The late teen years are called the coming-of-age years because they mark both the end of youth and the start of adulthood. At nineteen years of age, Khalid debuts with American Teen, an album full of the whimsy and the woes of how it feels to be an adolescent in his eyes.
The titular track starts off the album, and already starts with showing Khalid’s style of synth-heavy R&B, backed by dance beats and lyrics on cross-faded adventures. The song is an instant party classic, already expressing such a youthful vibe, but ends with a guitar sing-along tidbit that is the strongest representation of teenage youth in the whole album. Young adults instantly cling onto these memories and relate instantly, while older generations can reminisce on the thoughts of their youth. The instant nostalgia brought about by his music is what makes it so infectious and irresistable.
This nostalgia factor weighs heavily in his most popular track “Young, Dumb & Broke,” where he runs down the fun of being a teenager without responsibilities and with the freedom to make mistakes. The catchy skat at the end of each chorus just resonates with the carelessness that comes with being a young, dumb, and broke high school kid.
Khalid’s production on these first two tracks of the album challenge conventional R&B. The ‘80’s inspired synths and dance beats matching his mellow voice combine for a fresh take on the genre, already giving him a signature style in his debut. With artists like SZA and Carly Rae Jepsen backing the trend of nostalgic music trends that get revamped in new music today, he extends further than what has been accomplished before him. The base that came from artists like Usher and Ne-Yo, whose careers both peaked at the time Khalid was a young teenager, are still present throughout the album, but the life Khalid injected to this tried-and-tested style of R&B makes him a true innovator in the genre.
After two danceable tracks, Khalid decides to mix it up and show what else he can do. The song “Location” is more traditional R&B than the first two songs, and Khalid shows his range, both vocally and lyrically. It talks about another aspect of being young: The feeling of a first love so strong that he would go anywhere for it. Here, Khalid shows himself as generational. The lyric “Send me your location” is one that could have only been used now, and as an up-and-coming young artist, Khalid speaks this generation’s language better than anyone else. The phone reference doesn’t stop here either, as the song “Saved” also references saving a number of a past lover to keep in touch. It’s the perfect nod to this generation’s way of loving.
The production of the songs always makes each song interesting and unique, and even if Khalid takes the same narrative, he twists them into another relatable perspective of that story. Songs like “8TEEN” and “Let’s Go” are filled with images of booze-laden and marijuana-tinged adventures, but embody such reckless abandon that make the songs timeless. It’s easy to imagine a 19-year old in 2040 listening to this album, still relating to Khalid’s lyrics, but also getting a glimpse of the teenagers of this generation. “Winter” is about a lost relationship that has him heartbroken, and “Shot Down” is him lamenting over the heartbreak.
Instead of becoming stagnant, he delves deeper into the topic. In his own way, he’s created an album along the lines of songs such as “Teenagers” by My Chemical Romance or “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. Teenagers remain the same, do many things as the generations before them, but the details of it all, the smartphones and the sounds we hear on the radio, are what Khalid brings to the table. American Teen was a fool-proof plan, and with the stellar execution, it’s an unstoppable force of an album.