SUMMER WALKER is undoubtedly the name on every R&B aficionados playlist.
Her debut album – ironically titled Over It – has solidified the singer as the rising R&B star to watch, with many excited to see what the future holds for the 23-year-old Atlanta native.
But, as with most things pertaining to women in the public eye, what starts off positively with praise and messages of solidarity, soon came crashing down as Summer and her struggles with anxiety became the topic of conversation, and how she is well and truly over the spotlight.
As a fellow introvert, seeing someone like Summer attain star status has been pretty admirable. Not everyone is able to shake off their anxiety and opt for an alter-ego Sasha Fierce style, and the idea that one can be an introvert and still be a “star” is something that I hadn’t quite witnessed before – particularly from a black female R&B singer.
As a fan of her music, many like myself had come to understand Summer’s struggles and were sensitive to her anxieties. But that all came to a halt when she announced plans to cancel a number of tour dates due to her social anxiety – the final straw for some casual fans and those on the Summer Walker hate train which dates back to her NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert in October.
During the 15-minute set, Summer performed acoustic renditions of her tracks including Girls Need Love and Playing Games.
While she put on a sublime vocal performance, some criticised her for what they perceived as a lack of enthusiasm, with one commentator stating “she looks like she’s tired of singing that song.”
The vocalist, who performed while clutching an emotional-support pink stuffed animal, later took to Instagram where she stated that she is “too real for this industry” and “y’all can have the music & ima just head out.”
Summer’s openness about her social anxiety continued to be a cause for debate when a fan shared her experience meeting the singer at a recent meet and greet in LA, revealing that she felt it was “disappointing” and that Summer could’ve been more engaging.
Summer responded once again to the critics, admitting that she values her personal space but that she “really APPRECIATE[s] y’all taking the extra time to meet me and share your stories. I tell everyone individually ‘thank you’, I spread love, we laugh & I give genuine compliments.”
Fast forward to a few weeks later and here we are as Summer’s most recent show of vulnerability has made headlines, with many criticising the cancellation of her shows despite her very valid reasons.
Summer’s frankness about her struggles with anxiety is pretty unprecedented in an industry that historically sees stars mask their pain and undertake a “show must go on” type of attitude.
Putting your mental and emotional wellbeing above all else is no easy feat – especially when facing commitments and the possibility of disappointing thousands and garnering online scrutiny. For Summer to put herself first in spite of this shows the value she places on her self care – and rightly so. After all, we have plenty of examples of artists burning out and their health being put at risk, particularly on tours.
In 2017, Justin Bieber announced the cancellation of his Purpose World Tour for the betterment of his mental health.
Equally, Zayn Malik canceled all of his Japanese tour dates in 2017, reportedly due to his battle with anxiety as did fellow X-Factor contestant James Arthur who cancelled a charity gig only hours beforehand earlier this year.
Additionally, a study from digital distribution platform Record Union, found that 73% of independent musicians suffer from symptoms of mental illness, with depression and anxiety being the main factors.
Hearing reports of celebrities dealing with anxiety may not be a surprise, but to see one so openly speak on this issue and make the decision to put their health first is pretty rare – and something we could all do more of.
How often do we burn out and run ourselves into the ground by putting work commitments before our mental health? The reality is, pretty often.
According to the Mental Health at Work 2018 Summary Report, 61% of employees have experienced mental health issues due to work or where work was a related factor.
Coupled with the fact that black women face an increased risk in terms of their mental health and still have limited access to services and support makes Summer’s admission even more poignant – and as a fellow black woman who has also struggled with anxiety – it’s refreshing to see.
So often black women are perceived as being “strong” and able to handle anything and Summer’s vulnerability and honesty continues to breakdown this stereotype as she places herself first in a world that often expects black women not to.
There’s a lot we can learn from Summer and her approach to work, artistry and self care. While we should respect and adhere to work commitments – and there’s definitely room for Summer to grow as a performer and an artist – we also need to prioritise our health and how neglecting it can inflict on our own wellbeing.
Summer may not be able to switch off her anxiety and put on a performance to your liking. But she is able to create great music and value her talent and most importantly, her health. And as consumers, we should be able to respect and value that too.