N.E.R.D. is back with a bounce — and a rapping Rihanna — on the instant hit "Lemon." Young pop sensation Madison Beer proves she's one to watch with a sly new single. Aussie indie singer-songwriter Vance Joy plays the nostalgia card on the sweetly emotional "Like Gold." Kygo teams up with expressive rock singer Billy Raffoul for a laid-back track off his latest EP. And 13-year-old Grace VanderWaal's debut album suggests layers of emotion — and talent — well beyond her years.
"Lemon," N.E.R.D. feat. Rihanna
After a seven-year hiatus, Pharrell Williams and his side project N.E.R.D. are back with a bang on "Lemon," an irresistibly bouncy new track. The song gets a serious boost from the rap stylings of none other than Rihanna. (Yes, she raps. Yes, it's great.) "The truth will set you free, but first it'll piss you off," the song opens in voiceover, before opening into a sharp, minimal and buoyant beat interspersed with percussive shouts. Come for the cool factor, stay for Rihanna's effortless swagger.
"Say It to My Face," Madison Beer
Madison Beer got her start thanks in part to Justin Bieber's admiration. But take one listen to her music and you'll understand that there's more to the young pop artist than a few well-executed covers and social media hype. "Tell me what's your allegation? You're accusing me of something," she nearly screams in the artfully catchy "Say It to My Face." The stripped-down and cut-up song sees Beer crooning darkly over acoustic guitar and tinkling chimes, with sharp, angelic backing vocals. At times her delivery sounds bitter, but she brings syrupy tones to the song's sparer moments. With an EP coming this winter, the teen is one to watch.
"Like Gold," Vance Joy
Aussie indie rocker Vance Joy strikes, well, gold on "Like Gold," a heartstring-tugging tune from a guy who has long traded in nostalgia (for evidence, listen to his 2014 breakout hit "Riptide"). "Like Gold" finds a similar groove, with a hummed chorus, toe-tapping melody and mellow acoustic instrumentation. But it builds to a pretty sweet place, too. "How we used to roar like an open fire, but that's history," he sings about a burnt-out love. It's a commonly shared sentiment well expressed, and it will likely soothe many a broken heart — at least until his sophomore album comes out in February 2018.
"I See You," Kygo feat. Billy Raffoul
Norwegian electronic producer Kygo has been on a roll this week, releasing a song each day in advance of Friday's full drop of his new sophomore album, Kids in Love. The man behind blockbuster EDM-pop crossover hits "It Ain't Me" and "Stole the Show" is finding a lighter and more melody-driven tone on this new collection, evidenced in the sweet refrain of "I See You." Vocals from gruff-voiced, full-throated Canadian rocker Billy Raffoul add a welcome edge to the pretty production.
"Burned," Grace VanderWaal
Grace VanderWaal may be only 13 — and best known for her ukulele playing — but songs like "Burned," off her new debut album Just the Beginning, show off a darker, more dramatic side of the precocious artist. Over a pounding piano melody, VanderWaal draws out a haunting story suggesting emotional maturity far beyond her years. As for her voice: at times feathery and ethereal, and at times raw and jagged-edged, she proves that she's growing into her pipes, not out of them.