Feeling overwhelmed by the new songs, albums and videos being unveiled today? You’re not alone. 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, Ed Sheeran’s long-awaited collaborations project is unveiled in full, Justin Bieber lends Billie Eilish some bars and Lil Nas X saddles up alongside some new cowboys. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
The Album That You’ll Come To for the Guest Stars, But Stay With for the Main Star:
Ed Sheeran, No. 6 Collaborations Project
Before he became an international star, Ed Sheeran released a series of five “collaborations project” EPs with local guest stars in the hopes of scoring a record deal. Years later, Sheeran has revived the idea — but, with the singer-songwriter now as a stadium headliner, the caliber of the collaborators is slightly higher. No. 6 Collaborations Project is ultimately a star-studded mixtape with the effortlessly charming Sheeran at the center of every song: guests include Justin Bieber, Khalid, Bruno Mars, Chris Stapleton, Chance The Rapper, PnB Rock, YEBBA… and those are just the previously released tunes from the album! Of the brand-new tracks, don’t miss Sheeran entering Astroworld on the Travis Scott-assisted gem “Antisocial,” and the contemplative “I Don’t Want Your Money,” which features H.E.R., offers a charming mix of quick-witted rhymes and canned horns.
The Song That’s The Pop-Star Collision We’ve Been Waiting For:
Billie Eilish feat. Justin Bieber, “Bad Guy”
Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” has been a fixture of the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart for weeks; meanwhile, Justin Bieber is both one of the biggest pop artists on the planet and a long-cited musical inspiration for Eilish. A reworking of “Bad Guy” makes sense on paper, and could prove a legitimate threat to challenge Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” for the top of the Hot 100. Fortunately, the remix is more than just chart fodder: listening to Bieber slide into Eilish’s haunted-house world, croon some thoughts and feelings, and have a blast with the “I’m the b-a-a-a-a-d guy” hook, makes for a compelling crossover. The Biebs hopping onto “Bad Guy” could have sounded forced, but credit to Eilish for concocting such a unique musical habitat that one of pop’s biggest stars had to effectively bend his sound to meet hers.
The Song That Features Young Thug and a Yodeler:
Lil Nas X feat. Young Thug, Billy Ray Cyrus and Mason Ramsey, “Old Town Road (Remix)”
When Lil Nas X decided to tap Billy Ray Cyrus for a new version of “Old Town Road,” the pairing resulted in one of the biggest hits of all time. After another remix featured Diplo, this “one more ride,” as he called it on Twitter, brings the genre-crushing anthem to its logical conclusion: Young Thug is now saddled up, as is Mason Ramsey, better known as the yodeling boy from a Walmart video that went viral. This “Old Town Road” remix is essentially a mishmash of styles, with Thugger sounding giddy as he sprinkles ad-libs and muses on taking a horse to his Atlanta hometown, but it’s 12-year-old Ramsey who gets the best new line: “If you ain’t got no giddy up, then giddy out my way!” Indeed, young man.
The Song That Will Inspire Human And Lion Listeners Alike:
Does any modern superstar capture the feeling of resiliency better than Queen Bey? “Spirit,” from the soundtrack to Disney’s upcoming live-action The Lion King, allows Beyonce to reflect upon the classic story’s main themes and put her deft touch on the idea of refusing to back down, odds be damned. “Rise up, to the light in the sky,” she commands, her pristine vocals veering towards gospel as the arrangement recalls “The Circle of Life.” “Spirit” lets Beyonce unleash her inner lioness, and in the process, Disney is bestowed with another stellar anthem of uplift.
The Song That Will Take You Back to Those Late-‘00s Indie Glory Days:
Bon Iver, “Faith”
Since emerging as a hushed-folk hero from a cabin in Wisconsin at the end of the 2000s, Bon Iver mastermind Justin Vernon has gradually incorporated electric and electronic elements into his ethereal songwriting. “Faith,” a new song previewing upcoming album i,i, beautifully marries the sound of where Bon Iver has gone to the sound of where Bon Iver has been: the production is rounded out with synth flourishes, but Vernon’s feathery voice and acoustic strumming share the foundation. When “Faith” opens up midway through, Vernon’s skills are on full display; it’s good to have him back, winding his way back home.
The Song That Will Make You Remember That Time You Ran Into Your Ex:
Chris Young and Lauren Alaina, “Town Ain’t Big Enough”
One of the worst breakup scenarios is when you are forced see the person you’ve broken up with afterward in a shared space, whether it be the same school, workplace, neighborhood or group of friends. Chris Young and Lauren Alaina bottle that awkward feeling into “Town Ain’t Big Enough,” in which the veteran country singer and former American Idol finalist sing about running into familiar, bittersweet faces into a shared city. Lines like “Your friends and mine run into each other all the time” hit the desired mark: this is slice-of-life songwriting that’s easy to relate to and serves both artists well.
The Song That’s An Immediate Must-Add To Your Dance-Party Playlist:
Jax Jones and Bebe Rexha, “Harder”
“I need a little more than just the usual,” Bebe Rexha states early on in “Harder,” her new dance-pop opus with U.K. super-producer Jax Jones. Rexha’s path to the top has been anything but usual — after years spent as a songwriter and hook-singer, her massive 2018 netted her a best new artist nod at this year’s Grammys. “Harder” continues Rexha down a promising path, with Jones’ whirring beats never getting too cluttered or outshining the vocalist’s approach. At under three minutes, “Harder” serves as a quick ray of sun, and another win for Rexha.
The Album That Offers Thoughtful Introspection… And a Lot of Vibes:
“It has been painful to realize that life is not black and white,” Banks says in a press release detailing her third album. “Romanticism leads to fierce reality checks, which leads to wisdom, which leads to deeper empathy which leads to greater love. This album documents the cycle.” Banks has long been adept at untangling complicated emotion within her darkly lit rhythmic pop, and III is perhaps her most mature statement to date, a subtle evolution of her sound but with new lyrical depth. “Stroke,” for instance, is a takedown of a partner’s narcissism that doesn’t turn away from the conflict, and “Gimme” is Banks’ most explosive single thus far, with one of the year’s most nuanced and hypnotic vocal takes.