Even though he's only 19 years old, singer-songwriter Khalid has a pretty solid understanding of who he is as an individual. This is best represented on his debut album American Teen, a self-explanatory narrative about all of the complexities of being a teenager in America set to the comforting sound of soulful synth-pop. He speaks honestly about heavy topics like complications of love in the digital age and the sense of loss when you're abandoned by your circle of friends.
Growing up in a military family meant constant displacement for Khalid, but being a teenager in all of these different environments—both within the U.S. and beyond its red, white, and blue borders—instilled a sense of belonging in him. No matter the race, gender, sex, class or religion of the person, all teenagers share the same feelings, emotions, and frustrations.
"We're growing up and we're still trying to find out where to go in life," he says. "We don't really know who we are and we're experiencing things that we haven't felt before."
Throughout the latter part of his teenage years, Khalid has found positive outlets to express his emotions. Obviously, channeling that energy into music has been the most effective method for him. It wasn't until he moved from Fort Drum, New York to El Palso, Texas that he started writing and recording his own material again. (He stopped singing when he went through puberty because he couldn't deal with his fluctuating voice.)
Now, Khalid has built a foundation for himself to thrive as an artist. He believes in his abilities to create, and American Teen is a testament to his ongoing journey of growth. Learn more about the album as Khalid breaks down each track, below.
"American Teen" is the basis of the album, I feel like it's the dream that we all have. It's very retro and '80s pop because I felt like that's the dream when you think of high school and all the high school movies and TV shows. In the places of being a high schooler, you're growing and learning a lot about yourself, but you're also making a lot of mistakes. I feel like you have to make a mistake to grow, so growing up throughout high school I made a lot of mistakes. I went to a lot of parties that I shouldn't have. I drank a lot of drinks that I shouldn't have. I went through my fair share of loneliness and the feeling of being broken, but at the end of it, that's when I feel like I flourished.
"Young, Dumb, & Broke"
"Young, Dumb & Broke" was kind of my modern day take on the whole "no feelings attached" relationships and all that type of stuff. I felt like that was necessary because in high school you are young, a little dumb, and broke. I felt like I was using that term to tell the lover or the listener 'I don't really have a lot of money to spend on you so I don't really feel like I have enough attention to spend on you because I'm trying to find out who I am, but at the same time I like what we're doing right now and as long as we don't fall too deep then everything will be okay.' It's very ironic.
It's a story of modern day love [and] how it's very influenced by social media and cell phones. I'm telling them to send me their location so we can talk on a personal level without cell phones, which is ironic as well because [it's like] use your cellphone to not use your cellphone with me. Give me your location, let's talk and let's connect and when we do it'll be the best thing ever and if it's not then I guess we gotta move on. At the same time, I feel like this song is kind of sad because it's like 'I didn't want to fall for you, but you caught my eye, you did something different from everybody else... Why do you keep running from me?'
"Another Sad Love Song"
So I made a tweet after the moment where I thought I was going to become my little sister's guardian, but it didn't work and it fell apart. I tweeted something like "You take this time to write another sad love song." I was like, "Alright, well, that's what this song is going to be about." I was writing about the sadness that I felt about not continuing the relationship and I said things like "bridges been burning, lover I am hurting," different things like that. It was kind of like my cry to all of the pain that I felt about losing someone that I liked. It's so blunt because it's another sad love song. I'm just like, "After I write this song, hopefully, I feel better." That was a form of music therapy for me.
"Saved" was the first song that I wrote and that was about my move from New York to El Paso. It was about losing my girlfriend—we had to break up—and a lot of different things. I lost friends and all of that, but no matter how mad or upset I was about anything that I went through, I couldn't delete numbers. I could delete videos and pictures and all of that, but numbers was the hardest thing to get rid of so I wrote a song about it. At the end of the song I gained a sense of confidence as I was writing. That was my sense of closure.
This producer that I was working with in El Paso had invited me to go over to his studio and I was like, "Dang, I don't have a song. I need to write something." My friend, Johnny, picked me up and we were driving to his house and I wrote the song in the car. It was raining outside and I was in a very dark in that place of mine so I wrote a story about coasting. Kind of like where you don't really know how to feel, but you're letting your feelings control themselves. Mine is a rollercoaster—I feel as I'm falling, but at the same time I'm going high and I'm going low and I don't know I'm supposed to be going. The beginning of the song is very "I hope you come back," but the end of the song is very "don't come back to me." It's like when you want to feel a certain way, but our feelings feel another way. It's really a fight of emotions after a break-up.
"18" is very youthful. I wrote it when I was 17 about when I would become 18. In high school, I'd sneak out of my house to go to parties and wake up in the car and have to go home smelling like whatever and I was so scared my parents would find out, but I had so much fun. It's also my take on romance. It speaks about how I was always doing this with someone else. Her parents weren't as strict as mine and she got to do whatever she wanted to do, but I always had to sneak out to have a good time... I talk about that a lot, but in the second half of the song I'm talking in the perspective of looking back at being 18, so I jumped to the future.
"Let's Go" is my ode to graduation. It's like, "LET'S GO. This is finally the start of something great. I graduated and I can do whatever I want. I don't have any obligations." I felt like that was the start because I was so stressed and worried about high school stuff so I was like "I'm going to pick up my worries and throw them out the window. I don't have to let everyone know what I'm doing because I have so much trouble to get into. I have so much stuff to learn as an individual outside of high school." I feel like high school repressed my creativity because there's so many different influences and I couldn't really focus on my music because I had to put all of my focus into my school work. I talked about the excitement that comes when you're thinking about graduating high school.
I wrote "Hopeless" on a plane and I felt very hopeless with all the relationships that I was going in and out of. They weren't even relationships because we never even gave each other a title. So I'm like "Damn, is anyone going to fuck with just me or am I just going to be lonely 24/7?" I had that acceptance, but I was confused at the time. Maybe I'm a hopeless romantic.
"Coldblooded" is a story about the interaction that you have. The beginning of the song starts out like "I know that they're leading me on, but I'm kind of into it." I still want to give them all that I have, but I know that it's not safe for me to 'cause I kinda see that they're not going to appreciate it or they're going to take advantage of me, but I'm just so into the moment because of lust and all that other stuff that I don't want to leave this place 'cause it feels safe. It's the perspective of them knowing what they're doing because they've gotten heartbroken so many times and they're like, "I don't really want a relationship and I want to do everything that everyone has ever done to me." But in my point of view, I want things to be cool and good and whatever and I get led on to believe that we're in love and it's not like that. It's just lust and this isn't going to go anywhere, but it might have felt good so it was alright.
I kind of believe that every relationship—or a rocky point in ever relationship that I've had—tends to end in the wintertime. Every time I ever ended anything, it was toward the latter end of the year.
"Therapy" is about how something that you're doing has me falling all the way. It's like, the other person knows what they're doing and they know that I'm trying to pass on the message of my feelings. I'm trying to let them know that I'm super into them and I don't really care if they're like, if they're into me for the long run or if they're into me for the moment because it feels good. It's therapy. Therapy helps you out for a little bit and you get this high and all that type of stuff. It's one of my more sensual songs that I've done.
"Keep Me" is about the beginning stages of a break up. I talk about all the stuff that we've ever shared together and secrets and feelings and favorites and all that. We might not like certain things that our partner likes, but we put up with it because we love them so much You do all this for a person that you just become so lovestruck and blind that you're putting all of your effort and don't realize that they're losing their effort and that they're not caring as much about that stuff. I'm very particular as an individual—I'm very intuitive and I'm very into it at the same time I'm telling them "You don't have to speak of our past, keep me in your life." You can't delete relationship history. It's not Google. You can't be like "Oh, I didn't date that person" because you did. You shared those experiences and you went through what you went through. As long as I'm not dead to you then I'm okay moving on and trying to find someone else.
"Shot Down" is the feelings after "Keep Me." It's like I came to this realization that this hurts a lot more that I thought it would and maybe I'm not over it like I should be, but it's also what I found out. It's everything and after the highs and the lows. Eventually on the latter end of the song I find out they were cheating on me the whole time that we were together. I also talk about how all of their friends don't talk to me anymore and how I thought that they were my friends as well, but I guess that they're not. "I hold onto the poems that I would write you, happy seventeen, I saw us two, and you saw three, I guess our lives were structured like a haiku." It's super deep.
"Angels" to me was a form of rebirth. I felt like a lot of guardian angels have came in and helped me become a better person, but also kept happiness in my heart and to me all those people are my best friends that I have. They are angels to me. At the same time, there's a lot of people that leave you through life, but they don't necessarily have to die—they're not there anymore, but you know that they're very influential to who you became as an individual. Why would I focus on negativity and focus on pain and heartbreak when there's an angel sitting in front of me?