Summer Walker & The New R&B Archetype


“New R&B girls” is the phrase one Twitter user employed to categorize Summer Walker and ambiguous colleagues when critiquing the singer’s recent NPR Tiny Desk performance. The issue? A perceived lack of energy with the observation stemming from the fact that Summer remained nearly motionless during her appearance on the live showcase. What followed would be a classic web-based debate surrounding Walker’s exertion as a performer— or lack thereof.

Clips scattered across social media, though, did not reveal the moment where Walker admits to having social anxiety and that while she was excited to be there, nervousness guided her appearance: an interesting admission for an artist whose breakout jumped off the back of a song that celebrates fearlessness to an extent. Here enters the interesting duality of Summer Walker.

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In 2018, the songstress released “Deep,” signaling an official arrival from the newly-minted LVRN artist. Obscure artwork and a limited Instagram feed at the time fed into the growing trend of mystery often leveraged by R&B’s most poignant stars in the digital age. Those inclined to take a closer look, however, would get into an image counterintuitive to the traditional tropes of someone poised to be R&B’s next “it girl.” Unbeknownst to us all, face tats, a slew of piercings and charming quirks would be the combination paving the way toward “Girls Need Love” and a period that introduces audiences to a new way of consuming the topics of love and sex by way of R&B.

“R&B is so clean cut,” said LVRN’s Tunde Balogun while speaking at this year’s A3C Conference. “People don’t say what they wanna say. Summer is like, ‘Fuck all y’all.'”

Really, the sex-positive R&B anthem is nothing new, and we can easily source contemporary models that predated Summer Walker’s “Girls Need Love.” Ari Lennox did it before with “Backseat” and SZA traipsed these lines with “The Weekend.”

“Would you hit it how I like?” (Lennox), “Drop them drawers, give me what I want” (SZA), and “I just need some d-ck” (Walker) don’t seem too far off in their message, but the difference with Walker arrives in form, not function.

The fact of the matter is that there’s more mystery to the singer, presenting some pointless chase to wrap our heads around her story. When facing the kind of candor at the forefront of Walker’s artistry, there’s a natural desire to piece the puzzle via social media, which for most, will be the closest they ever get to the Atlanta siren.

An introvert with social anxiety and a routine of dodging public appearances, Walker’s career finds itself rooted in a documented desire to simply profit off of her art. Is that not the ultimate goal for most creatives, too? Whether or not they’re up front about it.

“She doesn’t want to be here,” is the sentiment echoed across social media by the legion of fans taking up in her defense against the aforementioned Twitter critic. But, even such justification seems to be ill-fitting. An active social media presence and genuine interactions present us with yet another disunion in the singer’s image. In fact, it seems that she’s doing her best to be here as much as she can.

The highs and lows weaved throughout Over It and the bodies of work that precede it are relayed in real time via social media. This appears to be an ironic circumstance at first glance, but a deep dive into her lyricism presents more clarification. Walker isn’t afraid to admit to being overzealous in a relationship, and not just with some radio-friendly hook that barely scratches the surface. 

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While on her First & Last Tour, the singer promptly announced her breakup with boyfriend and Over It executive producer London on Da Track before reversing the decision with a post that showed the Atlanta producer surprising Summer onstage with a stuffed animal and embrace before a throng of fans in London’s Electric Brixton venue. 

Summer Walker is known for being open, raw and direct. So, why wouldn’t she be the same in real life?

The reality is that love— R&B’s resilient emblem— is not always wrapped in a bow, and is easily the most volatile of all emotions. Walker, whether purposefully or not, is a superb example of broadcasting this both in the booth and day-to-day– her “messiness” (for lack of a better word) IRL and on social media reflects aspects about love we can’t necessarily enumerate, when love becomes difficult to grasp or understand but still, clicks

The dichotomy of Summer Walker presents us with the growing trend of sincerity that is leading the way for R&B’s next wave of stars. While she may be the most prominent, Summer Walker certainly isn’t alone in the group of women who are breaking out of the role of the traditional industry sweetheart. 

Ari Lennox is responsible for some the year’s smoothest outputs and makes it a routine to hop on Instagram Live with her curls out and not a drop of makeup in sight to give fans some of the purest entertainment you’ll find on the internet at the moment. Chicago’s Ann Marie, like Walker, sports a host of tattoos and flexes a gritty background all while delivering on ’90s-inspired slow jams.

The truth is, our favorite artists are a guiding light. For years, we have looked toward their lyrics for relationship and life advice packaged into Instagram-worthy captions and mantra-making verses. Now, it only makes sense that they begin to embrace the freedom of resembling the same women who are tuning in.


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