Nineteen-year-old singer-songwriter Khalid is a star. By the time he’s old enough to drink legally, he'll be a superstar. Although he isn’t quite yet a household name, Khalid Robinson (pronounced kuh-leed) already has a double-platinum debut single in “Location” and a gold-certified debut record in American Teen.
His sold-out show last night at the Fillmore Miami Beach crackled with excited energy long before the teenager emerged from the darkness. Once he did, the room was ablaze with adoration. Even Khalid seemed taken aback by the reception. “There’s a lot of fucking people here,” he said incredulously. The next big thing is here as far as Miami’s high-school and college-aged population is concerned.
Khalid performed the majority of American Teen. He kicked off the show with “Let’s Go,” a track that implores the listener to do precisely what the title implies and abandon all worry, all past troubles, move on, and have fun. It set the tone for the remainder of the concert; not that the crowd needed much urging. They chanted his name as showtime approached and sang every single lyric once he appeared with his two dancers, clad in American-flag-themed cheerleader outfits, complete with pompoms. It was a hysteria usually reserved for the Beatles or Justin Bieber. Shrieks erupted from different corners of the room for every other song. For the first quarter of the show, it was unclear whether Khalid’s microphone was even on because fans drowned him out with their singing.
That being said, despite his youth and the titles of some of his tracks — including two of his best, “8TEEN” and “Young, Dumb & Broke” — his songs aren’t merely for one demographic. They are relatable regardless of whether they speak to a current state of mind or dredge up memories of being that kid many years ago. Much of the familiarity has to do with Khalid’s background.
On the album’s title track, "American Teen," he claims to be from the 915 — El Paso, Texas — but Khalid is from everywhere and nowhere all at once. His mother Linda is a retired sergeant first class in the U.S. Army and his father, sadly, passed away after being hit by a drunk driver when Khalid was only 7 years old. As an Army brat, he shuffled between stops in Georgia, Kentucky, six years in Germany, and settling in Texas for his senior year of high school.
This self-taught wunderkind began recording music on his own to combat the loneliness of always being the new kid. As eminently danceable as so much of his sparkling debut record can be, there's a buffer of pain through which each beat and rhythm must first filter.
Khalid is at every turn a series of contradictions and ironies. For example, one of the standout tracks on American Teen, "Another Sad Love Song," begins with the lines “I'm not the best at showing my emotions/You cut me deep and you left me wide open." Perhaps he struggles with expressing himself in interpersonal situations, but on record and onstage, he's an open book.
Even the title of the album, American Teen, challenges the notion of who or what an American is considering his nomadic upbringing. Furthermore, for all his tales of boozing and partying, Khalid is so far from the typical teen that it's apparent he had to grow up quickly a long time ago.
Despite his talent and potential — his ascent has been quick, and he will reach the Weeknd levels sooner than later — Khalid has plenty of growing up to do. He’s still finding his feet as a performer. He had a few choreographed dance moves with his cheerleaders, but in general he remains a bit goofy, a bit awkward when figuring out what to do with himself onstage. Nonetheless, it’s obvious he’s having a great time.
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It also must be said that the show was too short. In a blink, his set, clocking in at just under an hour, was done. The encore came and went with no sense of drama or anticipation. The old showbiz adage goes, “Leave them wanting more,” but the audience shouldn't feel like something is missing.
In time, the glitches will all be fixed. Khalid will evolve and surpass his already impressive achievements. One day, with a bigger budget, which will assuredly come, he will be able to afford a larger band and a small army of backup singers instead of relying on recorded backing tracks. The concert will take place at the American Airlines Arena, and it’s a safe bet he’ll sell that out too.