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, Megan Thee Stallion makes her long-awaited bow, Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber aren’t afraid of a “Monster,” and Miley Cyrus goes more glam-rock with Dua Lipa. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
The Album That’s The Hip-Hop Coronation We’ve All Been Expecting:
Megan Thee Stallion, Good News
In the first 24 hours of its release (at least), the narrative surrounding Megan Thee Stallion’s Good News will be focused on its opening track, “Shots Fired,” an extended Tory Lanez diss that dresses down the July 2020 shooting incident over a “Who Shot Ya?” sample. That’s an explosive way to start a debut album, but should not overshadow what comes after: Good News makes, er, good on the enormous promise of Megan’s mixtapes, in part because, no matter the thematic focus or collection of beats, the Houston rapper is a rhyming savant and an undeniable personality. Fortunately, her proper debut sets her up to win, with anthems like “Body” and “Circles,” R&B bangers like “Freaky Girls” with SZA and pop experiments like “Don’t Rock Me To Sleep” all keeping Megan’s boisterous energy in the center of the frame.
The Song That We’ve Been Waiting On For Years, And Lives Up To Expectations:
Shawn Mendes & Justin Bieber, “Monster”
Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber have transformed from baby-faced Canadian teens posting viral covers online (on Vine and YouTube, respectively) into two of the defining artists of this modern pop era. They’ve also become adults, and on their long-awaited first collaboration, Mendes and Bieber reflect on the trappings of fame with a maturity and self-awareness that makes the team-up all the more compelling. “What if I, what if I sin? What if I, what if I break? Then am I the monster?” they ask on the chorus, throwing rhetorical questions into the void to try and make sense of what the general public will and will not offer forgiveness for during their careers. While “Monster” suggests that Mendes’ upcoming Wonder album will be even more vulnerable than past works, the duet is Bieber’s most complete single in the string of them he’s released in recent months.
The Song That Needs To Be Played in An Arena ASAP:
Miley Cyrus & Dua Lipa, “Prisoner”
Miley Cyrus is one week away from releasing her Plastic Hearts album, and as lead single “Midnight Sky,” its Stevie Nicks-featuring remix and the new Dua Lipa collaboration “Prisoner” indicate, the pop superstar has fully immersed herself in glamorous classic rock on the new project. The sound suits her, and on the thrilling “Prisoner,” it gives Lipa some unfamiliar terrain to explore: the U.K. star sounds comfortable navigating the synth stabs and a chorus that harkens back to “Physical” (the Olivia Newton-John classic, not her own), while Cyrus provides the attitude, the rasp and snarl in her voice serving as odes to inspirations like Billy Idol and Joan Jett. For a pair of pop stars with different sonic focuses and professional trajectories, “Prisoner” is a fruitful meeting point — hopefully the first of a few.
The Album That Caps Off a Whirlwind Year:
Like many other major artists, BTS saw their plans for 2020 upended by the coronavirus pandemic, as a planned tour in support of their February album Map of the Soul: 7 was postponed. When life gives a group of K-pop global superstars lemons, however, they will in fact make lemonade: BE marks an especially speedy return for the prolific seven-piece with some unexpected downtime to hit the studio this year, and a good excuse to tether “Dynamite,” their first Hot 100 chart-topper, to a new project. Fortunately, BE is much more than a hastily constructed full-length to prop up a smash, as “Life Goes On” meditates on the pandemic with gentle synth-pop, while “Blue & Grey” represents an ambitious mash-up of acoustic rock and hip-hop. Even when the tone is moodier, BTS can’t help but push modern pop in unexpected directions.
The EP That Stands As a Full-Hearted Tribute:
DaBaby, My Brother’s Keeper (Long Live G) EP
“F–k it, I’m in my feelings.” That’s how DaBaby starts the opening verse on the second track of My Brother’s Keeper, a surprise 7-song EP that arrives in the wake of the death of Glenn Johnson, the rapper’s 34-year-old brother, earlier this month. One would expect such a project to run high with emotion, and indeed, DaBaby displays sorrow, rage, grief and understanding while discussing the bond he shares with his brother and oscillating between rapping and singing. Meek Mill and Polo G are among the artists with cameos, but My Brother’s Keeper is fittingly personal, and often moving; as his second straight year of tremendous commercial success comes to a close, DaBaby has revealed more of who he is in the wake of tragedy.
The Song That Will Leave You Misty-Eyed During Last Call Someday:
Morgan Wallen, “Somebody’s Problem”
When Morgan Wallen’s single “7 Summers” blasted into the top 10 of the Hot 100 chart upon its release earlier this year, the country world was awakened to the streaming power of the ascendant singer-songwriter, as well as the hunger for tunes from his second full-length, due out in January 2021. “Somebody’s Problem” follows up “7 Summers” with a slower tempo and equally detailed lyrics, as Wallen reflects on the girl that he can’t get out of his mind: “Thinkin’ ’bout them tan lines, and I’m thinking damn, I’d / Love to drown in them heartbreaker blue eyes,” he croons. It’s age-old songwriting fodder, but Wallen makes “Somebody’s Problem” sound fresh; he rolls over every syllable with easygoing panache, and knows how to push his charm to the front of a song.
The Album That Will Give You Late-00s Flashbacks:
Jeezy, The Recession 2
At the end of 2008, as a Republican president was on his way out of office and the economy was in a dramatic downturn, Jeezy served up a full-length soundtrack for a tumultuous national period, and one of the greatest albums of his career. The Recession 2 arrives at a similar American moment, but 12 years on, Jeezy’s standing in the hip-hop community has shifted from rising superstar to respected veteran — witness his call for peace during his Verzuz battle with Gucci Mane — and his booming voice, now deployed to discuss the Black Lives Matter movement and racial injustice, has deepened with the lessons he’s learned. Although there’s nothing as immediate as “Put On” or “My President” on the sequel, “Here We Go,” “Stimulus Check” and the Yo Gotti team-up “Back” repackage his sound with a sharper perspective, making The Recession 2 Jeezy’s most urgent project since 2014’s Seen It All.
The Album That Your Parents Will Hum Along To Over Thanksgiving Weekend:
Josh Groban, Harmony
It’s almost the holiday season, which means that it’s almost time for millions of homes across the country to stream selections from Josh Groban’s mega-selling 2007 Christmas album, Noel. Groban’s exquisite voice will always signify certain festivities for many, but he’s not-so-quietly spent the past decade making interesting performance choices, and his latest, Harmony, finds the 39-year-old covering some larger-than-life classics (“The Impossible Dream,” “I Can’t Make You Love Me”) while collaborating with some Broadway-seasoned pals (Leslie Odom Jr., Sara Bareilles). Groban has been performing a series of virtual concerts this fall, and while his first-ever holiday show will no doubt attract a large audience in December, Harmony should also find a listenership outside of his diehards.