Billboard’s First stream serves as a handy guide to Friday’s most essential releases – the key music that everyone will be talking about today and that will dominate playlists this weekend and beyond.
This week, Lil Nas X drops a new anthem, Sam Smith shakes up their formula with the help of Kim Petras, and Joshua Bassett continues his evolution. See all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
Lil Nas X, “Star Walkin’ (League of Legends Worlds Anthem)”
“Star Walkin'” may exist thanks to a partnership with the massively multiplayer video game franchise League of Legends (which also helped produce Imagine Dragons’ top 10 hit “Enemy” earlier this year), but Lil Nas X’s 2022 World Cup anthem is far from a corporate stop for the superstar: the single sits at the intersection of humble pop and mass-appeal hip-hop that Nas has made his home over the past few years, with a hook full of motivational catchphrases (“Racin’ to the moonlight, and I’m speedin’!”) and some comedic one- liners baked into the origin story bars. Like “Enemy,” “Star Walkin'” works even without the gamer context, and should be another hit for an artist now picking them up.
Sam Smith feat. Kim Petras, “Unholy”
“I think that joy for me and for a lot of queer people is a pretty dangerous place,” Sam Smith told Billboard in their latest cover story. “We’re all masters of pain, and I actually think it’s a very brave act to step into the queer joy of it all.” “Unholy,” a daring collaboration with Kim Petras from Smith’s upcoming album, not only unites two of the most prominent artists of the past decade of queer pop music, but does so without sonic reservation—in short, the song doesn’t sound like any of Smith’s previous material , with their careful ballads replaced by sweaty bass and surging vocals. There’s definitely danger in a torch song like “Unholy,” and in some ways it’s intoxicating.
Joshua Bassett, Sad songs in a hotel room EP
As he moves forward with his recording career – separate from his High School Musical series work, away from the rumors of a certain 2021 pop superstar – Joshua Bassett’s gifts as a delicate vocalist and emotionally intelligent songwriter will only become more apparent. His new EP, Sad songs in a hotel roomcaptures a 21-year-old figuring out his next moves but understanding the medium in which he wants to express them, alternating between guitar and piano as the foundation of his vulnerability and letting his strongest moments, like the wrenching “Lifeline,” cut through the noise surrounding Bassett’s career to date.
Muni Long, Public Displays of Affection: The Album
Muni Long is enjoying a breakout year thanks to the Top 40 success of her lush R&B ballad “Hrs and Hrs,” though the artist, born Priscilla Renea Hamilton, had been a successful songwriter for over a decade before scoring this hit for herself. That backstory does Public Displays of Affection: The Album even more of a must-listen: Singing about lust and betrayal with technical precision, Muni Long represents an exciting new talent in mainstream R&B, but she naturally constructs highlights like “Plot Twist,” “Ain’t Easy” and “Cartier ” with the skills of a veteran.
Kelsea Ballerini, Subject to change
A song like “Muscle Memory” on Kelsea Ballerini’s fourth album Subject to change shows why the singer-songwriter remains a country-pop force: At three and a half minutes, the track hums like a sun-drenched afternoon stroll, full of affecting details and sweeping melodies. Ballerini has always excelled at his craft, and while Subject to change is a more straightforward offering than her 2020 album Kelsea and its acoustic counterpart Ballerinaher latest also focuses on personal growth (as the title suggests), with Ballerini telling her stories of love, loneliness and maturation the best way she knows how.
GloRilla feat. Cardi B, “Tomorrow 2”
Since turning heads over the summer with viral hit “FNF (Let’s Go),” GloRilla has signed with CMG and scored the top feature on Duke Deuce’s album Crunk star, and is now toe-to-toe with Cardi B on a new collaboration — not a bad run for the Tennessee newcomer. Cardi correctly faces all the haters and naysayers on the track (“I don’t talk dog, ho, I don’t care what no bitch say,” she sees), while GloRilla equally shines alongside one of the smartest personalities in hip-hop, rolled their eyes at Twitter drama and rhymed “running back” and “lumberjack” in a way that somehow makes both lines work.