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, Justin Bieber unveils all of his personal Changes, we have new music from Eilish, Billie Eilish, and Sam Smith has soundtracked our latest lonely hour. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
The Album To Play When You’re Finally Ready To Go Engagement Ring Shopping:
Justin Bieber, Changes
Marriage can be a tricky subject to pull off in pop music: how do you inject an eternal, post-adolescent union with the dramatic tension of a meet-cute or a first kiss, in a genre often targeted toward younger listeners? With his long-awaited new album, Justin Bieber doesn’t particularly care about finding the answer to that question. Changes, the follow-up to 2015’s world-conquering Purpose, is a statement of marital salvation, with Bieber shrugging off radio expectations in order to candidly sing about how much Hailey Bieber, whom he wed in September 2018, has helped provide him a sense of stability after spending much of his life in the spotlight feeling unmoored, or worse. Purpose had three No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart; even if Changes has none, Bieber sounds like he’s been ready to trade chart achievements for personal clarity for some time.
The Song That Will Soon Be Heard In Opening Credits Around The World:
Billie Eilish, “No Time To Die”
Upon its announcement, the idea of a James Bond theme song from Billie Eilish was a curious one: how was Eilish, a singular and unabashedly offbeat songwriter, going to sound as the voice of a long-running spy film franchise? As it turns out, pretty darn good: on “No Time To Die,” Eilish takes the concept of a Bond song and reworks it to her liking, existing in a vulnerable sparseness that tosses in some orchestral flourishes for good measure. “I’d fallen for a lie / You were never on my side,” Eilish sings, her words capturing a betrayal that could be interpreted as romantic, or between secret agents; cymbals crash at the song’s climax in a way that wouldn’t necessarily happen on a non-theme song from Eilish, but the injected drama is effective. “No Time Is Die” carries an urgency that few Bond songs possess — consider it another test that Eilish just aced.
The Song That Speaks To The Singles on Valentine’s Day:
Sam Smith, “To Die For”
How do we process the fact that Sam Smith has released “To Die For,” their latest single and title track to their next album, on Valentine’s Day? Granted, the song isn’t anti-romance, but the track’s heartbreakingly desperate yearning for love certainly won’t have it soundtracking couple’s dinners anytime soon. Smith has mastered the domain of lonely pop anthems, yet “To Die For” is more than a quick variation on hits like “Stay With Me” and “Too Good At Goodbyes”: while Smith once again shows off their range, the arrangement is more restrained than usual, and some of the lyrical details — couples posing for photos at the airport while Smith is just a “solo shadow on a sidewalk” — are piercing in their specificity. If “How Do You Sleep?” scored by presenting Smith as the unlikely voice of a dance anthem, “To Die For” succeeds by returning Smith to their wheelhouse, with a fresh perspective.
The Album That Will Make You Bust Out Dad’s Lava Lamp:
Tame Impala, The Slow Rush
Tame Impala has never really had a mainstream flash point, a moment of wide exposure that solidified Kevin Parker’s shape-shifting musical project as a household name, but still spent the 2010s steadfastly becoming one of the world’s premier rock acts, as well as one of the decade’s most influential artists on the whole. 2015’s Currents was a masterpiece, but in hindsight it was also a transition, from the crunchy guitar-rock of Parker’s early output to a more synth-based, psychedelic sound; The Slow Rush, then, is the sound of Parker happily falling further down the rabbit hole. Disco, acid-house, funk and groovy lounge music are all well-represented, as Parker’s ethereal voice contribute to the album’s trippiest impulses. Yet The Slow Rush favors short, catchy blasts over drawn-out detours — Parker recently told Billboard that he wants to be a new-school Max Martin, and in the midst of every keyboard pile-up and blissed-our falsetto is a pop sensibility.
The Album That Will Give You Flashbacks To Y2K Pop:
Monsta X, All About Luv
South Korean septet Monsta X has been telegraphing the direction of its new album All About Luv for some time: on previously released tracks like “Who Do U Love?” and “Middle of the Night,” they have presented themselves as a throwback to the innocent, harmony-driven teenybopper sound that dominated U.S. pop in the late 90s. If Monsta X are traditionalists that have studied the schools of *NSYNC, 98 Degrees and Backstreet Boys, that certainly hasn’t hampered their product: All About Luv shimmers with a cleanness that escapes gimmickry, as the group members distinguish their individual characteristics and group identity enough to avoid sounding like any sort of retread. Fans of bubblegum should lap up tracks like “Got My Number” and “She’s The One,” and parents longing for boy band days of yore should be blasting Monsta X for their kids.
The Album That May Bring a Rising Rapper To The Masses:
A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, Artist 2.0
“I just wanna be a rock star, like the Beatles,” A Boogie Wit da Hoodie warbles on “Thug Love,” the intro track to Artist 2.0. The Bronx native makes his ambitions known early: regional fame and placement on the bottom halves of festival posters are not satisfying enough for an artist who wants to reshape his genre. Artist 2.0 finds A Boogie continuing to sell his story and wrap his voice around compact hooks, while the guest list includes DaBaby, Summer Walker, Young Thug and Lil Uzi Vert (the latter co-stars in the surprisingly tender, Spanish guitar-driven “Luv Is Art”). Roddy Ricch pops up on the album highlight “Numbers,” and if any of these tracks follows the path of “The Box” on the charts, A Boogie could pretty quickly snag the rock-star status he craves.
The Song That Plays Out Like a Hip-Hop Avengers:
Migos feat. Young Thug & Travis Scott, “Give No Fxk”
After Migos, Young Thug and Travis Scott debuted this track at the latter’s annual Astroworld festival last fall, “Give No Fxk” has arrived in full as a meeting of the hip-hop minds, with each party bringing something unique to this summit. Hearing all three members of Migos join forces on the opening serves as a breath of fresh air for those of us who have been longing for the trio to re-assemble; meanwhile, Thugger slides in with short bursts of bars, referencing Harriet Tubman and crowing about a “big machete” with only a few breaths in between, and Scott bats cleanup with his brand of crazy-fame claims. “Give No Fxk” isn’t complicated, but it doesn’t need to be — there are five stars here, and they all know what to do when the mic is passed to them.
The Song To Add To Your V-Day Playlist If You’re In Need of Some Country:
Cam, “Till There’s Nothing Left”
An urgency permeates Cam’s comeback single “Till There’s Nothing Left,” a single from the promising country-pop singer-songwriter about romantic devotion that doesn’t dance around its pure intent. Cam needs to feel a sense of physical closeness and has committed to opening up her heart: “I wanna call it for what it is,” she sings, “and give you everything I've got to give.” The direct lyrical approach is paired with a steady tempo and drums that widen during the chorus; Cam co-wrote the song with Jeff Bhasker, Hillary Lindsey and Tyler Johnson, a powerful team that ensures that each line here is tight and impactful. If Cam is hoping that 2020 is the year she breaks through to a wider audience (while also keeping a growing Nashville contingent behind her), “Till There’s Nothing Left” makes for a worthy first step.
The Song That You’ll Want To Keep In Your Pop Rotation:
Madison Beer, “Selfish”
Madison Beer is an immensely talented pop singer-songwriter who has been waiting for years for her shot at a larger spotlight, and with “Selfish,” which follows the equally compelling single “Good In Goodbye,” she may finally be getting there. “Selfish” spins a tale of romantic disentanglement by stripping down the backing track and letting Beer freely emote, sometimes with her voice doubled to echo her feelings of betrayal. And Beer sounds poised here, committed to the approach and confident in her capabilities as a vocalist. If her forthcoming debut album on Epic Records, Life Support, contains this type of musical conviction, it could be one of the strongest pop statements of the year.