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First Stream: New Music From Blackpink, Shawn Mendes, Megan Thee Stallion and More

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, Blackpink finally drops their anticipated full-length, Shawn Mendes returns in bold fashion and Megan Thee Stallion can’t stop and won’t stop. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:

The Album That’s a Party From Start To Finish:
Blackpink, The Album

Blackpink members Jennie, Jisoo, Lisa and Rosé have unlocked a unique formula, balancing pop and rap while displaying their respective personalities and turning the intimate into the universal. The Album, an eight-song, ornately produced showcase of their talents, gathers their recent singles (including “How You Like That” and the Selena Gomez team-up “Ice Cream”) and surrounds them with more hooks and pizzazz: there’s a Cardi B collaboration (“Bet You Wanna”), a touching ballad (“You Never Know”) and an engrossing trap synthesis (“Pretty Savage”), all of which work separately on pop playlists and together on this compact collections.

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The Song That Shows An Artist’s True Ambition:
Shawn Mendes, “Wonder”

It would have been easy for Shawn Mendes to return with a straightforward pop track — after all, the singer-songwriter, who’s becoming a top 40 staple and is coming off of his most successful album cycle to date, is well-positioned to dominate mainstream music well into the 2020s. But “Wonder,” the title track to his upcoming fourth album, is anything but easy: a soothing chorus and symphonic swells lead into a string of rhetorical questions that detail Mendes’ doubts and insecurities. After looking inward and focusing on his anxieties on his hit “In My Blood,” Mendes’ aspirations to showcase his psyche have only grown; for longtime listeners and casual fans alike, the progressive “Wonder” should challenge and enchant.

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The Song That Will Heat Up The Club, Whenever It Opens:
Megan Thee Stallion feat. Young Thug, “Don’t Stop”

It’s darn near a tragedy that a song like Megan Thee Stallion’s “Don’t Stop” is released in the era of social distancing and a barren live music landscape: the new collaboration with Young Thug sounds like it would absolutely ignite any dance floor or arena crowd upon which it is dropped. Megan sounds commanding as she carries over her “WAP” sex metaphors, and Young Thug plays the nimble foil while declaring, “Shake what your doctor gave you!” Yet “Don’t Stop” also boasts one of Buddah Bless’ most spectacular productions to date, simultaneously elastic and roaring, ready to melt down any resistance it might encounter.

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The Mixtape That Has Everything (Including Morgan Freeman!):
21 Savage & Metro Boomin, Savage Mode II

In July 2016, rising Atlanta hip-hop artist 21 Savage and producer Metro Boomin combined for a highly successful nine-track mixtape, Savage Mode. Fast-forward four years: 21 Savage is an influential superstar, Metro Boomin is an authoritative hitmaker, and the two have enough clout to tap Morgan Freeman to narrate the Savage Mode sequel. Although a more high-profile project than its predecessor — Drake and Young Thug are among the guest stars this go-around — Savage Mode II is the same type of adrenaline shot, with rapper and producer feeding off of each other in a way reminiscent of the Neptunes’ essential mid-00s work with Clipse. Bonus points go to Savage Mode II for simply being a new project from 21 Savage, whose electrifying presence in rap has been muted and missed in 2020.

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The Album To Play During a Romantic (Anniversary?) Dinner:
Bryson Tiller, Anniversary

The release of Bryson Tiller’s third album coincides with the five-year anniversary of his 2015 R&B instant-classic debut Trapsoul — which, one week ago, received a deluxe edition to commemorate the occasion. The timing is not an accident: Tiller has admitted to losing his focus on 2017 sophomore effort True To Self, and Anniversary is positioned as a return to form, the proper follow-up to a terrific debut that fans have been longing for. Although Anniversary takes time to seep in and fully unfurl its mix of R&B songwriting and trap beats, Tiller hasn’t sounded this fresh since his first outing, and his energy serves as fuel for the entire affair. From the springy rhymes of opener “Years Go By” to the contemplative crooning of “Keep Doing What You’re Doing,” Tiller seems fully revitalized, and Anniversary has a very high floor because of his engagement.

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The Album In Which Even The Leftovers Are Delicious:
Mariah Carey, The Rarities

With The Rarities, Mariah Carey both continues the celebration of her 30th anniversary as a recording superstar, as well as gives super-fans a peek into her jam-packed professional vault. Of course, The Rarities is not just a B-sides collection for the diehards: there are show-stoppers from the first few years of her career, songs that were finally completed after years of waiting (“Save The Day,” which samples the Fugees’ “Killing Me Softly”), as well as enjoyable odds-and-ends like the original “Firecracker” version of “Loverboy.” In the middle of it all is Carey’s undeniable talent, which has shone for three decades now, and would have been enough to power extended Hot 100 runs for any of these tracks.

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The Album That Will Make Your Holidays Merry and Bright:
Dolly Parton, A Holly Dolly Christmas

As Dolly Parton’s first holiday album in 30 years, A Holly Dolly Christmas is exactly the type of low-stakes, family-friendly bundle of joy that one would hope from the icon, who has nothing left to prove professionally but plenty of new smiles to induce. The guest list is a wacky assortment of Parton’s famous friends and admirers, from Willie Nelson to Jimmy Fallon to Miley Cyrus to Miley’s father, Billy Ray; the main draw, naturally, remains the warmth of Parton’s voice, which propels classics like “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and makes A Holly Dolly Christmas a staple for a new generation of Dolly fans.

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The Cover That Should Kick Your Weekend Off Right:
Miley Cyrus, “Heart Of Glass”

Covering a classic single like Blondie’s “Heart Of Glass” would be a bold move for any artist — after all, why mess with perfection? Yet let’s not overthink things and fail to appreciate the loving tribute that is Miley Cyrus’ cover of the song, which she recently performed at the iHeartRadio Music Festival. Cyrus snarls through the chorus, finds a nice groove in the verses, and generally swaggers through a three-and-a-half minute toast to the genius of Debbie Harry. Fire it up on your Friday playlist and warble along freely.

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