First-round Grammy voting is currently underway, and running through October 10th. For our 2020 Grammy preview, we asked a series of likely contenders to reflect on their past experiences at the ceremony, look ahead to the future, and break down the albums and singles that could earn them a statue come February.
“I learned how to take myself less seriously after the Grammys,” says Khalid, the young pop star from El Paso. He was just 19 when he attended his first ceremony last year, fresh off the success of his breakout debut album. After a lifetime of dreaming about it, suddenly he was there, with a surprising five nominations. “it really did live up to the dream,” he says. Now, with the titanic Free Spirit out this year, he’s likely got more noms — and hopefully some wins — in the bag this time around.
You’re on tour right now. How’s it been going?
The tour’s been amazing, I actually think it’s my favorite tour I’ve done so far.
Is that just because you’re getting better at it?
No, I wouldn’t say that it’s because I’m getting better or anything like that, I just think it’s my mindset and energy that I’m going into this tour with. It’s the best that it’s been, and the crew is the best that it’s been, everybody involved down to production. I think I used to care too much, and now I just let everything become natural. I feel like when it’s natural, it’s almost like it doesn’t feel like work, and that makes it easier for me.
Is there anything you’re playing on this tour that you’re surprised by the response to?
Honestly, I feel like it’s probably a song that I usually choose not to play. I’m doing 31 songs on tour.
Yeah, 31 is a lot. The show is like two hours, almost two hours. And it was a hard decision to crack down the set list because we have so many songs. And my fans, I want to please everybody and there are songs that everyone has their own connection with. … One song that I stopped singing is one of my songs called “Heaven.” I stopped singing it because I felt like the moment of the show I did sing it, I felt like it was a very slow moment for me. And every time I don’t sing it, I get so many comments, “Why didn’t you sing this? I want to hear ‘Heaven.'” Well … it’s not on the set list.
You can only do what you’re feeling when you plan a set list.
Exactly. And I added a Fleetwood Mac cover to the setlist, just because I love it a lot. “Dreams” is my favorite song, literally, in the existence of songs.
That’s a good pick.
I sing it every night. I sing that song every night because I just love channeling my inner Stevie Nicks.
When you attended your first Grammys, how did you decide what you were going to wear?
I feel like wearing more color is a little more in tune with my personality. I wore this green turtleneck and pinkish suit.
How does performing at the Grammys differ from your normal shows?
I get bad anxiety performing at award shows. I get in my head, where it’s one shot, and you start to look at the name: the Grammys. It’s so prestigious, there’s so many iconic performances, I just get into my head so much that I beat myself up.
You were really young the first time you went.
I think I was around 19 — 19 years old when I went. It was nuts. I’m just such a fan of music, so me going as a 19-year-old, I was definitely overwhelmed. All of these people are so deserving, it’s awesome to be around so many people who are all equally nominated and have all dreamed about this moment.
When did you hear about your nominations? What was that day like?
It was like Christmas. Going to sleep the night before but you can barely sleep, and you just feel shaken a little bit because you’re so nervous. I woke up early. So early, and went straight to my phone, saw those text messages, called my mother and broke the news to her. We had a very good phone conversation about it all. My dream came true. It’s very rare.
Were you surprised by how many nominations you got?
I was hoping that I got one. When I made American Teen, I talked a lot about the Grammys with my team — my manager’s lock screen is a Grammy. I can’t say I was expecting anything because you can’t really expect things like that, either it happens or it doesn’t. I just saw that I got one, and then one turned into two and then that turned into five. I was like, ‘Well, shit.’
Out of the five, was there a nomination that meant the most to you?
Best New Artist. The year that I was nominated, there were so many amazing artists that were nominated with me. People who inspire me were in the same category I was.
Did you feel any disappointment when you didn’t win any that year?
I wouldn’t call it disappointment. It was acceptance. I didn’t win, but it wasn’t my time to win. Especially at my age, I feel like if I’d won a Grammy, I would have became a little bit complacent. I didn’t walk into the Grammys expecting to win. I didn’t. I didn’t expect to leave with anything. I just loved the fact that I was there.
It leaves something for you to work towards.
Yeah! It keeps the goal open. I love challenging myself and pushing myself, exceeding my limits. I wouldn’t have wrote “Talk” if I had won a Grammy. I wouldn’t have wrote “Better” if I had won a Grammy. I wouldn’t have written Free Spirit, an album I love so much, if I had won a Grammy. It wasn’t my time, it wasn’t supposed to happen, and it brought a lot of good.
Last question. Do you have any ideas for your red carpet look for next year?
I think I’m going to be a little more grown [laughs]. Be on my grown-man shit. I think I might wear another suit, but maybe with just a small pop of color instead of the whole thing.
Closer to a tux?
Yeah, like on some “I mean business” type shit.