Khalid’s Debut Album Defines Being an “American Teen”

By Sabeena N. Singhani, Contributing Writer

Being an American teen is truly an iconic feeling — every book, movie and TV show attempts to capture that time. But rather than a 20-something retrospective view of what are supposed to be the best years of life, fresh-faced teen Khalid brings to R&B the thing teenagers have been looking for.

“American Teen,” released on March 3, 2017, begins with a school morning — alarm clock, birds chirping. Khalid’s voice is rich yet clear, and the track’s simple backbeat complements his vocal depth. He opens his album almost as if it were an introduction to himself, mentioning his El Paso, Texas roots — “From the city of the 915 / Where all the girls are pretty / And they’re down for the hype.”

The picture of growing up he paints throughout “8Teen,” is all too relatable. Waking up late, backed up traffic while driving to school, living with parents — it’s this firsthand account of growing up in suburbia that is the basis for Khalid’s newfound popularity, particularly among young adults.

“Young Dumb & Broke” has a classic R&B beat mashed with Khalid’s rasp and trailing lines, which sets this song up to be an R&B classic. It isn’t until the chorus opens up that it is revealed to follow a pop formula, a catchy chorus with a nonsensical “yadadadadadadada” interspersed between repetitions.

By far the most influential track on this album is “Location.” Featured on Kylie Jenner’s Snapchat for the first time in May, the song blew up shortly after. The album, in general, speaks a lot to the way modern love is, with the role that technology plays in feeling close to someone in 2017.

But even with that millennial twist, Khalid acknowledges the classic love story in “Another Sad Love Song.” He points out how many before him have sung about the very same feeling and the healing through song, “I guess this sounds like another sad love song / I can’t get over how it all went wrong / But, I let the words come together / Then, maybe I’ll feel better.”

Khalid’s youth as an artist is only displayed in the few moments where his voice will soften out, most clearly seen in “8TEEN.” His voice stays in the same register throughout, almost a monotone that would sound odd stripped down. What seems to make this album brilliant, however, is the vocal range of textures Khalid shows, far beyond his eighteen years. Still, the softness of “8TEEN” is no match for Khalid’s staccato, enunciated lyrics in “Let’s Go.” The smooth transition into “Hopeless,” which characterizes the pain of teenage romance in an upbeat and light-hearted way, parallels the very human experience of having ups and downs in a relationship.

“Winter” is the most underrated track on “American Teen.” Although the background piano is slightly overpowering and borderlines sounding like a malfunctioning elevator, the idea of a love cooling down, “I’m back to life in my lonely / City of El Paso / But the days get harder in November / Love grows colder in the winter,” is all too fitting for this dreary season.

Khalid closes “American Teen” with “Angels,” a ballad featuring heavy lyrics and ethereal backup vocals. The words seem almost out of place with the rest of the album, a more descriptive and insightful processing of a love, a dream-like sequence. The song closes with the alarm clock heard in the opening track, and the growth across the album is suddenly made clear, a startling change much like how growing up in the suburbs is. Hopefully “Angels” foreshadows Khalid’s future lyricism, as it was more profound than anything else he’s produced.

Overall, the 18-year-old artist’s debut album “American Teen” honestly accounts modern teen love and pairs well with Khalid’s melting voice and crisp minimalistic rhythms. No other album in 2017 thus far has been able to connect so strongly to a demographic with clarity and simplicity that are to compete with Frank Ocean’s “Chanel” and Kehlani’s “CRZY.”

Check out Khalid’s “American Teen” on SoundCloud.

Email Sabeena Singhani at music@nyunews.com.

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