Those who live in the city speak of it like the plague. When the first Metra trains of Lollapalooza weekend roll in, they bring as ballast seas of decommissioned sports jerseys and hastily-applied flash tattoos, the breaking crest of a wave of teenage restlessness borne from Midwestern suburbia. As an expatriate of Chicago’s collar counties, I recognize my own role in feeding this trend with a mixture of guilty self-awareness: Time and time again, I’ve found myself reluctantly entrapped by a romanticized picture of young adult life, the type of feeling that causes a 19-year-old (and, judging by the crowd, many of his cohort) to feel nostalgia for better days past. Khalid’s attempt to capture that feeling in his performance early Thursday evening was a smashing success.
The set itself was standard fare, authentic but understandably expected of a festival act. Khalid knows his brand, and he set up the tone of his show early on with “8teen” and “American Teen.” The tracks were milk smooth, as though they had leapt straight from the studio to the speaker system. Though accompanied by colorful backdrops and a host of charming dancers, he wasn’t afraid to strip things down as the show progressed, punctuating the show with slower songs such as “Coaster.” A couple of changes of pace in the otherwise fairly consistent show were the two collaborations, where the singer brought onto stage Alina Baraz for “Electric” and Normani for “Love Lies.” Still, the show as a whole was mellow and moderate, consistent and perhaps a touch lethargic in the way a summer vacation spent lying in one’s room might be. The anthem of the modern teen, Khalid seems to suggest, isn’t so much an anthem as a lullaby.
Great performances have a way of enveloping the area, enclosing the space with an artist’s trademark atmosphere, and this set was no different. As Khalid invited his guests on stage, he was interrupted by several members of the crowd who had scaled the precipitous heights of nearby sound towers. Whether or not he noticed the recklessness going on around him, the singer made no mention. With his signature nonchalance, he pressed on, leading the audience in in a singalong rendition of “Young, Dumb & Broke.” When the climbers finally made their descent, those around me engaged in a collective shrug. It was just as Khalid had prescribed: They were young, dumb, though thankfully not broken, heedless in a way that the young adults inhabiting his music are.
Whatever it is, Khalid showed us all tonight that he’s got it. I’m talking about the swagger that empowers a person to come onto the second largest stage at one of the largest festivals in the country in gray sweatpants and own it. I’m talking about the energy which compels a performer to jump into the routines of his dancers knowing full well he might botch them, but leaves grinning regardless. I’m talking about the indifference that leads a person to include visuals as disparate as a DDR game, burning flames, and a cartoon human sinking beneath water in a single presentation. Call it teenage exuberance. If you must be cynical, call it teenage hubris. Either way, Khalid has got it, and it’s wonderful.
There was something idyllic about watching the sun gradually creep below the Chicago skyline during Khalid’s performance this evening. The show wasn’t at all flashy or extravagant, and it quite frankly didn’t need to be. Perhaps it’s a bit ironic that Khalid was performing on the Bud Light stage when the majority of experiences he was singing about are long abandoned, ironed-out by the world by the age of 21. Then again, who in the audience would ever need to buy a drink when he’s pouring out teenage wistfulness as if on tap?
—Staff writer Rick Li can be reached at email@example.com.