-titled third album predictably gains its greatest power from frontman Matthew Ramsey’s lush, cozy voice, although the nuanced production on songs like “I’ll Roll” and “One Man Band” changes up the group’s formula just enough to avoid stagnation. Still, Old Dominion’s best course of action is its most straightforward: “Smooth Sailing,” “Never Be Sorry” and “American Style” proudly rollick through country tropes and long to be played on hazy warm-weather days.
The Album That Will Be Playing Across College Dorms This Fall: Rex Orange County, Pony
English singer-songwriter Alex O’Connor has rapidly morphed from indie darling playing club shows under the name Rex Orange County to major label signee packing major theaters; expectations are high for Pony, his RCA Records debut, and fortunately O’Connor hasn’t lost the spunky personality of his early recordings. Songs like “10/10” and “Laser Lights” possess a sardonic wit that’s squarely British, while the dreamy “Always” and epic closer “It’s Not The Same Anymore” showcase what he can accomplish when his song concepts are fully realized. Luxurious and extremely likable, Pony will win a lot of fans for Rex Orange County, whose stock continues to quickly rise.
The Song That Will Hopefully Soundtrack an Action Sequence This Fall: Anitta, “Pantera”
Brazilian star Anitta’s 2019 album Kisses featured a handful of top-line artists, from Swae Lee to Prince Royce to Alesso to Becky G. New song “Pantera” is another team-up of sorts — this time with the Charlie’s Angels franchise, on a soundtrack executive-produced by Ariana Grande — although Anitta shines as a beguiling pop presence over the song’s two minutes and change. The way the singer tiptoes around the main hook before dropping in to deliver an unflinching sing-rap over clapping percussion should impress American audiences unfamiliar with one of Latin pop’s more audacious new stars.
The Song That Will Have You Rushing To Play “Smooth” Soon After: Tyga feat. YG & Santana, “Mamacita”
First Stream often offers a handful of unexpected collaborations and surprising features, but Tyga and YG recruiting Carlos Santana is one bingo number that we did not foresee being called. Yet “Mamacita,” in which Santana’s signature riffs coexist with Tyga extolling the virtues of big butts, somehow works, thanks to a chorus that gets stuck in your head and the two MCs giving the legendary guitarist space to solo in the song’s back half. Tyga, fresh off a new label deal and with his "Go Loko" compadre YG by his side, keeps his hot streak alive.