On April 1, Khalid retweeted a tweet from a fan account that informed followers that one of the artist’s first singles, “Location,” recently reached 700 million streams on Spotify—and this was no April Fool’s joke: Khalid is a bona fide pop powerhouse at the young age of 21. This is not the only impressive stat on his Spotify profile, however. He pulls approximately 47 million listeners monthly, making him No. 4 in the world on Spotify charts. His momentum’s not slowing down anytime soon, from the looks of his recent release Free Spirit, the artist’s second LP. The album released on Friday under RCA Records.
Of the 17 songs that are included in the album, four were previously released as singles leading up to the full-length project, including “Talk,” “My Bad,” “Self,” and “Don’t Pretend.” Beginning in early February, Khalid strategically teased Free Spirit with these singles. After waiting a month to release the first single, he dropped the following singles in closer succession, the last leading single coming just four days before the full length project.
Free Spirit features “Better,” a song also released on his fall 2018 EP, Suncity. For the most part, these singles seem consistent with the Khalid sound that fans love, which includes a more up-tempo rhythm and Khalid’s subtly soulful vocals. The contrast has just enough balance so that listeners could dance around or chill if they wanted.
“Self” was the only single to hint at the theme for the album, which deals with mental health. In the chorus, Khalid admits, “Always had a little trouble with self-reflection.” In a slight, albeit welcome, departure from his typical sound, this song does not have a guitar as the primary instrument.
The opening track, simply titled “Intro,” lays a foundation for the rest of the album. While it deviates from regular song structure by omitting a set hook, essentially the same chords repeat for the entire song. These instrumentals lack heavy percussion but are rich in lingering electric harmonies, employing a feeling of flowing with the music. It is clear that the feelings Khalid renders through this music are not just a result of heartbreak. The possibility that another factor influenced Khalid’s feelings prefaces the album well.
Most songs with an inspirational message tend to come across cliché, but the relatability and growth that transpires during “Hundred” easily makes the song one of the best on the album. In the chorus, Khalid sings, “Cause the world keeps spinning, the sun won’t shine on my face / I’ma keep it moving, got a hundred things I gotta do today.” For the outro, Khalid slows down to sing, “Hundred days and I’m still alive.” Even the clever lyrics toward the end of the song slowly uncover Khalid’s journey to becoming more resilient and dealing with his mental health.
The link between honesty and free-spiritedness is apparent while listening to the album. He confronts suicide in “Alive,” which is ironic given the track’s title. For people who do not actively deal with mental health issues, they become witnesses to Khalid’s story, whereas others who can relate may see themselves standing in the same shoes, looking through the same eyes. He does not sugarcoat anything, singing “Grim reaper, just give me one more night / I need another chance to say goodbye.”
By “Free Spirits,” Khalid leads listeners into a carefree space by light acoustic and electric instrumentals, despite being in a dark place. In “Bluffin,” Khalid combines a classic country sound with contemporary R&B. Interestingly, he also periodically includes a noise resembling that of a short, single choke throughout the song, which is not the most pleasing sound.
Throughout the album, Khalid alternates between talking to himself, a higher being, and a loved one. This narration has no particular pattern but truly becomes evident by the latter half of the album.
At times, Khalid’s soft vocals are overpowered by the bass-filled production, and it can be difficult to hear his words. This does not detract from the message of the album, however. This project strays from most mainstream R&B, which has become either slow, emotional heartbreak songs or a more hip-hop beat with a blend of singing and rapping.
Especially in an era where handfuls of artists reject vulnerability, it is relieving to see Khalid, a black male artist, being honest about his emotions. Khalid opens his heart and his mind to the world—not for pity, but for an ear and empathy.
Featured Image by RCA Records