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, Ariana Grande strikes new positions, Haim strike a match with good friend Taylor Swift, and Conan Gray strikes back at anyone doubting his mainstream chops. Check out all of this week’s First Stream picks below:
Ariana Grande, Positions (Deluxe)
Following up the commercial highs of the one-two punch of her Sweetener and Thank U, Next eras should have been daunting for Ariana Grande, but Positions has more than continued her hot streak, spawning hits like “34+35” and its title track while doubling down on romance-soaked R&B. With the deluxe edition of Positions, Grande expands that best-selling vision without straying too far from the double entendres and sensual rhythms that defined the album: the finger-snaps on “Worst Behavior,” the buttery chorus on “Test Drive” and the champagne-swilling fun of the “34+35” remix with Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion all represent an artist giving her fans more of exactly what they want.
Haim feat. Taylor Swift, “Gasoline” (Remix)
“Gasoline” perhaps best encapsulated the magic of Haim’s third album, Women In Music Pt. III: the sister trio still tossed out pop-rock hooks with ease, as they had done for the better part of a decade, but the songwriting was more unflinching, wrapping up insecurity and sexual desire in a package that demonstrated wondrous growth. Adding Taylor Swift into the fold, to sharpen her teeth on the second verse and then offer backing harmonies, was a no-brainer win; at this point, we desperately need that “No Body, No Crime” / “Gasoline” joint Grammy performance from the album of the year co-nominees.
Conan Gray, “Overdrive”
After his 2020 debut Kid Krow reached the top 10 of the Billboard 200 and scored a viral hit with “Heather,” Conan Gray has entered this year with high expectations — and just dropped what is arguably his strongest single to date. “Overdrive” utilizes the malleability of Gray’s voice while cranking up the dial labeled “anthem” to 11, resulting in a combustible pop track that will sound smashing on both nighttime highway rides and in packed crowds whenever Gray can tour again.
24kGoldn, “3, 2, 1”
“Three sides to the story / Yours and mine and the goddamn truth, girl,” 24kGoldn seethes on new track “3, 2, 1,” in which the San Francisco rapper tries to get to the bottom of what caused the rot in a relationship. Following “Mood,” his mega-hit with Iann Dior, and tracks like the DaBaby collaboration “Coco,” hearing 24kGoldn rapping from a wounded perspective is a bit jarring: the MC excels while riding an upbeat rhythm, but adds new depth to his persona here.
Carly Pearce, 29
Carly Pearce’s 29 is billed as “seven songs that capture truths about life,” as the Kentucky native offers a shorter check-in than a proper album to reflect on a few topics that have been rattling around her mind. The result is one of the most vital country projects of the new year, as Pearce sands down any studio distractions and leans on her songwriting during storytelling feats like “Next Girl,” “Should’ve Known Better” and “Show Me Around,” the latter a tearjerking tribute to the late producer-songwriting Busbee.
CJ, Loyalty Over Royalty
Eight songs in 18 minutes: CJ, the Staten Island rapper who’s made it to the upper reaches of the Hot 100 thanks to his viral smash “Whoopty,” makes a quick but lasting impression on Loyalty Over Royalty, his debut project on Warner Records. “Whoopty” remains the big draw, naturally, but his French Montana collaboration “I’m Lit” and ultra-catchy “Goin’ UP” show the type of club-ready artist CJ might become, without ever overstaying their welcome.
Luis Fonsi & Rauw Alejandro, “Vacío”
Luis Fonsi’s team-up with Rauw Alejandro liberally quotes from Son by Four’s 2001 hit “A Puro Dolor” while using a new melody, leaning into a feeling of nostalgia while simultaneously combining two like-minded artists in a fresh way. Fonsi is an absolute pro when it comes to ratcheting up the emotion in his vocal delivery, while Alejandro offers a smooth counterpart, his higher register gliding over the simple percussion with ease.