American singer Khalid on his ‘insane’ rise in music world and empowering youth
- Grammy-nominated singer will perform at Hong Kong’s Clockenflap this weekend
- R&B singer hit the charts 18 months ago with smash single Location
On the final night of Hong Kong’s Clockenflap festival, a 20-year-old Texan singer will take to the stage and deliver one of the most highly anticipated performances of the weekend. Khalid Robinson, known simply as Khalid, will perform this Sunday to thousands of music fans on the Central Harbourfront.
Despite touring intensively over the past 18 months, Robinson says his excitement for hitting the road is far from wearing off. “From the outside looking in, you’d probably say I was tired of singing the same songs every night. [But] I fall in love with the songs more every single day,” he says, ahead of his debut performance in the city.
Born in Georgia, in the United States, he moved as a teenager to Texas, where Robinson sang regularly in high school productions. He had planned to be an opera singer or perform in musicals until his demo songs posted to the website SoundCloud began gathering interest.
His first and most successful single, Location, began charting in the summer of 2016, marking the start of a rise to fame that would see him named as Spotify’s third most-streamed artist, after Drake and Selena Gomez.
“It’s a blessing and I can’t believe that that many people all over the world are listening to me,” says the singer, who cites his key influences as Frank Ocean, James Blake, Grizzly Bear and Kendrick Lamar. “It’s insane and I surprise myself every day.”
Over the last 18 months, he has released his debut album “American Teen”, been nominated for five Grammy Awards, featured on the Black Panther film soundtrack, supported New Zealand performer Lorde during her Melodrama World Tour, won an MTV Video Music award for Best New Artist, and was named one of Time Magazine’s 30 Most Influential Teens of 2017.
The US publication, which publishes annual lists of influential figures, heralded Robinson’s commitment to using his public platform “both in song and in life, to championing the vulnerable”. It quoted the singer as saying: “America today feels like a scary place for many people, people of colour, dreamers, women, the LGBTQ community.”
“It’s the young people of America, the teens, who have the power to create change.”
Unafraid to show emotion and discuss tough subjects such as mental health, Khalid has struck a chord, especially among younger music fans, for his ability to convey his real-life observations through his lyrics. And like Lorde’s debut Royals, Khalid’s Young Dumb and Broke addresses growing up in unglamorous surroundings and the importance of friendship over material riches.
“American Teen” went double-platinum in America within a year of its release, catapulting Robinson far from his former life. But he remains cautiously humble, joking with fans on social media and even pausing live shows to chat with the crowd and sign items handed to him.
“I feel lucky that I get to say I’m selling out shows,” he says. “When I step out on stage, every show is different. I don’t ever look at every show [as] being the same. I always go out and have so much fun. Sometimes, I even see different sides to myself and sometimes I even get emotional in different segments.”
His “Suncity” EP, released last month, unveiled seven new songs, including the groovy leading track, Better, which showcased Robinson’s velvety vocals over echoey pianos, and signalled a more mature approach to songwriting.
He’ll follow up next year with another full album, which could see Robinson taking even more control over his sound as he gains further recording experience.
“The process of me creating music right now compared to when I made “American Teen” is completely different – I’ve learned so much about recording from collaborating with other artists. On my last EP, I actually produced my own song, Motion. That took a lot of work and a lot of trusting myself, but it ended up being one of my favourite songs I’ve ever done,” he says.
“I’m so happy I get to do what I do and have the ability to expand my mind through the process.”
Khalid will perform at 7.30pm on the Harbourflap stage at Clockenflap festival on Sunday November 11. For tickets and more information, see clockenflap.com.