People — Fifth Harmony fans, R&B fans, pop fans, music fans in general — have been waiting for years to see Normani’s full artistic vision, with top-notch collaborations and promises of a solo album stoking anticipation. Whether or not “Wild Side,” her audacious new single and video featuring Cardi B, precedes a new body of work, Normani has once again justified the high expectations: her vocal runs, choreography, visual panache and microphone confidence add up to an intoxicating whole, and works as a sort of reassurance to the longtime believers in her stardom.
Pop Smoke, Faith
Pop Smoke’s Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon album remains one of the most singular success stories in the modern music industry, a blockbuster posthumous LP that made the Brooklyn rapper a superstar just a few months after his untimely death. One year after its release, another all-star Pop Smoke album has arrived — and fortunately, it’s been made with the same type of thoughtfulness and precision as its predecessor, as huge names from the pop and hip-hop worlds (Kanye West, Dua Lipa, Pharrell and 21 Savage among them) gather around a multitalented artist who should have been able to present these stories of overcoming hardship and reveling in wealth during his lifetime.
Shakira, “Don’t Wait Up”
Shakira rides a glow-in-the-dark surfboard in the music video to new single “Don’t Wait Up,” harnessing a wave while letting pink neon light up her face. It’s a stunt that very few artists could pull off, and underlines the veteran superstar’s effortless cool — and while “Don’t Wait Up” isn’t overly ostentatious, the song beguiles its listener thanks to Shakira’s steady hand, which pushes up against a clanging electronic riff and understands how to make common romantic miscommunication sound downright dramatic.
If Clairo’s debut full-length, 2019’s Immunity, was a brilliant bit of bedroom pop, highly anticipated follow-up Sling leaves the house altogether and takes singer-songwriter Claire Cottrill into a new world of sounds, instruments and arrangements. Working with Jack Antonoff on the sophomore LP, Clairo expands outward without sacrificing the intimacy that made her debut so rewarding — a song like “Amoeba,” for instance, includes multiple pianos, bass guitars, flute and saxophone, but it wouldn’t work without her gently delivered rumination on a toxic relationship.
John Mayer, Sob Rock
John Mayer is skilled enough as a songwriter and sound technician that, if he wants to make a pastiche to crowd-pleasing late-‘80s soft-rock, he’s going to do a darn good job of it. Sob Rock, his eighth studio album and first since 2017, honors a beloved stylistic approach with pinpoint accuracy, every cooed hook and lightly squealing guitar solo beamed in from another time; Mayer sounds like he’s having a blast in the artifact finding, channeling his virtuosic talent toward personal heroes and building upon what they accomplished many years ago.
Willow, Lately I Feel Everything
Willow Smith was a punk heroine long before she picked up a guitar for her new album, Lately I Feel Everything: eschewing tween pop fame post-“Whip My Hair” and forging her own path through experimental R&B and neo-soul, the child star immediately invested in exploring her own talents rather than abiding by an easy blueprint. Her new full-length — which leans hard into the pop-punk revival, with help some Travis Barker and Avril Lavigne — marries Willow’s rebel yell with production that can fully uplift it, producing songs like “Don’t Save Me” and “Grow” that are both daring and accessible.
Swedish House Mafia, “It Gets Better”
It’s always a treat when an artist returns after a prolonged hiatus and sounds like they haven’t missed a step. Such is the case for Swedish House Mafia — festival-conquering dance kings, disbanded as a trio and newly reformed — and “It Gets Better,” a dazzling prologue to a new era that trades in bass drops for a throbbing house foundation, but still saves a cowbell explosion for its back half. As festival fields start to reopen, it’s hard not to daydream about losing your mind to “It Gets Better” in the near future.
Alessia Cara, “Sweet Dream”
Alessia Cara thrives the more detailed her songwriting becomes — “Here,” for instance, became her breakthrough hit thanks in part to the claustrophobic-party scenario that it so expertly constructed. New single “Sweet Dream” taps into that same skill set, as Cara describes her struggle for serenity amidst her own anxieties; the former best new artist Grammy winner sounds reliably inviting, but the lyrical flourishes are what set her latest offering apart.