The musical nods to that time are heaviest on the album’s first half, which is almost sugary in its commitment to the synthetic. What grounds it is Khalid’s singing, which unfolds in slow, syrupy drops. He doesn’t sing with power, only internal grace and calm, even when he’s just blowing off teenage steam, like on “8TEEN” and “Let’s Go.” Some of his songs, like “Coaster” and “Hopeless,” are elegantly structured enough to be delivered by a Sam Smith or an Adele, but the production on this album — most notably by Hiko Momoji and Syk Sense — saves Khalid from square corners and sharp edges.
Mostly, he muses over connections that are on the fritz. “I’ll keep your number saved/’Cause I hope one day you’ll get the sense to call me,” he sings on “Saved,” then, contemplating how long that might take, pivots: “I’ll keep your number saved/’Cause I hope one day I’ll get the pride to call you.”
This, like a few other songs here — Khalid wrote almost all the lyrics on the album — are worthy additions to the body of music about how technology and love overlap. “Location” is a prime example of that — a song about begging for his lover to drop a pin and give him coordinates. Here, he wants to take flirtation from the virtual to the tangible: “I don’t wanna fall in love off of subtweets so/let’s get personal.”
The sultry “Location” was Khalid’s breakthrough — a hit on Kylie Jenner’s Snapchat, naturally — but it’s not totally representative of his approach, which tends to operate in that space between bluster and reserve.
In that way, and also in his delivery and production choices, he’s part of a larger remaking of R&B, an inheritor of, in different ways, the Weeknd’s early narcotic mixtapes; the light romantic gloom of Bryson Tiller’s debut album; Sampha’s vulnerability; and, of course, the long tail lite-anarchism of the Odd Future collective as experienced through its R&B progressives, the internet and Frank Ocean.
That comfort with and dedication to youthful ennui is emerging in several places at once lately. It’s there on the beautiful “American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story” (Brockhampton) released late last year by Kevin Abstract, a wildly ambitious singer and rapper with strikingly subversive pop instincts. And London O’Connor’s debut album “ΟΔ,” which was self-released in 2015 but recently rereleased in remastered form on True Panther, is a dizzying, entrancing ramble through genre and style, full of naïve, ecstatic singing and smartly distracted raps. (“Love Song” even recalls the psychedelic hippiedom of P. M. Dawn.)
For Mr. O’Connor, like Khalid, the uncertainty of youth is a potent muse. The happily lost subjects of his single “Nobody Hangs Out Anymore” — “All my friends are on the net, and all my friends are in the net and all of us are out of it and none of us are into it” — are kin to Khalid’s meandering teens. They might as well be the ones at the end of “American Teen,” shouting along to that guitar: “My youth is the foundation of me/Oh, I’m proud to be/American.”Continue reading the main story
Consider, for example, the song “Creep,” by Radiohead. This is the 164th most popular song among men who are now 38 years old. But it is not in the top 300 for the cohort born 10 years earlier or 10 years later.
Note that the men who most like “Creep” now were roughly 14 when the song came out in 1993. In fact, this is a consistent pattern.
I did a similar analysis with every song that topped the Billboard charts from 1960 to 2000. In particular, I measured how old their biggest fans today were when these songs first came out.
It turns out that the “Creep” situation is pretty much universal. Songs that came out decades earlier are now, on average, most popular among men who were 14 when they were first released. The most important period for men in forming their adult tastes were the ages 13 to 16.
What about women? On average, their favorite songs came out when they were 13. The most important period for women were the ages 11 to 14.
Granted, some results of my research are not surprising. One of the facts I discovered is that Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” is extremely unpopular among women in their 70s. Thank you, Big Data, for uncovering that nugget of wisdom!
But I did find it interesting how clear the patterns were and how much early adolescence matters. The key years, in fact, match closely with the end of puberty, which tends to happen to girls before boys. This also adds one more piece of evidence to the growing scientific consensus that we never really leave middle school and high school.
For both men and women, their early 20s were half as influential in determining adult musical tastes as their early teens.
Of course, musical taste is not fully determined by when you are born, but the generational effects are large. And this data does give me the ability to predict what will happen this Wednesday, which is Valentine’s Day. My sophisticated econometric analysis tells me to expect 30-year-olds to celebrate with Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love,” 45-year-olds with Van Halen’s “When It’s Love” and 60-year-olds with Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”
It was fun to find patterns in the Spotify data. But actually they did little to explain my disagreement with my brother. “Born to Run,” it turns out, is not particularly popular among people of my generation. (I’m 35.)
In fact, my data analysis couldn’t explain where I got most of my musical taste. O.K., maybe I caught the Springsteen bug because I grew up in New Jersey. But why my obsession with Bob Dylan? Or Leonard Cohen? Or Paul Simon? Most songs I listen to came out well before I was born.
This research tells us that the majority of us, when we are grown men and women, predictably stick with the music that captured us in the earliest phase of our adolescence.
But it also adds one more piece to the central puzzle of my adult life: Why did I develop so abnormally?Continue reading the main story