Plenty of musicians can write about the experience of being a teenager, usually long after the time they were one. It’s one of those few experiences that’s almost certainly better examined in hindsight. Almost. That was the case until the release of American Teen by Khalid.
Born Khalid Robinson, the El Paso, TX, artist recently came to prominence after his track Location was in one of Kylie Jenner’s Snapchats. It’s a bit of good luck for the 19-year old artist who manages to capture the feeling of exactly what it’s like to be a teenager in the 2010’s, but with the self-awareness and maturity that artists twice his age still struggle to possess. The album’s self-titled opening track begins with the sound of an alarm going off, blending into a pastiche of airy 80’s synths. Khalid’s easy croon sings, “So wake me up in the spring / While I'm high off my American Dream / And we don't always say what we mean / It's the lie of an American teen”. It’s instantly-relatable moments like these that separate Khalid from the pack of forward-thinking R&B. The slow burn of Young, Dumb & Broke – about, yes, being just that, as well as ruminating on not wanting to commit but still having ‘love to give’. Then there’s Location, a blippy slow-burn ballad that has certainly earned the attention it’s getting - here, Khalid humorously states that “I don’t want fall in love off of subtweets, so let’s get personal, I’ve got a lot of spots we can go,” It’s the latest in the line of communication-as-an-obstacle songs, a sort of an update on Hanging On a Telephone for the data plan era. For being his first album, Khalid’s debut is an assured piece of work. Coaster, with its ghostly choruses and mournful vocal – “So I'll be coasting, roller-coasting / Through my emotion / I will be coasting, roller-coasting / I'm hoping that you'll come back to me,” illustrates beautifully what it feels like to be young and in love that doesn’t exactly feel balanced. It’s not long after that his optimism in the face of uncertainty on Hopeless, an up-tempo jam where he’ll remain “hopeless, hopelessly romantic”.
On American Teen, Khalid has crafted a debut that negotiates the distance between the ambitiousness of someone with a bright future coupled with the actuality of being young and maybe not having all of the resources just quite yet. Khalid’s desire to ascend to the next level is coming to the surface, but as the phrase he uses says, being “young, dumb and broke” just a little longer might suit him (and the rest of us) until he’s ready.
- Brendan Hilliard, Obviate Media