In 2017, 19-year-old Khalid Robinson released a heart-stopping summer album that drew from the beauty of the young, dumb, and brokenness of adolescence. American Teen featured anthems “Location” “American Teen” and “Young Dumb and Broke” giving a fresh feel to R&B music and making Khalid a must-have on everyone’s summer playlist.
Since the release of his first album, Khalid has been featured on the soundtracks of box-office hits Black Panther and Love, Simon. He’s also collaborated with a handful of artists such as 6LACK, Billie Eilish, Shawn Mendes, and Logic. Seems like anyone who can get a chance to collab with the enchanting artist leaves with a funny story and a great song.
I’m not surprised Khalid’s become so popular. Maybe it’s his cheeky smile, his mysterious yet familiar disposition, or the fact that he captures even the most fleeting of moments in a single song. Whatever this “it factor” is, Khalid’s got everyone waiting up at night for the next project to drop.
Now 21, the Texas singer-songwriter has given us another look inside his mind through his sophomore album Free Spirit, released April 5th. One thing we can be sure of is that Khalid doesn’t hold back. He’s proven fearless in the opening song, a cinematic entrance that he says, “fans need to hear first.” The song is meant to be open-ended, titled “Intro” so that people can find their own meaning behind lyrics “I’ve been focused on finding myself/That’s the difference between heaven and hell...” This song makes for the perfect welcome into the album: brutally honest and eerily beautiful leaving listeners wanting more.
Khalid doesn’t shy away from conveying the good, the bad and the confusing natures of relationships, both romantic and platonic. Khalid claims, “I’m in love with bad luck,” in the second track titled “Bad Luck” which is catchy in its melancholic mood and jazzy hesitancy. The intensity of the bass is riveting, meant to shake you to the core. He says, “it’s literally like it’s punching you in the face.”
The tone echos into “My Bad”, a song written in 10 minutes, a love-at-first-listen and easy favorite for many. The freestyled single was released a little over a week before the rest of the album and stylistically envelopes listeners into a dance of arpeggios and bass addicting basslines. The honesty behind the story of a relationship hitting the rocks due to miscommunication and lack of devotion is carried into “Talk”, another previously released single in which he asks in the hook, “can we just talk about where we’re going...before we get lost?” “Bluffin,” track 13, highlights a similar feeling of being in a denial about a failed relationship with the line, “Are you all in? Are you bluffin’? Is this the last fight? Lay here one last night?” The heaviness and the soulful nuance of the song exemplifies Khalid’s wisdom and experience in the rollercoaster of a relationship.
Just when you think your relationship has fizzled out, Khalid reminds us in “Right Back” just how much power a special someone can have over you. Produced by Stargate, Khalid says this song just flowed right out of him. Bringing a little bit of a 90s flavor to the album, the track is a fun one to dance to. In a story of a spontaneous adventure between on-again-off-again lovers, Khalid sings, “If the love feels good and it's real, it’ll all work out,” his own musical lyrical spin on the age-old saying, “when you know, you know.”
Khalid gives life to “Paradise”, a song that is short but has much to unpack. The song opens, “You go searching for paradise/You sit back and close your eyes/We're burning, yet so alive..” leading us into a story about finding an escape from the chaos of our own minds. Khalid draws this theme into “Hundred”, a song that Khalid calls the soundtrack to his life. The fast and furious nature of lyrics “ima keep it moving got a hundred things I gotta do today,” extends past the pop star lifestyle and becomes the backdrop of the average 20-something’s busy daily life.
Speaking of 20-somethings, track 12, “Twenty One” is the second song Khalid has written about such a pivotal age in one’s life. On his first album, “8TEEN” is a song that celebrates the freedom and endless possibilities that come with new-found adulthood, while “Twenty One” presents the more serious adult-side of age. It’s a well-appreciated addition to the album, extending it into new dimensions and depth that we are starting to see from the artist. As someone who just turned 21 herself, the song starts, “You just turned 21…” which makes me flutter every time, a reminder of my recent completion around the sun.
“Self” and “Alive” are songs that melt together into a saga of self-reflection and brings awareness to the all-too-real struggle with mental health. Many know Khalid has been open about his struggle with anxiety and depression and was given a soul-shaking feature on Logic’s suicide awareness anthem “1-800-273-8255” in 2017. Perhaps that song became the catalyst to Khalid being very raw and candid in this album. In “Self” Khalid meditates on his struggle with anxiety and ends the song repeating, “Be one with the sun.” “Alive” grapples with the juxtaposed themes of life and death: “Grim Reaper, just give me one more night/I shouldn’t have to die to feel alive.” While no one wants to hear a young artist struggling with inner demons, I respect Khalid for interpreting an issue that is so important in the lives of people of all ages in an artistic and insightful manner. It says a lot when an artist can turn even the most painful and darkest sides of ourselves into a beautiful celebration of humanity.
The album closes with a lighthearted song that rides into the sunset: “Saturday Nights” which appeared on his LP Suncity released last year. This song matches the euphoric vibe of “Paradise” with the smooth rhythm and the simplicity behind Khalid’s vocals. On the last night, Khalid sings of his love for a girl from a broken home. He describes how confusing and messy it all can get but at the end, he sings to her softly, “there’s no way I’d rather be than right here with you.” The song listens likes it’s the plot of a classic film and leaves the listeners with more questions as to what happens to the two lovers in the end. It wouldn’t be a Khalid album if he didn’t leave us wondering, adding to the mystery of it all.
If you ask anyone who knows Khalid’s music, they will tell you that the artist takes them back to an exact moment or feeling; it’s that transformative. Whether it’s summer nights with your best friends or freedom after turning 18 and again after turning 21, Khalid captures the most simple moments and times in albums that are well orchestrated and very original. Free Spirit demonstrates a beautiful depiction of growth and personal understanding from an artist who has so much more to experience in the world.