free spirit
Khalid's new album reflects on the challenges of being young with a free spirit. (Illustration by Luca Bowles, Kingston University)
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free spirit

In it, he grapples with the all-too-familiar trials of adolescence.

Khalid’s highly anticipated album “Free Spirit” finally released this month, and fans were nothing short of ecstatic.

Throughout the record, Khalid brings the challenges of his youth to the table with an honest, emotional curation of lyricism and impressive, tone-reflecting production to match. He pursues sincere storytelling while confessing his personal struggles as an adolescent within the lyrics.

About the Artist

Before diving into his personal battles (aka the album), here are five quick facts about Khalid as a musician.

1. Khalid Donnel Robinson, commonly known as Khalid, was born in Georgia on Feb. 11, 1998, which means he turned 21 just before his album and featured track “Twenty One” released.

2. His first hit, “Location,” brought his name to fame back in 2017. He originally wrote it to impress a girl, but it didn’t work out in his favor. Apparently, they don’t even talk anymore.

3. Even though “Location” didn’t get Khalid the girl, it landed him a steady music career. He is currently signed with major label RCA Records, is constantly charting and holds numerous awards.

4. Surprisingly, he can’t play any instruments. “I can’t play an instrument to save my life,” he said in an interview with CBS News. “But, when I’m creating and when I’m making music, I feel like I’m the head of the orchestra. And I’m just waving my hand, and something is created.”

5. He loves his mom — despite his illusory angst. “If my mom doesn’t like a song, it’s not making the album,” he said in an interview. He even considers her his biggest musical inspiration.

The Album: “Free Spirit”

As “Free Spirit” commences with the first track, titled “Intro,” Khalid introduces the themes that will flow throughout the album. Instead of the typical, quick-to-climax intros that are common on many modern records, Khalid chose to make “Intro” a three-and-a-half minute, full-length song.

“I wanted people to find their own name for this song and what it means to them,” Khalid said in an interview with Beats 1. “It’s so cinematic and it washes over you … People have to hear this first.”

His decision to allow the audience to hypothetically name the song mirrors the theme of the album: the mind’s capacity to exercise a free spirit. Khalid was not lying when he said that the music “washes over you.” As the introduction’s lightweight production floods your ears, it feels like you’re about to be taken on a trip of transcendence.

The wistful lyricism and quaint ending of “Intro” prepare the audience for the succeeding tracks, “Bad Luck” and “My Bad.” Right off the bat, “Bad Luck” introduces a somewhat melancholic tone, with its contemplative electric guitar solo. Later, the intense synth in both songs conveys the sharp turn of events that people experience as a result of discovering their free spirit.

“Cause I’m in love with bad luck / I’m in love with bad luck / Move too close, get caught up,” Khalid chants in the chorus of “Bad Luck” as he defines the boundaries between gaining the freedom — but not yet the luxuries — of adulthood.

The saga continues with tracks “Better,” “Talk,” “Right Back,” “Don’t Pretend,” “Paradise,” “Hundred” and “Outta My Head,” respectively. Similar to the first three tracks, every song demonstrates the dreaded internal conflicts of maturing adolescents: Will we revel in freedom (as seen in “Better,” “Right Back” and “Paradise”), or be trapped by responsibility (“Talk,” “Don’t Pretend,” “Hundred” and “Outta My Head”)?

According to Khalid, “Free Spirit,” the lawless track that gave the album its name, is “the pivotal point, sonically, of the album. It starts off a little dark and gets a little bit more lighthearted. I feel like ‘Free Spirit’ is the start of where everything gets intense and more cinematic.”

“Free Spirit” mimics the wash-over production of “Intro,” revitalizing the initial ambition to become free-spirited. “It’s the highs and lows with no clears / And we wanted it all then / But we’re never runnin’ out, we’ll be free spirits, free spirits.”

Consequentially, the last portion of the album, which includes fearless tracks like “Twenty One,” “Bluffin’” and “Saturday Nights,” demonstrates not only the acceptance but also the unframed necessity of internal restitution.

“So I’ve been making changes / Been workin’ on my health / No more competition / Can’t compete against myself, no, no, no,” Khalid exhales in “Self.”

“Alive” and “Heaven” then evoke the darkest emotion of the record with their slow, humble musicality alongside their depressing diction. Verbiage like “gatekeeper,” “grim reaper” and “I shouldn’t have to die to feel alive” clearly portray life’s lowest valleys.

“I felt like ending it giving people a song they can listen to whenever they’re feeling down, whenever they’re going through something.” Khalid said. “Though these songs feel very sad, I feel like they have a brighter message.”

Hitting rock bottom is often an essential step of recovery and liberation alike, and sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom to realize that self-actualization is the rock at the bottom.

Finally, the last track on the album serves as a cliché but necessary light at the end of the tunnel. “Saturday Nights” shares the often-overlooked truths of surviving adolescent identity crises. Somber free spirits, as strong as they are, ultimately outlast the confusing late-teen-to-early-20s stage of life.

The Film

In addition to the successful record release, Khalid gifted his fans a short film that he helped storyboard based on the album. The film, also titled “Free Spirit,” was available to watch in theaters nationwide for one day. “The movie is about escapism and the youth of today,” film director Emil Naval said in an MTV interview.

In the film, a group of rebellious teenagers steal a van and road trip out on the deserted countryside. Ladybug, the female lead in the story, leads the angsty endeavor while simultaneously enrapturing the desperate attention of nearby men along the way.

“She’s really who the film is focused about,” Naval said. “She’s a young product of today’s world — amazingly powerful and strong-minded.”

Fans raved about the short film after watching it in theaters, and that is definitely no surprise. The film and album both embody the aptitude youth have for unrestricted independence, despite inevitable responsibilities that emerge alongside.

Because Khalid’s audience is largely composed of a youthful demographic, his work continues to flourish. Khalid speaks to his listeners on a personal level, and that feat is truly unmatchable.

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