Ariana Grande‘s surprise release of “thank u, next” suggests a new direction for the pop artist’s personal narrative. Plus, Kane Brown finds a hit in a new collaboration with Becky G off his second album. The Backstreet Boys are, indeed, back, changing it up with a pop-rock tune that heralds the drop of their upcoming album. Sabrina Carpenter proves herself a more-than-capable smoky-voiced pop ingenue. And Steve Aoki teams up with Mike Posner on his latest feature-heavy album, Neon Future III.
"Lost in the Middle of Nowhere," Kane Brown feat. Becky G
“Don’t you know I got the key to your heart in my car? Let’s go far,” sings Kane Brown in his rich drawl on the rollicking country-pop tune “Lost in the Middle of Nowhere,” and the young country star’s casual confidence is convincing. Tennessee-born Brown has made waves in the country music scene for his Facebook-driven rise to popularity, his record-breaking chart and streaming success and his identity as a biracial artist in a genre not known for its diversity. But with his sophomore album Experiment, out Nov. 9, Brown proves he’s got the range to stick around. “Lost in the Middle of Nowhere” is as close as he’s come to a crossover tune, with Becky G offering a balanced counterpoint to Brown’s southern sound. This one’s got an easy-going singalong chorus.
"Paris," Sabrina Carpenter
At 19, Sabrina Carpenter has already made her showbiz mark as a Disney starlet turned singer; she’s now on her third album, Singular: Act I. But this is also something of a fresh start, showing off a newfound maturity. “Paris” is the standout: a romp with Western-style kick from the jump, Carpenter drips with confidence over a dark, stomping beat. “It’s so romantic in Paris,” she breathes, “but I already have love in L.A.” We may not all be so lucky to have paramours in many cities, but Carpenter sells it — and suggests she’s one to watch as she grows into her musical identity.
"thank u, next," Ariana Grande
Ariana Grande put out a track that’s both her most personal, specific work — laundry-listing her exes openly — yet still gracious, self-reflective and positive. (It doesn’t hurt that the sparkling tune is sweet, light and catchy.) Grande knows her every move will be tracked by fans and tabloids alike, so “thank u, next” is a conscious clearing of the slate, coming after the release of her latest album as a reset. “One taught me love / One taught me patience / And one taught me pain / Now, I’m so amazing,” she sighs in reference to her former boyfriends, lyrics that already kicked off a viral meme. But the bigger story is her focus on self-love and growth: it may be the season to couple up, but Grande offers an independent alternative.
"A Lover and a Memory," Steve Aoki feat. Mike Posner
Steve Aoki works hard. The popular DJ and producer is on the road around the world for the bulk of the year — and in the midst of his travels, he’s managed to put together a stacked new album, Neon Future III, with features from stars like the K-pop group BTS, former One Direction singer Louis Tomlinson, blink-182, Daddy Yankee, rapper Lil Yachty and even Bill Nye (yes, the Science Guy), each track showcasing a different style and turning it into a festival-ready hit. “A Lover and a Memory” taps Mike Posner (of “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” fame) for a downbeat EDM track that is rich in introspection and thoughtful lyrics, with a warm build and danceable drop.
"Chances," Backstreet Boys
Yes, you read that right: a new song from the Backstreet Boys. “Chances” comes ahead of a just-announced tenth studio album for the 1990s boy band, DNA, which will be out in 2019, and follows the summer sleeper hit “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” While that one stuck to the classic boy band sound, “Chances” is a change of pace for the group with its guitar-forward intro and rock ‘n’ roll beat; it helps that it was penned in part by Shawn Mendes and Ryan Tedder. “Chances” is about serendipity, and it seems serendipitous indeed that the fivesome have managed to retain their group bond after over 25 years together. There are plenty of young boy bands eager to take their crown (Why Don’t We, PRETTYMUCH, Brockhampton, CNCO), but the Backstreet Boys are making a case for their continued relevance.