Khalid was his brilliant, charismatic self at 3Arena in Dublin, writes Ed Power
Khalid Donnel Robinson is a thoroughly modern sensation. A plug on Instagram from Kylie Jenner catapulted him into the pop stratosphere when he was straight out of high school in El Paso, Texas. He has since embarked on the ‘featuring’ merry-go-round that is the rite of passage for any aspiring megastar, appearing on records by Billie Eilish and Ed Sheeran, who joined him in London last week.
The 21-year-old’s own pop persona is of the crooning wallflower. He’s a bashful street kid, with a disarming smile and body language so chilled it’s a wonder he doesn’t take to the 3Arena stage with icicles dangling.
Khalid cut a fascinatingly low key figure at a sold-out show wedged between Ariana Grande’s three-night residency (support artist Mabel was spied at Grande’s concert the previous evening). His voice was a giddy and exhilarating croon. It proved a reliable spirit guide as he moved between wide-eyed confessionals and slow-motion bangers that seemed to bump and grind with balletic grace, as if underwater.
He came to Dublin after a UK tour that had seen him pelted with two-star reviews from baffled critics. The complaint appeared to be that he lacked “stage presence”. It would be more accurate to say he sidesteps the strutting, chest-puffing and the pandering too often a feature of modern arena concerts.
In a tie-dye t-shirt, his grin humble but broad, he instead radiated understated charisma. And he had the songs to back up his dialled down persona. 8Teen was an exuberant channeling of youthful zest with just a hint of autumn on the horizon. Location, the closest he comes to a romping anthem, slowly threatened to take the roof off the venue.
If there was a distraction it was his background hoofers. In a sequence of ever more outré outfits, they performed what verged ominously on “interpretive dance”. The impact was eye grabbing yet hard to square with the otherwise minimalist framing and Khalid’s lack of affect.
R’n b has become one of pop’s most slipstream genres. Khalid is in the recent tradition of Frank Ocean – an acknowledged influence – and the Weeknd in that he twists a familiar formula into fascinating new shapes. He cut too modest a figure to quite come over as lord of all he surveyed at 3Arena. But there was little doubt that we were witnessing the once and future prince of woozy psychedelic chart music live and, in the politest sense possible, unleashed.