Since breaking out with “Location” in 2016, Khalid has focused on trying to establish himself as a pop powerhouse. This makes sense, as there are more opportunities available in the pop space than in any other arena; the difficulty is that historically, only a handful of non-white performers have been allowed to compete there.
Khalid has eased his way in. He worked with the Lorde collaborator Joel Little on shiny singles like “Young Dumb & Broke;” he made living in his parents’ house cool again on the crisper-than-crisp “8Teen.” His amiable debut album, American Teen, was well-received and went on to sell 1.2 million copies in 2017, making it one of the ten biggest albums of the year. Since then, Khalid has continued to expand his reach by contributing vocals to songs by artists who have already enjoyed pop success, like Fifth Harmony’s Normani and Halsey.
Suncity covers some of the same ground as American Teen, but with less exuberance. These tracks tend to sound similar: Somber, swelling melodies, often laid out with a few piano chords or a simple guitar lick; lyrics that hint at various forms of angst but remain vague enough to be all-encompassing; a reassuringly steady mid-tempo beat. The song “Vertigo” offers melodic shades of Coldplay, with well-worn lyrics: “Are we better off believing what the ignorant suggest?/ I wish living life was easier, but mine has been a mess.”
On several songs, Khalid appears to be auditioning for future collaborations. “Saturday Nights” is acoustic and breezy; if he added Sam Hunt to a remix, this would be a country hit. Suncity‘s title track, a duet with Empress Of, allows Khalid to practice his Spanish over a reggaeton-lite beat.
It’s hard to be all things to all people, and in his pursuit of the center, Khalid has left one group behind — the singer hasn’t had a hit on R&B/rap radio since “Location.” But his strategy is working: Khalid is all over the Top 40 chart. Suncity will allow him to continue to build a presence there.