Khalid’s Free Santa Monica Show Shut Down The Pier And Beach For A Half Mile

Update: An independent crowd-counting firm was hired to survey the crowd and found that officials overestimated the crowd size at 60,000. This story has been updated to reflect the corrected tally at 25,000.

I’ve been going to the Santa Monica Pier’s Twilight Concert Series for about three years, ever since I discovered it by total accident in 2015, and so far I’ve seen Alina Baraz, Mayer Hawthorne, Protoje, and The Ohio Players all perform there. But I have never, never seen anything like teenage sensation Khalid’s set Thursday night. The set not only shut down the pier, something I hadn’t seen from longer established acts, it proved one thing beyond a shadow of a doubt: Khalid is a legitimate superstar.

Since I’ve been to so many Twilight Series concerts, I consider myself sort of a vet. I know the perfect spot to stand on the pier to catch the best audio, I know which of the various craft beers on tap in the beer garden are the tastiest, I’m cool with many of the security staff and vendors. So, I thought it would be fine to show up around 8 PM, as the headliner set generally doesn’t begin until around 9:30.

This turned out to be a mistake, as by then, not only had access to the pier itself basically been cut off, there was hardly a single square foot of space on the beach below, for almost three blocks away from the stage. As local news reports show, the entire area was overrun with about 25,000 people, it was so packed that it shut down the beach and police even suggested avoiding the area:

Khalid went on right at 9:30, and by then, I had finagled my way onto the pier, but security absolutely refused to allow any access past the barricades into the performance area. I watched desperate teens cut through the zip ties on the fence to sneak into the venue, bargaining with security guards, police officers, and custodians to let them bypass the barricades, and stand on each others’ shoulders to see over the tarps on the fences. Finally, they resorted to trying to cut down the tarps altogether to get a better view.

When Khalid ran through fan favorites like “Young, Dumb, and Broke,” “Let’s Go,” “Saved,” and his mega-smash “Location,” it seemed like the entire crowd knew every word. One girl even hit me with the traditional elders’ signature phrase, “What do you know about that?” in the weirdest moment of role reversal I’ve ever felt in my whole life. Ironically, before my job meant I had to know about new recording artists before the general public, I had already known about the young, up-and-coming singer from an engaging, if raw first performance at ComplexCon in 2016. I knew then, seeing his ease with working the much-smaller crowd, that he was a star in the making.

But who could ever have known how big he’d become, or how quickly? From that 100-person show in a convention hall in Long Beach, Khalid has gone on to appear on the Ellen, James Corden, and BBC1 Radio shows, appeared in Rolling Stone and The Fader magazines, and released a slew of singles, the most popular of which, “Location,” has over 70 million views on YouTube. He’s worked with Lil Wayne, Calvin Harris, and Rae Sremmurd, all in the less than 12 months since “Location” first began to bubble among the cool kids on the internet.

Now, it’s confirmed: He’s a legitimate superstar, with the kind of juice to force Santa Monica police to issue advisories to avoid the pier due to the traffic caused by his set. His first album, American Teen, debuted in the Top 10 on The Billboard 200, and “Location” currently sits at 16 on the Hot 100 — almost 12 months after it first released in 2016. Khalid has proven to be the name to follow in 2017, as the world waits to see what he does next. Whatever that is, one thing is for sure: He’s going to need some bigger venues.