In the few years since his arrival and meteoric rise to fame, 20-year-old R&B sensation Khalid has struck a serious chord with young fans, and those fans packed in and lost their collective minds as the man of the hour took to the stage Friday at ACL Fest. Sweaty, youthful faces beamed from the front of a massive crowd as they screamed along the lyrics to songs from the El Paso artist’s aptly titled debut “American Teen.”
For the uninitiated, Khalid (not to be confused with DJ Khaled of Weight Watchers and shouting “another one” on top of Drake songs fame) is a Grammy-winning, platinum-selling artist who crafts pop-skewing R&B music. (Think: a cheerier version of the The Weeknd, but with songs about smartphones and being young as opposed to songs about drugs and being around models on drugs.) It’s perhaps that focus on the connective nature of technology in his music (e.g., “Send me your location...” of “Location” or “I’ll keep your number saved...” of “Saved”) that made the sea of smartphone screens raised throughout his set actually feel endearing rather than annoying. That or the fact that his fans seemed so blissed out to be witnessing him live one could hardly fault them for wanting to capture it to digital memory.
• MORE: Our complete coverage of ACL Fest
Performing Friday, Khalid offered up an audible high-five to a crowd of thousands, effortlessly dealing out effervescent escapism as he grinned and pivoted on stage like a sprinkler or dropped to a knee by his chair.
Khalid opened with “8TEEN” in front of a background of “Dance Dance Revolution” arrow visuals and cutout images of himself blended with the lyrics “Let’s do all the stupid (expletive) that young kids do” and made his way through “Location,” his first big hit, and new song “Better” during his they-all-seem-like-hits-by-the-way-the-crowd-is-reacting” set. With or without his full band and backup dancers, Khalid kept fans in a frenzy, even on slower ballads consisting of little more than guitar and vocals
Khalid’s late-afternoon Austin City Limits Music Festival appearance came on the heels of his "Austin City Limits" taping Wednesday night — two momentous occasions for someone so young and so early in his career