This time last year, during his senior year of high school, Khalid Robinson uploaded six songs to SoundCloud. In June, Kylie Jenner shared a Snapchat of her listening to Khalid’s song “Location” to her 10 million-plus followers on the platform. The next day — Robinson’s graduation day — Kylie again posted a Snapchat featuring “Location.”
The popularity following Khalid’s exposure to Jenner’s millions of fans boosted his song, which peaked at #44 on Billboard’s Top 100 — no small feat for any artist, let alone a fresh-faced teenager from El Paso, Texas. Following his success with “Location,” Khalid, who performs under his first name, released two more singles on iTunes and several songs on SoundCloud. After more posts to SoundCloud and other music-sharing sites, he released his debut album, “American Teen,” on Friday.
On the album, Khalid’s voice celebrates the glory of his youth and effortlessly takes listeners on a journey through his own teenage American dream. Khalid’s songs address the angst of a modern teen. His voice itself creates the ease of a rhythm and blues song while the beats act as a backdrop to deliver a fresh pop sound.
From the opening song, the titular “American Teen,” Khalid sets the tone for the rest of the album. He illustrates hometown glory, as well as the importance of youth to his identity and to his music. Khalid’s downfall, however, is a lack of dynamism. This creates the easygoing vibe of the album, but ultimately leads to monotony. For some songs, like “Young Dumb & Broke,” that easygoing vibe works against Khalid and the song becomes boring and repetitive. Despite this, it works for most songs, especially paired with the runs and other nuances Khalid creates with his voice.
Khalid’s sound could be compared to a modernized, pop version of Tracy Chapman — the artist best known for her song “Fast Car.” Songs like “American Teen,” “Location” and “8TEEN” combine a synthesized beat with lively lyrics that move the songs forward while describing the adventure of youth. Meanwhile, songs like “Saved,” “Shot Down” and “Another Sad Love Song” may remind you of Frank Ocean’s somber songs about heartbreak. On these tracks, Khalid is still utilizing synthesized pop beats, but the mood is slightly dimmer as he faces the dramatic nature of teenage relationships.
The standout song of this album is the final song, “Angels.” Most songs on this album begin with a synthesized beat. “Angels,” on the other hand, opens with a series of piano chords and airy vocals, reminiscent of choral church music. The song juxtaposes this church-like sound with a buoyant tempo, but through the organic sound of a piano rather than a synthesizer.
With this contrast, “Angels” is by far the most powerful song and conveys emotional depth unmatched by the rest of the album. Rather than loss of a teenage love affair, the song echoes a powerful message of hope in the face of true sorrow, or at least what feels like true sorrow to anyone younger than 18 years old.
On “American Teen,” Khalid delivers innocence with a twist in its contrast between lyrics and background music. From worrying about whether to text the girl or not, to wondering where the next adventure will be, Khalid’s album captures the excitement of growing up, through the lens of an artist on the verge of breaking into the mainstream music scene.