The Week In Pop

There’s Still Room On The Khalid Bandwagon

The first thing you need to know about Khalid is that he is not DJ Khaled. Different guy. Khaled, with the “e” in his name, you are undoubtedly familiar with: 41-year-old preternatural self-promoter, Snapchat savant, prodigious wrangler of superstars, jovial hype man for his infant son Asahd, and the current owner of the #1 album in America for a second straight week, the opulent celebrity assemblage Grateful. On America’s second biggest album, a separate opulent celebrity assemblage by Calvin Harris titled Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, you will find Khalid, with the “i,” doing his thing.

At 19, Khalid Robinson is the youngest of the umpteen guest vocalists on Funk Wav Bounces, but he carries himself like he belongs. His showcase is “Rollin,” a sweltering funk bass groove that alternates between loosely swinging half-time house piano and airtight rapid-fire synthesizer riffs. Future guests on the song too, and it’s not one of those phoned-in Future guests spots. He spouts rhymes about strippers and convertibles and drugs and accepting that he’s a monster — “Gotta be on codeine to think of the shit I say,” he advises — all with an enthusiasm and dexterity that suggests his eyes are widening behind those omnipresent sunglasses. He sounds amazing, but I hardly notice he’s there sometimes because his costar’s presence is so commanding.

Khalid sings with a casual grace, smooth but just weathered enough to back up the remorse in his lyrics. In this case it’s a story of cruising the highway at high speeds, drunk and angry, lamenting the lies and arguments that are wedging him permanently apart from a lover — a stark contrast from the music’s carefree sunshine, and one Khalid sells with the utmost confidence. “I’ve been rollin’ on the freeway/ I’ve been riding 85,” he sings, his syllables working the curves of the rhythm like a vehicle navigating the road. “I’ve been thinking way too much/ And I’m way too gone to drive.” All but the bass and drums drop out as the song winds to a close just in time for Khalid’s big kiss-off: “Keep your love, it doesn’t feel the same/ I hope it hurts you when you’re hearin’ my name.” On an album full of escapist party tracks, such real-world negativity stands out.

The role Khalid plays on “Rollin” is similar to Frank Ocean’s work on “Slide,” Funk Wav Bounces’ opening track and lead single: He sings the hook, but it’s more than a hook. It’s the song’s soul and spirit manifest, a blast of grounding humanity amidst all the flexing. It makes sense that they would fulfill similar roles because Khalid is, if not exactly a junior Frank Ocean, genuinely post-Ocean in his approach. He shares many of Ocean’s melodic inflections as well as his infatuation with cars — see: “Rollin” or the promo photo above — and like Frank, he does not feel tethered to the conventional limits of R&B despite singing with a rich soulfulness that calls back to the genre’s gospel roots. He also covered a couple of Ocean’s songs recently. All that plus Khalid’s tug of war between the youthful poles of playfulness and melancholy are why his exceptional debut album American Teen reminds me of Ocean’s breakout mixtape nostalgia, ULTRA.

Khalid broke through last year with “Location,” a classic love song steeped in modern trappings. “Send me your location,” he sings drowsily over pin-prick violins and a minimalist beat. “I don’t wanna fall in love off of subtweets, so let’s get personal.” It’s a song about hitting it off with someone online and trying to translate the spark into real life — one that incidentally arrived the same week Ocean issued Blonde, his own album full of technological romance treatises — and it could easily mark the beginning of the romance we later find crashing and burning on “Rollin.” Whether or not that’s true, it also appears to be the launchpad for a career much longer and more rewarding than that love affair.

American Teen is one of those fully formed debut albums every musician dreams of releasing. It finds Khalid with a distinct point of view, in full control of his powers, synthesizing styles with the fluidity of a music junkie who came of age on the internet. He has cited Sampha, James Blake, and Father John Misty as influences, disparaging genre divides by noting, “People listen to Beach House and Travis Scott and Kanye and Fleet Foxes.” That list offers a good sense of the sonic palette Khalid is working with. Or consider that he sang on a Kendrick Lamar song and is playing Jack Antonoff’s music festival. He is a child of the ecumenical online mainstream.

The world of music websites and handheld devices actually might be more of a true home for Khalid than any one earthly place. Although he is based in El Paso and LA, he was born in Georgia and spent his childhood living in Kentucky, upstate New York, and Germany due to his mother’s work as an army supply technician. Then again, communication technology is central in the life of just about any teenager nowadays, and from its title on down, American Teen embraces its status as an emblem for Khalid’s generation. Thus, the title of “Saved” refers to an ex’s number recorded in a phone as a sort of keepsake long after he’s deleted every photo of her, and the title track’s vision of young millennial excess involves friends passed out in an Uber.

Yet Khalid’s portrait of teenage emotions is a lot more timeless than, say, self-appointed “King Of Teens” Lil Yachty’s polarizing Teenage Emotions. On “8TEEN,” he observes, with a hint of pride, “Damn, my car still smells like marijuana/ My mom is gonna kill me.” He begins “Keep Me” by describing his attempt to get with a girl by hanging around the popular kids he can’t stand. Both “American Teen” and “Let’s Go” touch on the limitless possibility of life after graduation. This is universal stuff; who can’t relate to a song called “Young Dumb & Broke”?

Khalid only has about six more months of actually being a teenager, but if American Teen is any indication, he’ll be an exciting artist well into American Middle Age. I’m guessing he won’t have to wait nearly that long, though, before people stop confusing him with DJ Khaled. The differences are myriad, but here’s the big one: You could spend hours scouring Khaled’s records for evidence that he has any discernible music skills, whereas you barely need any time with Khalid’s music to realize he’s a potentially legendary talent.

DJ Khaled
CREDIT: Jerritt Clark/Getty Images

CHART WATCH

A mere 70,000 equivalent album units and just 16,000 in traditional album sales were enough to keep DJ Khaled’s Grateful on top of the Billboard 200 albums chart for a second straight week. According to Billboard, that’s the worst showing by a #1 album in five months but not the worst of the year; the Weeknd’s Starboy made it back to #1 two months after its release with just 56,000 units. Still, poor week for album sales! (Relatedly, as you may have heard, JAY-Z’s platinum-with-no-sales 4:44 is not on the chart this week because Tidal did not submit streaming data to Billboard.)

Calvin Harris enters the chart at #2 with Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 on the strength of 68,000 units and 23,000 sales. It’s his highest charting album, besting 2014’s #5-peaking Motion. Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. holds steady at #3, followed by Imagine Dragons at #4, Ed Sheeran at #5, 2 Chainz at #6, and Bruno Mars at #7. Stone Sour, the more conventional modern rock side project of Slipknot’s Corey Taylor, debuts at #8 with about 33,000 units and 30,000 in sales for Hydrograd. And closing out the top 10 are Drake at #9 and the Moana soundtrack at #10.

Before we get to the top 10 singles, let’s acknowledge that for the first time in 61 weeks, none of them are by the Chainsmokers. That means Katy Perry’s record of 69 straight weeks with a song in the top 10 remains intact.

Also intact: Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s run atop the Hot 100 with the Justin Bieber remix of “Despacito.” The song remains at #1 for a ninth straight week, now leading all three of the component charts (streaming, track sales, and airplay) that factor into the Hot 100 rankings. It’s followed by the songs that have in some order comprised the top 5 for most of the summer: DJ Khaled’s “I’m The One” featuring Bieber, Quavo, Chance The Rapper, and Lil Wayne at #2; Bruno Mars’ “That’s What I Like” at #3; Khaled’s “Wild Thoughts” with Rihanna and Bryson Tiller at #4; and Ed Sheeran’s deathless “Shape Of You” at #5.

Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.” clocks in at #6, while Imagine Dragons’ “Believer” slides one spot to #7. Sam Hunt is back up to #8 with “Body Like A Back Road,” followed by Post Malone and Quavo’s “Congratulations” at #9. And rounding out the top 10 is French Montana and Swae Lee’s “Unforgettable,” which reaches a new #10 peak. Per Billboard, it’s French’s first top-10 hit as a lead artist and second overall following an appearance on Chris Brown’s “Loyal” in 2014. “Unforgettable” is also the first top-10 hit as a solo artist by Swae Lee, whose group Rae Sremmurd went to #1 late last year with “Black Beatles.”

POP FIVE

Selena Gomez – “Fetish” (Feat. Gucci Mane) & Demi Lovato – “Sorry Not Sorry”
New tracks from the always-intertwined Selena and Demi in the same week! (And yes, me packaging them together is a way to cram one extra song into Pop Five this week.) “Bad Liar” is a top-10 pop song this year, qualitatively speaking, but it hasn’t really performed, so here comes another new Gomez single that’s basically guaranteed to make a splash. Its trip-hop sound reminds me of “Good For You,” which was a big hit for her, and that hook with those lyrics seems likely to connect at radio. Aside from appreciating it strategically, I should also mention that I like it — though not as much as I like Lovato’s big comeback single, which figures out how to make the most of the take-me-to-church sound that defined much of her last album. That gospel piano, booming bass, and digital drums remind me of Chance The Rapper in a good way, and Lovato’s vocal take brings the goods.

Kesha – “Woman”
This motherfucking woman is two for two! Last week she injected fresh life into the maudlin pop ballad with the raw and satisfying “Praying.” Now she’s back to shit-kicking pop music, albeit flavored with roadhouse rock ‘n’ roll rather than EDM and hip-hop. A titanic chorus is a titanic chorus no matter what kind of anthem you’re slinging, though.

Lil Yachty – “Forever Young” (Feat. Diplo)
I like Lil Yachty so much more as a rudimentary pop singer than I like him as a rudimentary rapper. (Though on “Broccoli,” still his best song, he arguably splits the difference.)

Vance Joy – “Lay It On Me”
“Riptide” was supremely obnoxious, but this Van Morrison-cum-Edward Sharpe business I can deal with, even if it sounds a bit like a Toyota commercial.

Dua Lipa – “New Rules”
If you aren’t paying attention to Dua Lipa, start paying attention.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • A Colombian man was arrested for threatening to attack Ariana Grande’s concert in Costa Rica. [Independent]
  • Contrary to rumors, Britney Spears is not playing the Super Bowl. [Twitter]
  • “I don’t think I was that aware really of how famous Harry [Styles] was,” says Dunkirk director Christopher Nolan. [THR]
  • Kesha’s new album Rainbow was inspired by a UFO sighting. [Teen Vogue]
  • Echosmith’s new single “Goodbye” drops tonight. Their sophomore LP Inside A Dream is out 9/29. [Instagram]
  • A pediatric unit built by Madonna’s charity in Malawi has opened. [Billboard]
  • Emory University’s student council lost $37,500 in an elaborate Migos booking scam. [Spin]
  • Songwriter Justin Tranter and Courtney Love spoke to Out about navigating the music-biz as marginalized artists. [Out]
  • Gwen Stefani is being sued by a fan who says she broke her leg when the singer invited lawn seat audience members to charge forward into a reserved seating area at a Charlotte show. [TMZ]
  • Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s accursed “See You Again” has surpassed PSY’s “Gangnam Style” as the most watched video on YouTube. [BBC]
  • Here is a Drake x Game Of Thrones mashup album. [Views From The Throne]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME

HOLD ON, WE’RE STILL GOING HOME