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, Paramore unveils its first album in six years, Lizzo taps SZA for a “Special” rework, and Taylor Swift hits the dance floor. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
Paramore, This Is Why
There’s a difference between surviving and thriving, and while Paramore should be given credit for enduring through several lineups, rock generations and music industry iterations, they deserve even more for continuously evolving in smart, exciting ways. Hayley Williams, Taylor York and Zac Farro could have used long-awaited new album This Is Why to dive back into the synth-heavy new wave of 2017’s After Laughter, or returned to the pop-punk of their beginnings as the sound receives a revival; instead, the new project brims with hopped-up post-punk, as Williams further prods at the anxieties of the outside world and within herself. This Is Why is expertly conceived and stands apart from everything in the band’s catalog… just like every album from Paramore, a band that captures fascinating moments in time and then keeps moving forward.
Lizzo feat. SZA, “Special (Remix)”
Talk about a special week for both Lizzo and SZA: days after the former won the record of the year Grammy for her No. 1 smash “About Damn Time,” the latter has been named Billboard’s Woman of the Year as her blockbuster sophomore album, SOS, potentially returns to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. To celebrate their various successes, the two A-listers have teamed up on a remix of Lizzo’s Special title track, with SZA refusing to be pigeonholed by her peers: “Woke up this mornin’ to somebody judgin’ me,” she sings, “No surprise they judgin’ me, don’t know who I’m ‘posed to be / I’m just actin’ up, I’m crass as f–k, and never sayin’ sorry.”
Taylor Swift, “Lavender Haze (Felix Jaehn Remix)”
From the opening coo of “Meet me at midnight,” Taylor Swift’s “Lavender Haze” possesses a shimmying groove that’s perfect for a head knock or shoulder wiggle; this newly released official remix of the rising Midnights hit, courtesy of German producer Felix Jaehn (best known in the States for “Cheerleader,” his No. 1 smash with Omi from 2015), turns that subtle movement into a blown-out club force. The tempo ramps up, the synthesizers pile, the chorus goes double-time, and Jaehn remakes “Lavender Haze” with an inventive dance approach.
Dove Cameron & Khalid, “We Go Down Together”
As a duet, “We Go Down Together” exists in an intimate emotional space shared by Dove Cameron and Khalid — the instrumentation here is unobtrusive enough that, as they sing about their co-dependency and roller-coaster relationship, the two artists sound wholly alone with each other in the song’s shared universe. Cameron, fresh off of a breakthrough year, continues showcasing the fragile beauty of her voice, while Khalid demonstrates the soulfulness that made him an arena-headlining star (and, hopefully, will explore in more music this year).
Luke Combs, “Love You Anyway”
Everything clicks into place on Luke Combs’ “Love You Anyway,” the latest offering from the country star’s upcoming Gettin’ Old album: the sincerity in Combs’ devotion is captured by the sturdiness of the slide guitar, the chorus swells with a graceful touch, and while the song is rife with metaphors, they all land with invested feeling (“If your touch shattered me like glass / I’d be in pieces trying to make the breaking last,” Combs declares). “Love You Anyway” is not the flashiest Combs track, even by the standard of his love ballads — still, it immediately sounds like one of his strongest to date.
D4vd, “Placebo Effect”
With “Romantic Homicide” and “Here With Me,” D4vd has watched two lovelorn, genre-defying singles go viral and then sustain their momentum to become chart-conquering hits. New single “Placebo Effect” represents both an attempt for the teen singer-songwriter to go three-for-three, as well as a refinement of his sound and point of view: still heartsick after confusing a fizzling relationship for real love, D4vd operates over stray guitar licks and lets his voice crack through his clipped pleas, for maximum emotional devastation.