We’ve seen this before: Young singer-songwriter thrust into superstardom with relatable, authentic music. Young singer-songwriter grapples with growing up in the spotlight. Young singer-songwriter writes subsequent albums, searching for a way to find the universal thread in a now-one-in-a-million life experience.
Young R&B singer-songwriter Khalid Robinson (who goes by his first name), 21, is in the thick of that journey, which he shared during a stop at Nationwide Arena on Friday, July 26. He strategically placed his songs “8TEEN” and “Twenty One” at the top of his set, and spent the night navigating the space between those very different phases.
As Khalid emerged on a stage free of props (even the band was off to the side) and wearing a modest striped shirt and khakis, it became apparent that the show would be driven by his ability to connect with the audience through lyrics and charisma.
Indeed, even though he was eventually illuminated by scenic landscapes on a video screen and joined by dancers, the audience was preoccupied with screaming the words to songs from both 2017’s “American Teen” and 2019’s “Free Spirit.” He didn’t participate in much choreography, but made an impact with his mild two-step and sheepish grin, which drove his fans into fits.
Then, the direct communication began: singling out one 13-year-old girl, and adding a song to the set list at the request of another fan.
Such a stripped-down format can expose unaccomplished singers. Khalid demonstrated that he can belt live, and his rich, unique tone shone through in his confident delivery, especially during the slow-burning “Bluffin” and soaring “Vertigo.”
There were plenty of bops—“Bad Luck,” “Better” and “Right Back” inspired much movement in the audience—and some surprising covers (including a Fleetwood Mac tune!). A performance of 2017 hit “Location” and, later, the haunting “Angels” served as a reminder of Khalid’s ability to write beautiful melodies over sparse beats.
Very much steeped in Millennial culture, Khalid’s music—with its references to subtweets and missed texts—might prompt eye rolls from older music consumers. But no one can deny that he’s tapped into something powerful for the young people in the audience: joy.
And it’s good to see Khalid getting his helping of happiness; he admitted to being “lonely and idle” while writing his first album.
“That’s why I turned to music, he said in an interview, “because music became the company.”
It’s safe to say—at least in Columbus—he now has thousands to join him in musical conversation.