Thursday, October 11th, 2018

Khalid – Better

I guess we just care a lot less about this guy when he doesn’t have a female duet partner.


Taylor Alatorre:With love, to the 915,” reads the single cover, a dedication to Khalid’s hometown of El Paso. Yet the lyrics contain no reference to El Paso or Texas or any place at all other than “down the street,” and the music is 2010s urban contemporary that bears no regional hallmarks. What gives? Well, I’ve lived in Texas virtually my entire life, and I’ve never been to El Paso. It’s 600 miles from where I am, separated by long stretches of highway with no gas stations or rest stops. In a state where road trips are part of the secular faith, the Trans-Pecos is so isolated that it may as well be on another continent. Khalid has chosen to breach this isolation not through detailed Drake-esque travelogues, but by distilling a homegrown romance into a cozy song that sounds like it could’ve come from anywhere. In part this is in keeping with his American Teen persona, but it also could stem from a desire, like his collaborator and kindred spirit Lorde, to have his reminiscences of life in a fringe town validated by mainstream exposure. All across America, and the world, kids are falling in love with each other right now, living through the same storylines with minute variations. Here is an end credits-worthy R&B jam, complete with vocoder, to celebrate that fact. The 915 could be your hometown, too.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: A spiritual successor to “OTW” right down to how crucial the drums are in lifting this from bedtime music to bedtime music. The sappier tone and lack of features make it less interesting though and transforms any sleeping together back to sleeping, period. The vocoder’d outro is a nice touch but it’s at odds with the nostalgic intimacy of the sampled talking that opens the track. It feels excessive and brash, betraying everything the song was slowly building up to; if we had simply been left with another sample that found two people talking together then Khalid would have been able to complete the narrative arc, bridging a gap between the plea and its evidence, between platitudes and truth, between art and life.

Alfred Soto: To listen to “Better” and expect euphoria or even the pleasant feeling that you scratched an itch is to hope for moderation from Donald Trump’s supporters. Self-loathing in the VIP room ain’t what it used to be, nor are house piano and trap beats.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Khalid’s weaknesses as a performer — his disengaged tone, his inability to emote in any direction without sounding at least a little weepy — were covered by his deft songwriting and interesting production choices on the best tracks off of American Teen. But shorn of the Southwestern-tinged guitars of “Cold Blooded” or “Location” or the dancing melody of “Young Dumb and Broke,” the Khalid of “Better” just seems boring. The problem is exacerbated by the beat itself, which is the kind of thing that a more adept performer like Jeremih or Ty Dolla Sign would tear up without second thought — when the vocoder solo comes in at the end, it swallows our singer up rather than elevating him.

Will Adams: “Nothing feels better than this” slurred as if he’s just finished a fifth rum-n-Coke has to be ironic, right? Either way, “OTW” nailed the feeling of cruising together in the back of a called car, both in a late-night haze but excited by the promise of the night continuing on, while “Better” is lethargic and needs to be put to bed.

Alex Clifton: I feel like somewhere out there there’s going to be one of those YouTube caption videos where they try to discern what exactly Khalid is singing, since it sounds like he’s drunk with a mouth full of marbles for much of the song. It’s a shame because the rest of the song is so well-produced but they’ve done his vocals a real disservice here.

Stephen Eisermann: The chill, laid back R&B production and beat serve Khalid’s voice well, but this is just an elongated interlude. Nice to listen to, sure, but it should serve as nothing more than a thematic transition between album tracks because it’s not very interesting. 

Katherine St Asaph: Khalid’s normally a distinctive vocalist and songwriter; why does he sound like he’s been given a Bieber song?

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