Whether it’s love, mental health or a broken heart, “Free Spirit” is Khalid’s announcement to the world that he’s no longer the teenage artist he was in 2017.
Within the first minute of “Intro,” the first song featured on his second album, it’s evident that he’s gained real-world knowledge outside of teenage chaos. The rhythm is more than a relaxed melody that pulls in head bops and foot tapping from its listener. The instrumental builds and creates a succession of notes that gracefully flow with his lyrics. His beats aren’t the only aspect of his music that’s matured — “Intro” foreshadows themes featured in the rest of his songs.
The Rhythm and Blues artist’s new album consists of 17 songs and features recent singles such as “My Bad,” “Talk” featuring Disclosure, “Saturday Nights” and “Better.” It also includes collaborations with artists such as John Mayer on “Outta My Head” and SAFE on “Don’t Pretend.” Khalid strays from the “young, dumb and broke” teenager persona he built for himself and now battles issues handed to him by the pressures of fame and reality.
“Hundred” suggests that a key component to dealing with negativity and stress is to find the brighter side of a bad day. Khalid sings about having to keep his guard up because of fake friends and hypocrites, and how he has no time to deal with pessimistic energy due to his busy schedule and his own problems. It maintains an upbeat rhythm that gives off electric, late ‘80s vibes. The song’s cheerful vibe parallels with its meaning of seeing the good parts of a poor situation.
His maturation can be further heard in “Twenty One,” as Khalid is now 21 and reminisces of “under-the-bleacher love” and memories that are left to “crawl underneath your skin.” One can hear he’s reached new levels of experience and left behind the young and stupid actions he once sang so prominently about. Khalid reflects on his past experiences that have made him into a young adult trying to thrive despite the pressure of his fame weighing him down.
Khalid doesn’t entirely escape from his traditional roots when it comes to successful hits. His songs “Better” and “Right Back” slightly resemble the type of messages he expressed in his songs from “American Teen” about youthful love. They’re both happy, feel-good songs that sound like a 19-year-old love story from the knowledge of a musician with only a few years’ experience. “My Bad” is similar, as it’s about not responding to a text message. It’s Khalid’s apology for ghosting someone who keeps reaching out to him — as he still wants to put in the effort to make their relationship work.
As Khalid has matured from his juvenile phases of wild nights and technology in the 21st century, he writes songs with greater, hidden meanings. Between “Self,” “Alive” and “Heaven,” the three songs create a Bermuda Triangle of self discovery, fitting into the ideals of society and fighting internal and external battles. The trio of songs back-to-back on “Free Spirit” show that Khalid is no longer a high school boy prioritizing his iPhone and reckless evenings with friends, as he knows he has demons to battle.
With underlying themes of anxiety and depression, stress from fame and popularity and success granted to him through attention and love, “Free Spirit” is a wrap-up of everything he’s learned since his takeoff from “American Teen.” Because his fanbase is widespread among Generation Z and Millenials, the two years difference between “American Teen” and “Free Spirit” provided Khalid’s fans the opportunity to experience this evolution of becoming an adult beside him.
Contact Joanna Sommer at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.