Remember your senior year of high school? Remember being practically an adult with no real obligations, wasting time with friends and worrying about the future?
Khalid remembers, and was able to capture these feelings on his debut album, “American Teen,” which dropped less than a year after he graduated. It’s a dreamy, spacy project in which '60s soul meets contemporary R&B, presented by a smartphone-obsessed crooner for the internet age. The subject matter is what you would expect from a kid his age: good times with friends, the thrill of a new crush and the resulting pain of dating in an increasingly digital world.
On the album’s titular track, Khalid paints an idealized picture of youth, one that’s compounded by the accompanying video. In the video, Khalid runs around with his friends, going to bowling alleys and arcades, responsibility nowhere in sight. In the chorus he says, “so wake me up in the spring / while I’m high off my American dream.” To him, senior year is so nonsensical and intoxicating that it’s like a dream, one that he’ll be roused from come graduation in spring.
Khalid’s youth allows him to be fully emotionally vulnerable, as cynicism hasn’t set in yet. He hasn’t been hardened by the world of dating. The love he describes is raw, passionate and real; it isn’t just any love, it’s his first love. With consecutive love songs dotted with words like “forever” and proclamations like “I would die for you,” at times he can come off as saccharine. But that’s coming from someone whose heart is cold and brittle, so how can I hate someone so young for pouring his heart into an album?
Despite his youth, he remains self-aware. He begins the album by saying, “living the good life full of goodbyes,” referencing how fleeting the simplicity of youth is. On the track “Coaster,” he describes the roller coaster of emotions one goes through during heartbreak. He dove headfirst into this love, and is fully submerged in the consequences resulting from it, but even so, the thought “maybe you weren't the one for me / but deep down I wanted you to be” bubbles to the surface. Despite his naivete, Khalid often demonstrates a wisdom beyond his years, showing the ability to step back and reflect upon a pain he’s currently experiencing.
Khalid’s age also allows him to be himself artistically. He isn’t someone that had to compromise his vision to get a break through, -- he was discovered because of his unique sound. And trying to pin down musical influences isn’t an easy task (in an interview he said with a beaming smile that his mom is his biggest influence); it’s clear he isn’t trying to emulate an established artist. Everything popular in music these days seems to be coming out of L.A. or Atlanta, but Khalid is from El Paso, so he doesn’t even have many local acts to be compared to. And it’s such a breath of fresh air to hear a break in the musical monotony.
Ultimately, should you listen to this album? Yes, you should. Khalid has broken out onto the scene with something that hasn’t been heard before. His songs range from dance music to tracks to play on repeat while struggling through a breakup, and it’s plain to see how much of his heart is in the project. If for no other reason, listen to it because Khalid isn’t going anywhere. After putting out something this high quality at only 19, I look forward to watching Khalid find his way in the industry.
Matthew Callahan is a junior media arts and design and writing, rhetoric and technical communication double major. Contact Matthew at email@example.com.