Khalid released his debut single“Location” weeks before his senior prom in hopes that the song could earn him the title of Prom King. The song earned him the crown, in addition to over 50 million Spotify plays. Less than a year later, the artist has released his first album, American Teen.
The record is inspired by the trials and errors of transitioning from teenage years to adulthood. Communication and youthfulness are central themes of American Teen, as Khalid sings of graduating, living with his parents, and the “stupid shit that young kids do” on the track “8TEEN.” The album is refreshingly honest in uncovering the frustrations of developing deep social connections as a young adult in 2017.
American Teen follows a coming-of-age journey. The record is populated with fun, bubbly songs about the splendour of youth and the freedom to make mistakes. On the cusp of adulthood himself, Khalid’s lyrics have a sense of youthful innocence. The songs are upbeat and catchy–the chorus off ‘Young, Dumb, and Broke’ is a true earworm. Although his expressive lyrics are accompanied by an energetic tempo, Khalid’s vocals are what truly sets him apart from other pop singers of today. His honeyed voice has a lulling quality that pairs nicely with heavy beats on songs such as “8TEEN.”
Despite being musically influenced by soul and early R&B, Khalid’s lyrics are startlingly contemporary. His debut single, “Location,” uncovers a smitten teenager asking a love interest to send him her IOS location. On the same song, “I don’t want to fall in love off a sub-tweet” references the phenomenon of referencing someone on Twitter without explicitly mentioning their name. It’s lyrics like these that remind listeners that Khalid has just recently turned 19–he came of age in the 2010s. Many tracks on the album speak of young love in the digital era.
Khalid spoke about his lyrics and writing process with Urban Outfitters’ blog.
“A lot of people my age don’t wanna accept the feelings that we have for other individuals… Because times have changed,” he explained. “Social media is a very big influence. It’s the distraction, it’s the lack of emotion, you can’t really feel something behind a couple of text messages the way you would feel something if it was said verbally to you. So that’s why I write songs about love.”
The album follows a pattern of seemingly cheerful songs that through closer observation are tales of heartbreak and growing pains. Towards the end of the album, songs such as “Hopeless” and “Cold Hearted” begin to meld together as the lyrical themes become repetitive and tiring. Thankfully, we have much more to expect from Khalid after such a promising debut.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Standout lyric: "What's fun about commitment when we have all life to live?" (Young, Dumb, and Broke)
Standout songs: Winter, 8TEEN, Angels
Sounds like: Anderson .Paak, dvsn, Frank Ocean