February 12, 2020
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, Meek Mill and Justin Timberlake aim to inspire, Justin Bieber drops another radio-friendly single and Nicki Minaj does not have any time for the doubters. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
The Song That Will Inspire You To Tackle Your Problems Head-On:
Meek Mill feat. Justin Timberlake, “Believe”
Surveying Meek Mill’s career entails far more than a simple rundown of his biggest hits, but when taken at face value, his sound has progressed to a breathtaking degree; a Philly rapper who started out as a ferocious street poet, Meek is now making motivational anthems for all ages alongside pop’s elite. “Believe” featuring Justin Timberlake may resemble semi-religious pop-rap that could soundtrack the end credits of a Disney movie, but look closer: Meek references his legal battles, the hopelessness that he felt behind bars, and the self-confidence he needed to ultimately survive. While “Believe” sounds like it’s headed for ubiquity — especially with such a crisp Timberlake hook in tow — Meek uses the track to reflect on some serious subject manner, devastating setbacks that have, he admits, at least made him wiser.
The Song That Could Return a Familiar Voice To Pop Radio:
Justin Bieber feat. Quavo, “Intentions”
“Yummy,” the first single from Justin Bieber’s forthcoming Changes album, debuted at No. 2 on the Hot 100 and is persisting in the top 20 — yet “Intentions,” its follow-up featuring Quavo, sounds like it could be even more potent as a radio mainstay. Over a slippery electronic beat, the Biebs dismisses Instagram filters and thanks his in-laws for raising his wife; he settles into the song nicely, handling the chorus with aplomb and showing off his range in unexpected flares of emotion. Elsewhere, Quavo’s voice drops in and out of the ether as he plays Robin to Bieber’s Batman on the track. There’s an ease to “Intentions” that’s immediately appealing, and could deliver Bieber yet another hit single.
The Song That Will Make All Haters Collectively Cower:
Nicki Minaj, “Yikes”
“Don’t ever f—king play with me!” Nicki Minaj growls before the beat even kicks in on her latest track. During a week in which the rap superstar reminded the world that she is not one to take a feud lightly, she has released “Yikes” as a way to once again put the hip-hop world on notice: her skills as a lyricist and MC should never be discounted. The track primarily trades in intimidation (“All that talking out of your neck might just get your throat cut,” goes one choice line), but Minaj’s combat has always been more effective when given a focused run time and springy refrain, as “Yikes” thankfully sports. Even when you’re not furious at a world that has underestimated you, you’ll be finding yourself humming along to “Yikes.”
The Album That Wants To Introduce You To Some Kickass Women:
Various Artists, Birds of Prey: The Album
Those who are familiar with the saga of Harley Quinn, or are interested enough to purchase opening-weekend tickets to her character’s new origin story Birds of Prey, probably understand that the Joker’s romantic beau revels in chaos. Likewise, the soundtrack to Birds of Prey doesn’t flaunt a ton of sonic cohesion, and that’s the gleeful point: the songs here zigzag between styles and voices with a disarray that eventually sucks you in. The A-listers here embrace the wildness — Halsey goes full noise-rock with “Experiment On Me,” while Megan Thee Stallion and Normani sound proudly uninhibited on “Diamonds” — but the rising stars step up, too, from Cyn to Charlotte Lawrence to K. Flay, with Doja Cat ultimately winning the disc with the opening “Boss Bitch.” The coolest part? Just like with Birds of Prey, the male artists mostly exist in the background, as the soundtrack makes room for some of the more promising women in music.
The Album That Will Bring You Back To Warped Tour Days of Yore:
Green Day, Father of All…
Green Day has become one of the most successful rock acts of the past 25 years through the art of shapeshifting, presenting themselves as bratty punks on Dookie, pop savants on Nimrod and political opera-rockers on American Idiot. To their credit, they’re still trying to incorporate new shades: Father of All… mixes punk, doo-wop and surf-rock into an aggressive antidote to their radio-friendly recent past, with Billie Joe Armstrong’s vocals thinned out in the mix and the running time kept at a tight 26 minutes. The album is Green Day’s most interesting project in over a decade, and should entice fans of Insomniac, their follow-up to Dookie that eschewed commercial appeal in order to punch listeners in the mouth. (Looking for that “Basket Case” rush, though? Try out the catchy “Sugar Youth”).
The Song That’s a Slice of Reassurance, Part 1:
Khalid & Disclosure, “Know Your Worth”
Casual dance fans who were grooving to Disclosure singles like “Latch” and “White Noise” back in 2013 may be surprised to know that the U.K. duo was part of one of last year’s biggest U.S. hits, having produced the long-lasting Khalid smash “Talk.” The R&B star has linked back up with the pair for “Know Your Worth,” and as the equal billing indicates, this track is closer to the shimmering house music that Disclosure has made a calling card, rather than the laid-back grooves of “Talk.” Khalid nimbly takes on the tempo, resisting the urge to croon or leap up into falsetto until either is necessary, while his comforting words are placed above production that glides along and accommodates the occasional chirp. With this latest collaboration, both Khalid and Disclosure prove that they can effortlessly enter each other’s worlds; perhaps an extended team-up is in order?
The Song That’s a Slice of Reassurance, Part 2:
Niall Horan, “No Judgement”
Niall Horan’s solo career began with the One Direction member tightly clutching the guitar he often played during their stadium shows, as singles like “This Town” and “Slow Hands” shrugged off the dominant hip-hop influence in popular music and became hits anyway. New track “No Judgement” is not quite as riff-focused, pairing a guitar lick with some rhythmic production, although Horan’s inherent charm still shines brighter than the beats as he aims to encourage his romantic mate: “You don’t have to change when I’m around ya,” he sings, “So go ahead and say what’s on your mind.” “No Judgement” sounds closer to the rest of contemporary pop radio, and you can’t blame Horan for trying his hand at a more modern approach.
The Song To Blast In Your Bedroom On Your Next Birthday Morning:
In hit collaborations with artists like Marshmello and Clean Bandit, British singer-songwriter Anne-Marie carried oversized hooks without necessarily showcasing a riotous personality to unaware listeners. That missing piece is uncovered on “Birthday,” an unrepentant pop celebration that raises a middle finger to responsibility on your special day (“It’s my birthday / I’ma do what I like, I’ma eat what I like, I’ma kiss who I like!” she cries). And, operating over trap drums, Anne-Marie pulls it off, fashioning herself as an anthem-slayer whose indulgences cannot be contained and should not be apologized for. “Birthday” could be compared to a handful of other party tracks, but Anne-Marie makes the song distinctly her own, and makes her next step all the more anticipated.
The Remix That Could Give an Intriguing Song a Swift Kick Up The Charts:
PARTYNEXTDOOR feat. Drake and Bad Bunny, “Loyal” (Remix)
Why hasn’t “Loyal” blown up? The original track, a long-awaited new collaboration between PARTYNEXTDOOR and Drake, features the type of hook that gets played regularly on rhythmic radio and by club DJs, but has only mustered a No. 63 peak on the Hot 100 chart. Perhaps a new multilingual version that tosses Bad Bunny into the mix will prove effective: “Loyal” is extended to allow the reggaeton star to stroll in with a combination of rhymes and full-hearted singing, while the original pair keep their chemistry intact (and Drake still sounds in sync with his “MIA” cohort Bad Bunny). Time will tell if this remix gives “Loyal” some new juice, although it’s heartening to see a worthy song receive a second look.