The 19-year-old marks his place among 2017's rising stars
All to often, an artist releases some really, really good singles but an overall dull album. This is far from the truth when it comes to 19-year-old Khalid’s debut album, “American Teen,” released on March 3.
Last year, Khalid Robinson was a high school senior, and this year he’s signed to a major label (RCA). His shockingly fast ascent is due in part to his sharp and soulful single “Location,” which appeared seemingly out of nowhere late last year, winning over us average citizens as well as celebrities such as Kylie Jenner, who featured it on her Snapchat. Like a lot of Khalid’s music, “Location” is simple and straightforward, allowing repetition and his calming voice to get his points about growing up in the U.S. across. However, as good as the song is, it’s not totally representative of his approach, which tends to operate in that space between ranting and holding back.
The tone of these few lines is completely casual; Khalid sings without judgment or emphasis. He does get more intense in the second verse: “I’ve been waiting all year/To get the hell up out of here/And throw away my fears.” The singer completely nails the feeling of knowing the bright options the future might hold while still being stuck at home, at school, with people who are telling you what to do and feel.
This is a universally known issue among teens, and this is something that Khalid addresses throughout the album with his use of “we” and “our” (“We don’t always say what we mean,” “This is our year”). He’s drawing a picture of his generation and makes his final point when the digital flair of the music falls away and we’re left with an acoustic guitar and a group of young men speak-singing the chorus. It’s brings the nostalgia and atmosphere of a campfire singalong, combining the new technology with the older, and sometimes more simple times.
That’s why the lighter songs on “American Teen” work best. For example, “Saved” is a fun and catchy story about saving a girl’s number just in case she will call him: “I’ll keep your number saved/’Cause I hope one day you’ll get the sense to call me,” which later changes to “I’ll keep your number saved/’Cause I hope one day I’ll get the pride to call you.” Meanwhile, “Coaster” does a good job comparing a breakup to a roller coaster. The whole album is an effective mix of art-soul and 1980s new-wave pop excess with the lonely-boy feeling of looking in the mirror, looking for a larger purpose. It most closely brings about the spirit of John Hughes’ fan-favorite movies.
Overall, Khalid finds a good balance between nostalgia and current topics, particularly love and technology, and this seems to be working for him really well. Through his lyrics, production and lyrics, he has become a part of R&B’s reinvention, channeling the Weeknd’s earlier mixtape, Bryson Tiller’s first album but allowing us to experience it through the genres progressives, Frank Ocean in particular.
Go Download: “Young Dumb & Broke,” “Saved,” “Angels”
Similar Artists: Bryson Tiller, Frank Ocean, 6LACK
Record Label: RCA