Khalid can’t buy a beer. He can’t rent a car. In Boston, he can’t even buy a pack of cigarettes. There are a lot of things the 20-year old R&B; artist cannot do, but his Sunday evening set at Boston Calling proved that he definitely can, in the words of his “Homemade Dynamite - REMIX” partner Lorde, “murder a stage.” The Red Stage, to be exact, where Khalid did not enter so much as ascend to place, rising from out of sight to a perch high above the cheering mass of people before him. The audience’s voices drowned out the first line of “8TEEN,” but he smiled and kept singing as retro, neon graphics from the video game “Dance Dance Revolution” lit up the stage behind him. Khalid is far from a one-trick pony and yet, for all his versatility, nothing topped his most upbeat numbers. It was clearest in those moments that Khalid, his grin a permanent fixture upon his face, was having the time of his life on that stage.
After “8TEEN,” Khalid moved into “Winter,” barely able to contain his excitement as he jumped up and down to the pre-chorus lines “I'm back to life in my lonely / City of El Paso.” On “Paso” he broke—the city name lost in a laugh—and lunged into the chorus without a care, before descending from his platform to the main part of the stage, joining his dancers in a vibrant, ‘80s style performance of hit single “American Teen.” The word “hit” loses its significance with an artist like Khalid, who became so popular so quickly that the opening to each and every song provoked frenzy from the audience upon recognition. They weren’t always easy to figure out from the get-go—the live band gave a jagged feel to Khalid’s smooth vocals and style, amping up the drum kit and electric guitar—but the music festival’s crowd chimed in on every line.
“This song is some sad shit, is that alright?” asked Khalid to expected screams of approval. The song that followed was “Coaster,” a track about how hard it is to move on from the end of a relationship. The lines “Moving on seems harder to do / When the one that you love moves faster than you” show how he embraces the trials of post-millennial youth, in all its sadness and loneliness, just as passionately as he does the tropes. He then explored desperation and longing in the song “Another Sad Love Song” and paused. “Hey, so this next song is super fucking special to me cause it’s the first song I ever wrote,” he said, telling all the dreamers in the crowd to follow them before taking a seat to perform the song “Saved.” The image of an iPhone loomed over him, typing and deleting messages to send after an unanswered “Hey” as he sang “So I'll keep your number saved / 'Cause I hope one day I'll get the pride to call you.”
For many, these melancholy tunes are the bread-and-butter of Khalid’s music, and why wouldn’t they be? They’re enthralling. Khalid may be young, but his lyrics—he has songwriting credits for every track on his album “American Teen”—are palpably genuine, even insightful. Just as he wrapped up the heavenly vocals of “Angels,” he switched gears completely and jumped into what is arguably his most popular song: “Young Dumb & Broke.” In an instant, swaying bodies turned to bopping heads as each and every person in the crowd jammed out to the ubiquitous single. Faced with the choice of opening or closing with it, or throwing the song somewhere in the middle, Khalid did none of the three. Instead, he placed it carefully at the end of his row of softer songs, the perfect piece to bring up the mood.
He kept the energy up with instrumentally tricked-out solo versions of tracks with Fifth Harmony member Normani (“Love Lies”) and Calvin Harris (“Rollin”). Khalid’s chorus on the latter is the perfect example of what makes his upbeat numbers so special. He crooned “I've been rollin' on the freeway / I've been riding 85 / I've been thinking way too much - And I'm way too gone to drive,” as cheery and happy-to-be-there at the end of his set as he was at the beginning. As lovely as his slower tracks are, his livelier tunes are more than that—they are infectious. From the dancing to the neon displays to the band, Khalid exudes so much joy it is impossible not to dance or sing or do something just to capture a little piece of it. It is something for which Khalid should be very, very proud—even if he can’t buy a drink to celebrate.
—Staff Writer Allison J. Scharmann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.