The most telling images projected on the massive video screen behind the stage at the Sprint Center on Sunday were live shots of fans in the front rows filming the performance of Khalid on their phones.
The 21-year-old sensation specializes in songs about alienation and loneliness among people of his generation who feel suffocated by the unrelenting pressure imposed by social media.
Yet most members of the audience of 15,500 dutifully documented their presence at the 110-minute concert in Kansas City.
A so-called military brat, the man born Khalid Donnel Robinson in 1998 moved frequently while growing up. He launched his music career from El Paso, Texas, after his family transferred to the city during his junior year of high school. A nebulous vortex of pop, soul, hip-hop and rock, both of his wildly popular albums capture the tenor of the times.
During a rendition of “Location,” the meme-friendly 2016 hit that Khalid said “changed my life forever,” he emphasized the lyric “I don’t want to fall in love off of sub-tweets.” A reading of “My Bad,” a song about the challenges of maintaining a relationship through phone, was similarly effective.
The audience favorite “8teen” is about a boy who confesses that “I still live with my parents” and laments that “my mom is going to kill me.”
In keenly depicting the anxieties and aspirations of American teens, Khalid’s best compositions are worthy of comparison to the timeless work of the late Chuck Berry and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Yet not everything Khalid creates is sharply defined. Selections including “Bad Luck” and “Bluffin’” were more like ambient mood-setters than actual songs.
A troupe of six dancers who looked as if they sashayed directly out of a Michael Jackson video from 1987 provided visual diversion during some of the musically sluggish segments. A four-piece band helped by adding intriguing accents to the backing tracks.
Even so, an alarming portion of the audience departed after Khalid performed his current hit “Talk,” well before the concert concluded.
The people who stuck around treated the sardonic “Young, Dumb & Broke” as a triumphant anthem. As if to poke fun at himself and one of his primary sources of inspiration, Khalid and his dancers huddled to take a group selfie at the conclusion of the song.
The snapshot was instantaneously projected on the video screen, an emphatic reminder that while Khalid may be young, he’s neither dumb nor broke.
Khalid set list
Free Spirit; 8teen; Twenty One; Hundred; Saved; My Bad; Bad Luck; Bluffin’; Vertigo; Motion; Better; Right Back; Location; unknown; American Teen; Another Sad Love Song; Suncity; Dreams; Coaster; Angels; Intro; Alive; Paradise; Silence; Talk; Outta My Head; Young Dumb & Broke; Eastside; Love Lies; OTW; Salem’s Interlude; Saturday Nights.