His R&B heavily influences pop culture, and his singles “Better,” “Talk,” and “Location” are often found on favorite playlists. But what makes Khalid special? His vocal range isn’t the widest, he doesn’t ooze talent on the dance floor, and he isn't the hottest guy on Earth. But compelling storytelling and empathetic lyricism allow him to speak for youth. On the last stop of the North American leg of his Free Spirit Tour, Khalid promised to make the memories last forever.
Thousands poured into American Airlines Arena to live in the moment to Khalid’s music. Though almost every seat in the risers was filled, the floor level was left wide open for him to feel connected to his fan base. His stage was composed of two giant screens that folded open, optimizing the visual experience. Once the lights shut off, the crowd began to roar as the screens depicted a journey through the desert, signifying the beginning of exactly what Miami teens were awaiting.
Khalid opened the show with “Free Spirit,” the title track from his second studio album. Wearing a black Elmo T-shirt, a baseball cap turned backward, and a smile, he welcomed his fans. Accompanied by dancers, he paced the stage through "8Teen" and "Hundred," allowing the crowd to sing along beautifully. “What’s good, Miami?” Khalid echoed into the mike. The crowd matched his energy. “This is the last stop on the U.S. show, and —” Khalid said before being interrupted by a fan on the floor shouting about a birthday. “Oh, whose birthday is it?” he asked. It was the entire arena’s birthday, clearly, as they shouted at him for attention. “Y'all motherfuckers are lying. It’s all of y'all's birthday?” The crowd lied back with screams, but it was enough to prompt him to sing a short "Happy Birthday" to whomever was telling the truth.
“All right, so I’m going to sing this new song for y'all. It’s unreleased, and I actually haven’t sung it in a while, so here it goes,” he said. The song carried a slow rhythm that caused the entire crowd to sway as he sang his heart out to the audience. Because they didn't know the words, the best guests could do was to wave cell-phone lights in the air as Khalid sung a seemingly sad song. “During the meet-and-greet, I promised a few people I’d sing a few tracks... Is that OK?” he asked the crowd. No one objected. He peformed a handful of songs including "Keep Me," "Heaven," and "Shot Down," during which he forgot the majority of the lyrics.
From there, the pop star ran through a few favorites from Free Spirit: "Saved" and "Bad Luck." Since the album's release in April, his fans have had enough time to learn the lyrics and sing along. “This is one of my favorite tracks from Free Spirit,” Khalid said over the mike as he wiped sweat from his forehead and took a sip of water. “It’s called 'Bluffin'.”
“Excuse me — this is my song,” a fan said as she nearly dislocated her shoulder to whip her phone out to capture the moment on video.
Khalid spent the remainder of the show bouncing between his projects, testing his fans' knowledge of his discography. Fan favorite “Vertigo” called the crowd to harmonize with his runs, while “Better” allowed the crowd to dance along while his dancers dominated their choreography onstage. “This song truly changed my life at 17,” Khalid said softly into the mike. His dancers, wearing bright-pink tracksuits while the stage screens turned a bright blue, scattered as he started “Location.” The dancers freestyled around him as he sang the only song everyone in the crowd knew.
The audience knew exactly what makes Khalid special, and he didn’t need a high-budget tour or extravagant props to make an impression. For him, performing is about having fun while conveying a message. Being a free spirit to him means being "your true self," he reassured everyone. As he closed the show with "Saturday Nights" — on a Saturday night — he reenforced that music that touches the youth is what allows Khalid’s fans to connect — along with having a free spirit.
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.