“American Teen,” Khalid’s debut album, is a promising amalgam of bedroom art-soul, 1980s new-wave pop and a union of lonely-boy mirror gazing with a sense of a larger cultural purpose. It most vividly recalls the promise embedded in the soundtracks of John Hughes films — that an outsider’s story might in fact be the thing that can unify and move millions.
Khalid has a face of innocence, but his voice carries a tone that is rare and refreshing. His voice isn’t packed with power; he isn’t going to blow you away with a thunderous falsetto, but there’s strength in his softness and sincerity in his gentleness. He understands his voice and has gathered production that allows his vocals to shine.
It’s rare for an album’s biggest single to be a true highlight, but Khalid captured something special with “Location,” the kind of modern-day love story that perfectly articulates the dance between man and woman in an age of relationships, followers and purveyors of vibes. It’s that moment before intimacy, before love and before heartbreak. “Location” is the rising action before the climax and the anxiousness and anticipation of receiving a reply. This is what dating is like for a teenager who didn’t live through MySpace and totally missed Black Planet, but will be able to tell his children about how a dropped pin lead him to the woman of his dreams. With production this dreamy, subtle and pure, it’s hard not to get lost in the warmth. This will be the song that he’ll be remembered for, not because of it being a catchy jingle, but how he illustrated a situation that many have and will live through. Khalid is singing all this casually, without judgment or emphasis. He only starts vibrating more intensely in the second verse: “I’ve been waiting all year / To get the hell up out of here / And throw away my fears.” Khalid graduated high school last year and he’s nailing the fitfulness of knowing the bright options the future might hold while still being stuck in school, or in his hometown, or in the frame of mind that tells you to do only what’s expected of you.
Khalid truly lives in the moment, he isn’t nostalgic for the past or looking forward to the unknown future. “American Teen” is an artist capturing the soaring emotions of new-age romance and a boy coming into the world.