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, Travis Scott acquires a new “Franchise,” Zayn returns in style and Jennifer Lopez has found a new duet partner. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
The Song That Will Be a Hip-Hop Radio Staple For Months:
Travis Scott feat. Young Thug & M.I.A., “Franchise”
Coming so soon after the rollout of his McDonald’s campaign, one might expect a new Travis Scott song titled “Franchise” to offer some next-level corporate tie-in, with the superstar rapper name-checking the Big Mac and Hamburglar. Fortunately, Scott is too cerebral to bend his music too far toward his business interests, and “Franchise” exists as… a pretty great standalone Travis Scott single. While he drops references to Spike Lee, Zootopia and Above The Rim director Jeff Pollak, Young Thug shows up to recapture the energy of “The London”; however, a resurgent M.I.A. is the real surprise here, trading boasts with Scott midway through the song in a way that smacks of a “Swagga Like Us” for a new generation of hip-hop.
The Song That Goes Back to the Drawing Board, To Great Effect:
After leaving One Direction and launching his solo career in dramatic fashion with the 2016 full-length Mind of Mine, Zayn’s journey through rhythmic pop has had commercial ups and downs, as undeniable as the No. 1 smash “Pillowtalk” and as uneven as the response to the 2018 sophomore album Icarus Falls. With “Better,” the first taste of his third project, Zayn simplifies the equation and scores: the song is a straightforward R&B track, expressing love in spite of disagreement and designed to showcase one of the most skilled voices in modern pop. “Better” doesn’t try to accomplish too much, but as a comeback single that goes down smoothly, it gets Zayn back on track.
The Songs That Unite Two Latin Pop Superstars:
Jennifer Lopez & Maluma, “Pa’ Ti” & “Lonely”
Over the course of her 25-year music career, Jennifer Lopez has scored some of her biggest hits when recruiting a male artist to play her foil — think Ja Rule on the “I’m Real” remix, or Pitbull as her “On The Floor” cohort. Now, Lopez has brought in a new-school reggaeton king Maluma, fresh off the surprise release of his Papi Juancho album last month, to share some heat on “Pa’ Ti” and “Lonely,” the former an ode to sensual devotion, the latter a kiss-off on which Lopez succinctly declares, “You f–ked up, baby, I’m sorry.” The vocal chemistry is palpable on both tracks, as Lopez eases her approach to match Maluma’s more hushed romance; if the pair combines for a longer collaboration, it would be one to remember.
The Album That Lives Up To The Hype:
Between his 2018 project Ballads 1 and this year’s Nectar, Joji has become something of a streaming star, with his slithery, slightly downcast R&B fitting in snugly on playlists next to artists like The Weeknd and Jhene Aiko. With 18 songs and a wide variety of collaborators — Benee, Diplo, Yves Tumor and Lil Yachty have surely never been on the same album before, and likely never will again — Nectar is marked by its ambition, and Joji sounds up for the task, undaunted while navigating through string arrangements that collapse into trap beats. The main draw remains Joji’s sturdy, brooding voice: on tracks like the swirling table-setter “Modus” and the throbbing standout “Your Man,” his charisma wins out, even as he’s exploring different sides of his artistry.
The Album That Will (Already) Get You in the Holiday Spirit:
Carrie Underwood, My Gift
Carrie Underwood is the perfect type of artist to record a Christmas album: her voice is impeccable, both classic and playful arrangements coexist on her projects, and she happens to be a superstar who can corral some famous friends. My Gift, the country star’s first holiday project, delivers all of that — John Legend guests on “Hallelujah,” frequent collaborators Brett James and David Garcia help write a pair of moving original tracks (“Let There Be Peace” and “Sweet Baby Jesus”), and standards like “Silent Night” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” are tackled with soaring high notes. If the sound of Underwood and her 5-year-old son, Isaiah Fisher, singing “Little Drummer Boy” together makes you want to decorate your tree in September, we don’t blame you one bit.
The Album That Would Have Sounded Great at the Warped Tour:
Machine Gun Kelly, Tickets To My Downfall
The cover of Machine Gun Kelly’s latest LP features the rap star towering above an empty pool, a pink guitar cradled in front of a black t-shirt; it’s as good of an indication as any that this will not be a standard project from the artist declaring himself a “Rap Devil” just two years ago. MGK has been lighting up alternative rock radio lately with dazzlingly effective songs like “Bloody Valentine,” and the rest of Tickets To My Downfall plays out as a pop-punk pivot, with Travis Barker stepping in as a producer and helping the MC fully commit to the bit. The result is one of the most satisfying rock releases of 2020, as tracks like “Title Track,” “WWIII” and the Blackbear collaboration “My Ex’s Best Friend” beckoning fans of Rancid, Bad Religion and, yes, Blink-182 to gather ‘round the campfire and listen to a different type of punk.
The Album That Will Make Your Life Seem 100 Percent More Epic:
SuperM, Super One
Fittingly, the music of SuperM — the K-pop supergroup consisting of members of EXO, SHINee, NCT 127 and WayV — often makes you feel like you’re the star of your own superhero movie while listening: on Super One, the collective’s first official album, the enormous hooks, escalating harmonies and chest-thumping beats conducive to both singing and rapping are all deployed on the first track, “One (Monster & Infinity),” and rarely let up over the 15 songs. Yet even when it’s not moving at breakneck speed, such as on the finger-snapping ballad “Better Days,” Super One possesses an understanding of pop craft that transcends language and invites repeat listenings; after SuperM scored a No. 1 release last year with their first “mini album,” Super One offers a widescreen version of their appeal.
The Song That Kicks Off a Dance Star’s New Era:
Tiesto, “The Business”
“The Business” is Tiesto’s first release on his new home of Atlantic Records, and in a press release, the EDM king describes the song as a “fresh start.” Indeed, “The Business” pushes Tiesto’s formula forward while still abiding by what he does best: sly, slightly soulful and unexpectedly funky, the electro-house song knows exactly when to circle its bigger beat in and out of focus. With a warped voice crying, “Let’s get down, let’s get down to business,” Tiesto has used the new single as a mission statement for the next phase of his career; it’s finished before the three-minute mark, leaving us wanting more.
The Album That Will Satisfy All Of Your Headbanging Needs:
Deftones have developed into one of the most consistently thrilling acts in hard rock by never straying too far from what fans love about them: instead of chasing trends, the group has preserved the interplay between Chino Moreno’s virtuoso melodies, guitarist Stephen “Stef” Carpenter’s hulking riffs and the supportive grooves of bassist Sergio Vega, drummer Abe Cunningham and keyboardist Frank Delgado as its core. Ohms is everything Deftones fans are looking for in a new Deftones record, but with producer Terry Date back in the fold for the first time since 2003’s self-titled album, everything shakes a little bit harder: opener “Genesis” finds beauty echoing above the doom, while “This Link Is Dead” features some of the most intense vocals of Moreno’s career.