Shawn Mendes drops his first new music since last year's hit "There's Nothing Holdin' Me Back," making a case for his versatility as an artist coming into his own. Beyoncé protégés Chloe x Halle release a carefully calibrated, precociously smart debut album in the style of their mentor. Diplo teams up with Lil Xan for a woozy, party-ready house track off new EP California. Synth-pop duo Marian Hill return to form on the sharp new song "Differently." And Justin Timberlake's show openers, The Shadowboxers, find a catchy groove.
"In My Blood," Shawn Mendes
Shawn Mendes is not yet 20. But with "In My Blood" and "Lost in Japan," two new singles the wildly popular singer-songwriter released back-to-back this week ahead of an impending album, Mendes is here to prove that he's not just a teen sensation, but a bona fide artist with staying power. While "Lost in Japan" leans R&B, "In My Blood" is a soulful pop-rock anthem, taking its cues from the likes of Kings of Leon. Sweeping from an intimate acoustic opening to a stadium-ready chorus, Mendes has hit a chord that will certainly speak to the crowds of his generation: "Looking through my phone again, feeling anxious," he reflects. "Afraid to be alone again, I hate this." In a moment of uncertainty and activism, his brand of sincerity feels especially appropriate. "Sometimes I feel like giving up, but I just can't," he croons, letting the song work some uplifting magic. "It isn't in my blood."
"Hi Lo," Chloe x Halle feat. GoldLink
Chloe and Halle Bailey, the sister duo discovered from their YouTube covers and groomed for stardom by Beyoncé herself, have always had a certain precocity to their work. On their artful, wise-beyond-its-years debut album The Kids Are Alright, they make the case for themselves as the voice of a new generation of genre-crossing artists, unconcerned with rote chart hits — and instead focused on creating art with a point of view and precision production. "Hi Lo" with GoldLink, which also features heavily in their accompanying artful mini-film, sees them weaving their ethereal voices together and sing-rapping over a sinuous, rich beat. "You can try to point out all my flaws / that's OK cause I still love 'em all," they insist.
"Shadowboxer," The Shadowboxers
The Shadowboxers, a Nashville-based pop-soul trio by way of Atlanta, were hand-picked by Justin Timberlake to join his development label and open his Man of the Woods tour for a reason: like Timberlake, they work a nimble, future-funk feel. Off their new EP Apollo, "Shadowboxer" might showcase it best, a catchy mix of falsetto harmonies, groovy bass and twinkling synth. "You step up, and I step back," they sing, "my defense is your attack." The boxing pun of their name — and the song — nicely echoes the push-and-pull of their musical vibe.
"Color Blind," Diplo feat. Lil Xan
"Color Blind," off Diplo's new rap-forward EP California, is the kind of woozy, clubby vibe track that heralds the start of the spring party season. Rising rapper Lil Xan gives it a light touch, adding a laid-back, sunny energy over the sharp electronic production. (Lil Xan has an upcoming debut album of his own, but he even recently tweeted that "Color Blind" was his "favorite song.") It's an easy pick to set a mood: imagine yourself poolside, probably a drink in hand, surrounded by beautiful people, and you get the picture.
"Differently," Marian Hill
Vocalist Samantha Gongol sings with crisp, haunting clarity on "Differently," the latest from electronic pop duo Marian Hill, consisting of Gongol and producer Jeremy Lloyd. Following breakout hits "Down" and "One Time," "Differently" — off an upcoming sophomore project out this spring — trades in strikingly minimalist production with the help of Boi-1da and that singular voice. The story is not new — "Tell me are you missing me, do you wish that we ended differently?" she asks. But the darker edges and empty spaces that frame the question ask you to really think about it this time.