Summer Walker deserves our admiration because I get it.
I know, it’s been said time and time again over the past few months and I’m probably beating a dead horse at this point. However, as someone who struggles with anxiety issues myself at times, I empathize with the twenty-three-year-old singer. During my tenure at UMD–which coincided with the height of my years as J dot Speed–I loved music. I lived music. I loved the feeling I got whenever I dropped a new song, whether it was received with props or with “meh” stares. However, I hated performing or even people really knowing who I was. It made my anxiety shoot through the roof.
I knew, however, that performing was part of artistry and people–even if it was just at a Juke Joint–expected some visuals to what I put down on (digital) wax. To cope with it, I’d usually get drunk before performing. I figured, “hey, if I’m wearing 151 Goggles, maybe I’ll just zone out and deliver an amazing performance. Then, I can slink away and get back to studying or whatever.” Sometimes, it worked. Other times, such as my performance at 2007’s Maryland Day or when I got the chance to meet Black Ice, it failed miserably.
Usually, though, I still felt the anxiety of being in front of a bunch of people, thinking about whether they were judging my attire, my lyrics, the fact that I was 5’7″ on a good day, etc. I disliked people coming up to me saying “Feel Me, from the East to the West!” or “Shawty in the blue, shawty in the red.” As much as I loved people knowing my songs and wanting to be a part of what I put out, it made me anxious to have people that close to me and my music, because part of me sometimes couldn’t tell if they were genuinely rocking with the songs or mocking them.
It sucked and it still sucks.
People would ask me “Speed, you can drop albums all day. Why do you hate performing? You go to bars and clubs on a regular basis. Why don’t you always get anxious there?” All I can say is this: anxiety is a tricky bastard. And there are levels to that shit. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all parameters within it. Different things trigger different people. I can release a ton of songs, and love to do so. I dropped three projects this year. You can ask me to talk about my (real) job to people and I can do so, no problem. I can cold call people and gather information with the best of them.
Now, ask me to perform a set and I’d probably have a panic attack on the inside during it and would sometimes need a drink afterwards to just calm down. True and Drizzle can attest to this, as they’ve both performed with me. I’ll go out with friends at times and have a blast. Ask me to do that every weekend and I’ll pass because, as the sober guy who deals with anxiety, a ton of large crowds of drunk people aren’t my move anymore. Hell, sometimes I get a little anxious just because I may not know everyone who Drizzle or White Jay invited to their house for Game Night.
Summer Walker was a dancer for a minute, but doesn’t want to do meet-and-greets. I get that. That’s her God-given right to not want that energy.
With strip clubs, if a person gets too handsy or verbally abusive or what have you, security will toss their asses out. I’ve seen it happen a few times. At a meet-and-greet, it’s kind of expected for people to hug up on you and want you to be sociable. This can go on for a few hours with no real breaks on top of possibly performing. At a strip club, a dancer will perform a set of 10-15 minutes at a time, with maybe a few minutes for a lap dance or a private room. That’s like 25-30 minutes of dancing at a time, then time to recoup and chill in the back or wherever.
During a concert, you’ve got hundreds or thousands of people staring at you, watching your every move, for at least an hour and a half. As an artist, you’ve got people watching your every move, hoping to catch you slipping. As a dancer, they may go in the club, dance, and leave. Maybe they’ll talk to a few people outside of the club, but they’re not widely exposed to the world most of the time. Yes, you’re partially or completely naked (depending on the club). However, when you leave, you’re away from the lights until you go back. Essentially, you are given a bit of anonymity still as a dancer.
Again, there’s levels to this shit.
For Summer Walker, with her anxiety issues, to still be able to get out there and not completely break down all the time is incredible. I want her to win. The anxious drunk J Dot Speed of old needs her to win. However, we’ve got to stop being so damn demanding of her (and of artists in general). As fans, some of us feel entitled to know everything about an artist or to have access to them 24/7. That’s partly because artistry is a reflection of self. When you create, you lose a bit of your privacy. It’s also because of the social media age making everyone more accessible to everyone else. In the old days, creatives didn’t have to worry about someone Snapchatting them eating or going on IG Live dissing them. Social media is a great tool for getting out there and connecting. But, as Big K.R.I.T. said on “Mixed Messages,” the negativity will make you break down–regardless of how “tough” you feel you are.
Her anxiety even comes through on her songs. It’s been discussed before, but if you listen to “Girls Need Love,” it sounds as if Summer’s trying to figure out the best way to say “hey, I’m horny and need some (sexual) attention.” But there’s apprehension about it because girls aren’t “supposed” to say that sort of thing. Without further possible mansplaining, the various women writers who’ve talked about Summer’s anxiety do a great job talking about her music as well (such as this piece from Vice).
In short, Summer Walker is an amazing artist and deserves all of the flowers she’s amassed in such a short time. But what she really needs is our love and understanding more than our confused stares and “outrage.” She needs us to say “hey, we get it. It sucks that we can’t see you on stage more, but we get that it freaks you the hell out. Our bad.” Mental health issues are a motherfucker and the less we stigmatize them, the better.
But that’s just my two cents on the whole deal, from one anxious artist to another.