In case there was any doubt of who makes up the target audience of Khalid, the R&B singer addressed them directly during his Monday night performance at MECU Pavilion.
“I want to congratulate the Class of 2018,” said the 20-year-old singer from El Paso, Texas. He got more specific: “High school is done!”
In a span of a year, the crooner born Khalid Robinson has become a soft-spoken force in R&B and pop, thanks to “American Teen,” his 2017 debut album filled with anthemic songs about embracing fleeting adolescence, along with quieter moments of yearning and contemplation. Pushed by singles “Location” and “Young Dumb & Broke,” the momentum propelled Khalid’s star, culminating in five Grammy Award nominations at the beginning of the year — though he did not win.
On Monday night, the crowd — which seemed to mostly be large groups of teenage girls accompanied by amused parents — was determined to thank Khalid for his whirlwind year in the form of delighted screams and even louder sing-alongs to not just the hits, but album cuts as well. Even before his arrival to the stage, the lights went down, cueing a powerful chorus of anticipated yells.
When Khalid sauntered around the stage, dressed casually in drawstring pants, an emerald T-shirt and a loose yellow button-down shirt, he beamed with a huge grin, which caused even more full-throated approval. Yes, the R&B heartthrob is alive and well.
In a brief video that introduced his set, Khalid talks about the vibe he wants at his concerts. He literally states he doesn’t want people at his show sad.
“We have so much life to live, so why not live your best life?” He asks the camera.
So set off a 20-plus-song concert that delivered a message that had no problem resonating with recent graduates: Let’s not grow up too fast. It was an easy sell on “8TEEN” and “American Teen,” songs with carpe diem messaging and sprinkled-in references to weed and alcohol for a very slight edge.
And yet Khalid was most effective at songs with slower tempos that didn’t require half-baked choreography, “Dance Dance Revolution” arcade imagery and constant movement.
Later in the night, seated on a stool, he performed stripped-down versions of “Therapy” and “Hopeless.” Before highlight “The Ways,” a breezy standout from “The Black Panther” soundtrack, Khalid said, “Shout-out to all the black superheroes in the world. You’re necessary,” to cheers.
In these moments, the appeal of Khalid’s music crystallized. His voice — textured and full of warmth — has been a welcome addition to pop culture, from his sultry breakout “Location” to the Marshmello collaboration “Silence.” He coos, adding soft edges to hard syllables.
But on Monday night, the first of two back-to-back MECU Pavilion shows, he was predictably pulled in two directions: emotive singer and hyped-up party-leader. The former was a natural fit, while the latter depicted a serviceable showman who leaned on four backup dancers when his own moves turned stiff.
Concerts, of course, are promotional tools, so toward the end of the night, Khalid performed three unreleased songs in a row as an appetizer for a new album coming in the fall. They included a ballad about love not coming easy, and a sultry slow-burner called “Raining in Miami.” They sidestepped the teenage tropes that have framed Khalid’s fast start, and offered a road map for a transition to adulthood. He’s close to taking it, but this tour comes first.
If you go
Khalid performs 8 p.m. tonight at MECU Pavilion, 731 Eastern Ave., Inner Harbor. PRETTYMUCH will also perform. Call 703-573-7328 or go to mecupavilion.com.
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