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Entertainment Weekly

Music

How 'Location' singer Khalid is becoming a voice for young people

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This story originally appeared in the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands Friday – and subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

When Khalid first posted his effervescent R&B plea “Location” to SoundCloud last spring, the now 19-year-old had one thing on his mind: becoming his El Paso high school’s prom king. He got the crown — and a lot more. The single landed him a major-label deal with RCA and has racked up more than 47 million streams on Spotify, thanks to its #MillennialProblems message about connecting face-to-face in the era of subtweets and smartphones. (Some love from Kylie Jenner’s Snapchat didn’t hurt either.)

The Georgia-born artist’s background has helped make him a sort of de facto expert on the struggles of young people: As a military brat — he spent his formative years bouncing all over the South before stints in Germany, New York, and Texas — he learned to endure that interminable Degrassi episode called adolescence the hard way. “We forget that when you grow up, there are a lot of people who are in the same position as you,” he says. “The reason we forget is because there’s not really a true voice that talks from the perspective of youth.”

Khalid is trying to be that voice. His debut album, American Teen (out March 3), covers everything from spacey soul to synth-pop, but his textured voice and boyish ennui tie it all together. “A lot of my songs are about loneliness and losing relationships,” he says. “Even the ones that are happy, there’s a lonely undertone to them.”

Tales of digital-age romance aside, the growing pains Khalid addresses are mostly classic ones: “My car still smells like marijuana / My mom is gonna kill me,” he croons on the groovy “8TEEN.” Songs like the ’80s-tinged title track and the woozy, trap-flavored “Young Dumb & Broke” also offer snapshots of disaffected kids who yearn for independence but still don’t know where their lives are headed. Khalid hopes his record can guide them. “The album is a compilation of my youth,” he says, already sounding like an old soul. “The mistakes I’ve made, the heartbreaks I went through, the love that I got, and all the love that I lost.”

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