If you’re an R&B fan and you don’t know Summer Walker, download her 2019 album Over It, right now — and thank me later.
Now that we have that sorted out, let me tell you about her BET Awards duet with Usher that proved to be the sexiest performance of Sunday night’s annual awards, which were held virtually. But first some backstory, so you get the whole picture.
Summer released her debut album Over It in September of last year, breaking the record for most-streamed R&B album for a female artist in its first week, a record previously held by Beyoncé for Lemonade. After the album dropped her label immediately sent her out on tour, despite the fact that she struggles with anxiety, and that manifests hard through stage fright. She even named the North American trek, The First and Last Tour, which was a cute way to laugh at herself until the tour went south, and fast.
There were complaints she wouldn’t interact at meet and greets, barely speaking or standing in close proximity to the fans. Not to mention the fan videos from inside the concerts that started going viral on social media. She would either look scared or uninterested. I remember at her Toronto tour stop fans were left standing outside the venue for hours (at the end of November mind you) and it was rumoured to be because she was hanging out with Drake — he remixed one of her songs in 2018. She denies that rumour. Shortly after Toronto she cancelled all remaining dates.
The point is, her social anxiety by all accounts is crippling. But since the BET Awards were virtual this year, the performances had no audience, and Summer thrived. Where some artists would blunder, she commanded “Come Thru,” her hit song which both features Usher and samples his 1997 song “You Make Me Wanna…” Delivering a dreamy duet which painted the picture of a girl in love, sitting in her room (or maybe sitting on “Top Of The World” because the hair was giving me serious Brandy vibes, or Janet Jackson in “Together Again”!) singing about a crush while her crush was sitting in his room singing about her, it was so 90s, and sexy as hell, all while still social distancing.
The performance quickly became a trending topic on Twitter, because it’s a far cry from the last time we saw Summer at an awards show, where she won Best New Artist at the Soul Train Awards, and delivered a painfully awkward 13 second acceptance speech that became one of the hottest memes of 2019.
The memes were funny, and Summer even reposted some, but I’m not trying to make fun of her anxiety or anyone else’s. Some artists make amazing music, but don’t thrive in the spotlight. Unfortunately the real money is made off touring these days, but I hope Summer doesn’t let her label push her to do anything she’s not mentally prepared for. It wasn’t a great experience for the fans, but more importantly it looked like it was an even worse experience for her.
I hope the pressures of the music industry don’t drive her out of it. In February, she claimed 2020 would be her last year making music, but looking back at what she delivered with her first album, R&B fans can’t wait to see what she would do on round 2. I hope this performance is a sign of things to come.