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Monday, December 11, 2023

In ‘American Teen,’ Khalid defines millennial teen angst

As the year 2000 approached, a new wave of artists were born who would go on to grow up in a world where time on the internet was just as important as time outside. A world where hip-hop music took major shifts toward greater personal vulnerability. A world where hip-hop and R&B have become increasingly intertwined. A world where embracing your quirks would become increasingly accepted. Khalid, a 19-year-old artist from El Paso, is the newest addition to this changing scene with the release of his debut album, American Teen.

Khalid’s music embodies the feelings of countless teens who spent their teenage years in a social-media crazed world. It isn’t the familiar sense of teenage angst that is so often thought of during such formative years. Instead, American Teen latches onto a sense of lost romanticism nostalgic for a period beyond Khalid’s time on Earth.

Maximalism is key to Khalid’s debut. Mixing countless layers of in-your-face, 80’s-inspired synths and drum machine production, American Teen feels like a story developed from the fusion of sensibilities from “The Breakfast Club” and contemporary infatuation with all things Internet-related.

It’s a dense album, clocking in at just under 55 minutes. Hyper-self-aware of the fact that he doesn’t know where life will go, Khalid explores the complicated interactions of longing for a relationship during his crucial formative teenage years. His extreme self-awareness gives a nuanced look into being “young, dumb, broke high school kids.” At times, his introspection works wonders, but there are times throughout the album where it feels forced.

His sentiments feel honest, but they are repeated too often. As a young artist, it’s apparent that he hasn’t found a way to share his emotions concisely while exploring a variety of angles.

For better or worse, the uncertainty in Khalid’s life is overwhelmingly present in the music. The first several tracks are the strongest on the album—filled with an urgent desire for self-discovery. They beautifully combine the 80’s pop aesthetic with touches of contemporary R&B.

Khalid then floats off into his own world, almost completely breaking from the sound found throughout the first half hour of the record. The final five songs bleed together into a single indistinct ballad with nothing to help them stand out. American Teen is too ambitious in the sense that it tries to tell the same story again and again without making clear distinctions in the way the story resonates with us.

After receiving praise for his millennial point of view on modern relationships, Khalid used American Teen to give us as much content as he could to keep our eyes on him. He is undoubtedly an extremely talented singer. The issue with this project is that he gave us too much, diluting the overall focus. If he can tighten his vision in the future, he may grow to be the voice of a generation. Until then, he’ll have to keep searching for the perfect balance between nostalgia and progress.

Grade: B

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