Pitchfork reviews Free Spirit by Khalid

Pitchfork reviews Free Spirit by Khalid

The second album from the historically inoffensive singer is another genreless collection of safe choices for a pop star in the making., At a middle school dance somewhere in America, hundreds of students are getting rowdy to “Thotiana” while the chaperone tells the DJ to spin something else, something less vulgar, something inoffensive. Something like Khalid. He mainly sings about love, never too deep or personal, like he got inspiration from a Netflix original movie starring Noah Centineo. The 21-year-old is maturing—he can drink now and smokes a little more weed than he did before—and his second album, Free Spirit, comes at a time in which Khalid is both a Billboard Hot 100 mainstay and figuring out if he should be the same teenager that first found success with “Location” or if his music should age with him., Like so many emerging pop stars trying to be the voice of the next generation (See: Billie Eilish or Dominic Fike), a selling point of Khalid’s music is that it’s genreless. Free Spirit is definitely the first album that can claim both Murda Beatz and Father John Misty in the credits. Khalid’s melodies fit over any instrumental they touch whether that be an acoustic guitar-heavy ballad like “Saturday Nights” or a Disclosure-produced dance track like “Talk”. Yet, no matter how diverse Free Spirit is in sound and guests, the output is always the same harmless, generic Khalid., Khalid has no edge, so his attempts at darker songwriting come off like “Riverdale” fanfiction. “Is this heaven or armageddon?/I’ll be gettin’ high with you to watch the ending,” he sings plainly on “Free Spirit.” It’s fitting that one of the top YouTube comments praising his collaboration with country heartthrob Kane Brown on “Saturday Nights (Remix)” is, “No naked scenes, no alcohol, no drugs, no cars around but only soft and smooth voices.” Khalid, unlike an actual teenager, is afraid to cross any line—everything that leaves his mouth is bland. His relationship stories are frustrating, “Can you feel the tension? You’ve got my attention/I know we’re just friends, but I’d rather be together instead,” which he says on the John Mayer-featuring “Outta My Head” that belongs in an Old Navy commercial., The saving grace of Free Spirit is that none of Khalid’s dull lyrics and euphemisms can take away from the high-budget production showcase. Take “Talk,” where Disclosure gifts Khalid a bubbly dance instrumental. It works, despite Khalid sounding like an R&B singer without the sex and a pop singer without the fun. Hit-Boy recently brought new life to the emo-rap gloom of Juice WRLD and on “Self,” the producer tries that same kick-drum magic with Khalid. That goes well when he opens up about his anxiety, but not when he’s wondering, “Does my raw emotion make me less of a man?” And of course, when record labels need to make a pop singer engaging, they call up folk-trap mainstay Charlie Handsome who uses his talents on “Bluffin’” to squeeze exactly one ounce of soul from Khalid’s monotony., Khalid is simultaneously a pop star of the past and the future. Like so many pop stars before him, his albums only amplify weaknesses that are difficult to detect when he’s only releasing a single every couple of weeks or months. But Khalid feels perfect for an era where some of the most popular music is popular because it fits onto Spotify playlists meant solely to be used as background noise. Free Spirit isn’t the coming of age album Khalid intended it to be, though in his nascent adulthood he has mastered something. Unfortunately, it’s the art of being innocuous.