Grammy-nominated singer Khalid has a new album coming out, and the first single, “New Normal,” is as smooth and breezy as a summer afternoon, which is weird because the video that accompanies the track is pretty much a venture capitalist’s dream come true.
The video depicts a futuristic utopia full of skyscraper gardens, autonomous vehicles, drone deliveries, and smart homes. Khalid’s video is brimming with real products from real companies, not generic versions — a sign that the singer maybe had some input from Silicon Valley in crafting his love letter to our surveillance capitalist nightmare of a future.
You know things are off to an interesting start when Khalid, rocking some sick blueish purple hair, rolls up to his apartment in a robotaxi from autonomous vehicle startup Zoox. The company, which is owned by Amazon, only just unveiled the toaster-shaped driverless shuttle last December. It’s not even available to the public yet, but in Khalid’s imagined future, the road is teeming with Zoox shuttles — and only Zoox shuttles. (I was tipped off to the video by a PR representative from Zoox, but have yet to receive a reply as to whether the company paid for the product placement.)
As Khalid dances through the interior of LA’s Bradbury Building (made famous by Blade Runner, a more realistic version of the future), other people are inserting packages into drones that buzz around the building’s vast atrium. Why are the drones inside the building? Won’t they just smash into the skylight? Is there some kind of rooftop portal for the drones that managed to get installed despite the Bradbury Building’s designation as a national historical landmark in 1977? These and other questions go unanswered as Khalid continues to lazily shimmy through the song.
The singer then enters what I can only describe as a sanitized version of Korben Dallas’ apartment in The Fifth Element (another more accurate depiction of our chaotic and punitive future compared to this). The room is barely bigger than a closet, but the walls are lined with hydroponic plants, which I guess is supposed to make us feel better about living in what’s basically a well-lit coffin. Khalid uses a spray bottle to water his plants. We still have spray bottles in the future!
But maybe I spoke too soon, because the next shot shows us an automatic watering system activated by Khalid’s PS5. Again, this raises a lot of questions: how far into the future can this be, if he still has a PS5? Maybe he’s into retro consoles? And why would the PS5 be controlling his water filtration system? Is it now a smart home hub? I’m so confused.
Outside, swarms of knee-high delivery robots jockey for space on the sidewalk. The marketing team at Starship Technologies must be kicking themselves over their failure to get their brand name in this video. Khalid sings into some sort of smart home panel on his wall, and his vocals are transmitted through the delivery robots apparently. Not sure how I feel about sidewalk robots that sing while also trampling our toes, but let’s move on.
Then, in what appears to be a particularly shameless moment of product placement, the singer remotely pays for something on his smart home panel (for what? it’s unclear) using Chime, a startup said to be worth $14.5 billion. Does anyone actually use Chime? Khalid sure does. Who needs the Cash app? Only the finest fintech for our guy.
As the video winds down, we end on the image of Khalid opening his blinds to see a giant billboard outside his window advertising rocket trips. It’s a little unclear what the ad is selling. A 90-minute rocket trip to the moon would be really, really fast. Probably too fast for any of the quasi-realistic tech featured in this video. Is it point-to-point commercial rocket travel between LA and New York, in the vein of Elon Musk’s aborted idea from a couple years ago? If that was the case, 90 minutes would be too long. Is Khalid’s record label, RCA, sponsoring these rocket trips? Color me skeptical.
Khalid’s unabashed love for Silicon Valley culture shouldn’t be that surprising. After all, the singer debuted his single “New Normal” during a live performance at Virgin Galactic’s spaceflight launch, which sent Virgin CEO Richard Branson to the very edge of space. He clearly has a soft spot for huge, multinational companies seeking to alter the fabric of our reality.
But while the video may be unrestrained in its romantic feelings for Big Tech’s quest to dominate our lives, the lyrics are actually a little more nuanced, even kind of defeatist. “Although I can’t promise you much / You’ll be finе, you’ll be fine,” Khalid croons. I really hope that turns out to be true.