American Teen

American Teen

In April of 2016, a few weeks before attending prom, El Paso, TX teenager Khalid Donnel Robinson uploaded a song called “Location” to the internet. It was a love song for the digital age, daydreaming of pins on virtual maps as if pointing to a generation's new lovers' lookout. The track was built on an odd combination of disaffected vocals and a beat of sparse percussion, staccato guitar strums, and ghostly choruses. And yet, “Location” found an audience, eventually breaking into the Billboard Top 20, earning a subsequent remix featuring Lil Wayne and Kehlani, and garnering a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Song. But the legend of Khalid had only just begun. Almost exactly a year later, Khalid's debut album, American Teen, hit the airwaves to near-universal acclaim, propelled by the runaway success of “Location” and expounding with an effervescent mix of new-school R&B and shimmering pop grandeur. The young singer's minimalist vocals glided over a sonic canvas of driving drums and textured synths that unfurled in sunset hues. Meanwhile, the songwriting was an earnest portrait of adolescent frustrations (“Young Dumb & Broke”) and anxieties (“8TEEN”). “My youth is the foundation of me” he sings on the title track, succinctly honing in on the thesis of his debut over a wistful, slow-burning groove.  Though the first half of American Teen unfolds in sinewy waves of R&B, the album's second half leans unabashedly into pop. The thumping four-on-the-floor of “Hopeless” gives Khalid ample room to flex his vocal chops while saturated basslines inject the song with a futuristic edge. Later, on “Winter,” his half-whimpered beckoning for a paramour to come warm his bones is boosted with blasts from distorted horns that evoke old-school Detroit funk and glossy London electro-pop. A few months after the release of American Teen, the Up Next artist shared that in school he'd been given the class superlative of “Most Likely to Go Platinum.” “I look back at that yearbook and think, 'How did everyone know? How did I believe?'” he told Apple Music. “This is my dream. I'm living my dream and I'm pushing the boundaries of my dream.”

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