When your first major single gets spins on Kylie Jenner’s SnapChat feed, it’s natural to gain plenty of hype. El Paso, Texas R&B/pop singer Khalid has been making serious waves on social media with his debut album American Teen. His hit single “Location” shot up the charts late last year and is one of 2017’s best original sounds. Its sexy, low-key vibe fits perfectly with many different occasions: herb circles, shower solos, Siri-guided night rides. It’s a sufficient digital-age aphrodisiac. That’s why when I first heard that Khalid’s album was dropping, I was moderately excited.
I hadn’t heard much else besides “Location” but since I liked that track, I anticipated hearing what else he had in store for his debut. However, I have quite a few gripes with this release. Maybe it’s because I’m distant from my high school years to the point where I no longer care about the nostalgic nonchalance of pre-adulthood. Maybe it’s because I can be too nitpicky and expect too much from artists. Either way, this album wasn’t doing much for me. There are a handful of decent tracks here. Other than “Location,” “Saved” also deserves some praise. Khalid’s ability to tap into his emotions and write a somewhat thought-provoking tune presents itself competently on this track. “Saved” relates to all the people who have deeply loved someone yet the timing or circumstances just weren’t right. He sings about how he has effectively deleted all ties to his ex-girlfriend — pictures, posts, text strings — except for her phone number. He has it saved just in case she might call or he might break down and hit her up one day.
That connection is so human; it’s a relatable subject. Much of this album is extremely comparative which is why I believe it has captured the buzz of social media. On the bulk of this record, though, his team’s songwriting, along with Khalid’s starter-pack vocal delivery, doesn’t meet the standard that the producers set from track one. Syk Sense is one of the most underrated stars in the production game right now and his skills steal through the redundant lyrical themes and vocal tone across this project. Khalid’s voice is clearly limited in range and only works, in my opinion, when it’s matched with mellow, subtle production so it doesn’t have to carry as much of the load. Tracks like “Therapy” and “Let’s Go” highlight the Texan’s catchy appeal while also getting his point across in a direct fashion. Ultimately, though, this album’s lifeless atmosphere hinders any kind of lyrical or sonic progression.
Too many times on this album I was left with a feeling of uncertainty. Why are background vocals the most compelling element on some of these tracks? How is it possible to say the same thing in 20 different ways yet still sound bland in the process? Why did I even press play? Many of the tracks here coincide with the album’s concept of being young and irresponsibly in love. But when those types of songs are backed by flat, cringe-worthy vocal performances time after time, they begin to lose traction rather quickly. American Teen foreshadows a potentially chart-topping career but, for now, displays a forgettable, single-dependent debut. With plenty of exaggerated depression and youthful indecision to go around, American Teen will stir up the thumb-centric masses — that is, until the next Chainsmokers or Jason Derulo single hits the airwaves.