It is the intrinsic ability to arrive at an intelligent conclusion, perhaps even without sophisticated experience or knowledge to reinforce said insight. In turn, the phrase "wise beyond one's years" is universally used to describe the phenomena of the youth being some of society's most sonically forward-thinkers. Of this, Khalid Robinson is no exception.
The 19-year-old singer is currently on cloud nine as his career continually soars to new heights following the release of his debut album, American Teen. Back in January, the bright-eyed adolescent declared on Twitter that the release of his LP would be life-changing, and he's since proven himself right with his accelerated trek to stardom.
Khalid’s luck began to change last summer when Kylie Jenner played a three-second clip of his first-ever single, "Location," on Snapchat, creating a snowball effect of social media virality. As he swiftly garnered the attention of major labels, the track peaked at the No. 32 slot on Billboard’s Hot 100 and eventually broke the Top 10 on Billboard's R&B Songs chart. Khalid later inked a deal with RCA, going on to sell out every date on his first headlining tour run earlier this year, with “Location” racking up over 150 million streams on Spotify ever since.
The singer-songwriter’s recent list of accomplishments includes becoming the face of Forever 21’s new global campaign for their summer men’s collection, having the likes of Lil Wayne, Kehlani and GoldLink remix his music, scoring a feature on a Calvin Harris single alongside Future (“Rollin’”) and having renowned EDM producer Zedd reach out to him casually over social media to collaborate. In short, Khalid is in a position that many may only ever dream of.
Although these impressive accolades are arriving faster than he probably has time to fully digest, it’s clear his head is in the right place. Khalid’s old-soul wisdom is fully wired, impressively echoing his mother's pristine advice of keeping his ego as far out of the equation as possible.
“I try to stay level-headed,” Khalid says, calmly flexing his humility. “What really keeps me grounded is my fans and the way that I connect with them. I'm a regular guy and I don't want anyone to look at me as being superior or having a God complex or anything like that, you know? I don't want to walk around like I know everything because I have so much more room to improve.”
buzzing months following its release — something that in today's industry is a marker of a successful endeavor — Khalid is already back in the studio with his eyes eagerly fixed on his next chapter. However, he also understands that his American Teen moment is far from being over.
“As an artist, I never want to be a moment,” Khalid explains. “I want to be a legacy and I want my music to touch people for years to come. When my fan base has their grandkids or whatever, I want them to be like, 'I grew up off of this. This is what I listened to.' And I want their kids to listen to it and, even better, I want their kids to like it.”
Throughout the project, Khalid captures the less-than-perfect innocence of youth in a way that is more reflective and meditative than it is stereotypically angst-ridden. With his delightful teenage charm, Khalid speaks for a generation entirely his own that can't help but applaud him. Throughout the project's 14-track collection, he creates a cohesive body of work, balancing hit singles with deep cuts that have the potential to take off next.
With each song weaving in themes of the authentic teenage experiences, from first loves to anticlimactic adventures, he is honoring that he is exactly where he should be. By embracing his experiences in the present tense, Khalid’s ever-evolving journey becomes timeless and this is, by far, his greatest achievement.
“For me, Channel Orange will never get old. Or Fleetwood Mac's Rumors or Tusk. Or Brandy's Never Say Never. I still get motivation from these albums. Michael Jackson's Thriller. These still resonate,” Khalid muses. “Being timeless means you can listen to something when you're feeling a certain way and it still has that same power as it did when you listened to the record for the first time. Timeless is abnormal. It sticks out. It can't be recreated.”
Despite looking towards the future, he's balancing living in the moment with having big dreams in a way that admirably speaks volumes to his character. Considering the Georgia-born artist spent his formative years traveling with his family — his mother sacrificing her own artistic dreams to provide for her children while working in the military — Khalid didn't find his creative drive until a move for his senior year of high school surprised him.
After going through the motions and growing up in a variety of places, including Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Watertown, New York, and Heidelberg, Germany, his relocation to El Paso, Texas, to finish up high school helped him discover a home. Based on his past experiences, he wasn’t expecting to find a city meant to be temporary. As a result, Khalid’s story often reflects how, in the grand scheme of things, timing can resonate more than the actual amount of time spent in one place can.
“I just spent two days with my best friend from second grade and we were talking about how hard a career in music can be,” Khalid shares. “When I moved from New York to El Paso, a lot of the friends I had in New York forgot about me, stopped texting me back. Now that I'm in some sort of a limelight, people would reach out to me and try to reconnect. When I wouldn't respond, that would turn into hate comments and I would get people saying things like you forgot about us when in reality they forgot about me.”
What Khalid finds to be the weirdest component of his transition into a national spotlight is the fact that if he had remained a regular high school student after his family moved, none of those “old friends” would have contacted him.
“If they had kept in touch, they would have realized I was the same individual I was when we were friends,” he presses. “I still look at myself as the same type of person that I was a year ago, but everyone else doesn't see me that way, especially when looking at my career. They're always saying things like, 'This dude is going to be huge!' It's really overwhelming. I try to keep in mind that what I'm doing this for is not only just myself but for my mom and wanting to tell all the stories of my friends and everything I've been through as a way to help others.”
singing his praises, each day unfolds a new cosign and a new adventure. From making his television debut on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to announcing his official American Teen Tour this summer, Khalid's new normal skews increasingly surreal, especially when reminding himself he was still in high school just one year ago.
“I actually never had a job,” he admits. “I'd do chores around the house and that kind of thing but I was actually very unmotivated. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I didn't really have goals that I felt I could achieve. I didn't take any SATs or anything and eventually I realized that there has to be something that I can do to turn my life around or my life is going to amount to nothing. I felt like the move from New York to El Paso knocked me into such a state of loneliness that I knew I had to fight to get out of this. So I turned to music.”
With that, there's also a misconception that because he got lucky the first time around, he doesn't have to put the work in.
“I was tired of people telling me that I couldn't do something with my life and I was tired of me telling myself that I couldn't do anything with my life,” he recalls. “I just started writing. I had to. Luckily, I made the right songs that took me to the next level. Now it's all about keeping that spirit, that drive and that work ethic. My time here isn't done yet. It’s crazy to think about how now I'm slowly becoming an artist.”
Khalid’s instinctive ability to translate his experience and his emotions into music is further proof that he has found his destined calling. Nevertheless, he can also speak to those who are currently uncertain or anxious about what the next year of their life may look like, let alone their careers. Even Khalid’s creative process has an inspirational acumen, one that is as simple as it is complex.
“I feel like a reason why a lot of my songs are very emotional and sad is because if I project that sadness out of my body then I have time to focus on being happy,” he explains. “I spent so much time with my mouth closed, you know? Sometimes I listen to my songs, and even I’m like, ‘How did I write this? Where did this come from?’ I feel like the artistic side of me is a real representation of my emotional, sad side. The moment that I kick it out of me, I'm good. I'm like, ‘Let’s go eat’ or ‘Let’s go see a movie.’ All that. I just have to get everything off my chest first.”
Even though Khalid’s self-awareness creates an inner monologue characterized by its own intriguing duality —like emoting sadness out of necessity to move on from sorrow — his aptitude to remove himself from the equation also adds to his rare charm. His story, an innocent tale of almost accidental self-discovery and wise introspection, allows him to change the narrative as he experiences life’s wonders, all while listening to his own emotional uncertainties and remaining extraordinarily relatable to his peers and fans.
“I hope people walk away with my story,” Khalid says. “I hope they put it in their own point of view because I feel that music is just all about interpretation. It's supposed to make you feel something. If someone doesn't feel a certain way then I feel I didn't do my job. Someone should listen to my music and be like, ‘You know what, I've been there, I will be there in the future and I'll get out of it.’”
See you on the other side, Khalid.