By Niy Birden
Last year brought in a wave for newcomer Khalid, a 19 year old singer from Texas who has created yet another obsession for teenagers in the popshphere, alongside the label he is signed to, RCA Records. RCA has played a very integral role in the development of teenagers in pop culture, with one of its most famous artists, Christina Aguilera, who became a powerhouse singing sensation during the 90’s.
Khalid, who is at the same age of Christina when she got her fame, has burst through the music industry door with his first charting hit “Location”, and collaboration with Logic and Alessia Cara on “1-800-273-8255” , recently came back to the charts with his “Young Dumb and Broke” single, and accompanying music video. In the song, Khalid is talking to a love interest about the beauties and inevitability of being young, dumb, and broke, but in a romantic way that makes you reminisce your own youth. The pinnacle of most teenage anthems in America.
While the first verse is a bit too fast in the sense that it gives off the entire theme of the song in just a few bars, the vocal delivery and lines themselves go perfectly together, completing the nostalgic feeling that he is trying to play to. “So you’re still thinking of me/Just like I know you should/I can not give you everything, you know I wish I could/I’m so high at the moment/I’m so caught up in this/Yeah, we’re just young, dumb and broke/But we still got love to give”.
This, paired with the looping organ-like synth and trap beats, actually brings us back to a few other artists with notable songs, such as Chance the Rapper, Lorde, Kanye West, and Alessia Cara. Most of these artists in this list are still considerably young, yet they still also understand the power of the organ, which has had a lasting place in numerous musical genres. Organs in music are usually related to spiritual music, to express purity or faith in some some sense (which Chance and Kanye have always used for themes in their own music) and it really adds to the story for Khalid. For him, his vocal agility is mostly a trademark of melismatic runs that are layers of soft, but still slightly monotonous vocals. He doesn’t belt, he doesn’t really sing at fast tempos, but he is always effortless, and easygoing. . Pairing this, with a traditional instrument and a hip hop beat creates the perfect setting for a song about teens who are living a mundane lifestyle that is still quite fascinating.
The song, in general, actually does sound like Khalid is going on a marijuana-influenced trip while jamming with friends, which is what is quite amazing considering that the song is supposed to convince another subject that those things are quite okay. The bridge is a perfect step away from the A-B-B-C like format, and the layered harmonies tie in the sound to almost stop time for the listener, which is a normal effect when one is under the influence of narcotics.
The video, however, seems to suggest a bit of contrast with the song’s story. Starting off in a well-suited high school with the sound of a school bell, a principal is seen giving not-so-genuine words of encouragement to teenagers before their semester is about to end. It is quite often for school bells to be used as imagery in visual or musical stories, usually alluding to a disconnect between the subject and reality, or even a literal “waking up” moment for both the subject and the audience. This is because these bells are designed to call attention to whatever is going on in the school. It can mean the changing of the school period, or even an emergency. However, this school bell comes in right before a very easy going song, which suggests that the bell represents the urgency of adult lifestyle from society (as it is reverberated by the principal in the intro), yet the teens in the school are not paying much attention to it, hence the “dumb” aspect of the song.
Although Khalid can be seen interacting with the numerous actors in the video, much of it is actually Khalid himself gesturing to the camera, which confirms the conversational topic in the song. However, it seems as though Khalid is not gesturing to a love interest, but rather a close friend or even someone who might be younger than him. His stance is cool and fluid, very similar to when he is interacting with his friends. And next comes the beloved roundup of school yearbook titles. “Most likely to succeed”, “Best hair” and others, but what is so interesting about these particular shots is that the shots themselves are in a cropped frame, which is reminiscent of vintage 80’s-90’s cinema.
The people in the shots aren’t necessarily smiling, but they are quite joyous in the other scenes. This is important to the storyline because it for one romanticizes those times (which is becoming an even more popular thing with teen culture) and it also universalizes the theme of the song, further cementing its place in pop culture. The video, which was released on August 1st, has hit more than 5 million views on YouTube. As I write this, it is August 8th.
Lastly, the closing scene shows Khalid in a court by himself, with a melancholy look. Finally, a shot comes in with actor Wayne Brady, in the role of a janitor, who is going on a tangent about his life and the decisions he’s made. He talks about the opportunity he had for a different profession in school, but how he also denied it. Mocking himself, he finally says “Fuck it” and drops his mop to leave because he knows that no one is there to scold him. If this isn’t one of the most millennial things I’ve seen in a music video, I don’t know what is.