Summer Walker’s Fearlessly Vulnerable Still Over It Belongs In The Breakup Album Pantheon
There’s a real art to making a great breakup record. It’s the flip side of a love song, filled with the same amount of passion and physical attachment but now inverted and largely fueled by anger and grief. Just like the best love songs can recreate the goosebumps and floating sensation of falling for someone, the best breakup tracks can be like a re-twisting of the knife, or provide the consoling warmth of someone who knows exactly the pain you’re feeling.
Summer Walker has always excelled at capturing heartbreak. The mind games, the youthful indiscretion, the embarrassment, the trials and tribulations of falling out of love with people who don’t know how to handle you. Since arriving on the scene in 2018 with her first mixtape Last Day Of Summer, the Atlanta singer has been emotionally open and vulnerable in a way few people can be. Walker is one of the more dynamic artists in R&B today, with a syrupy sweet voice that perks an ear and hypnotizes listeners and a naked honesty in her words that packs real soul into her music. She’s not a pop brand, she’s a person — complicated, flawed, and occasionally maddening — but it’s that openness that makes her music that much more magnetic, particularly in the case of her new album Still Over It.
Speaking of that occasionally frustrating humanity, there doesn’t seem to be much that Walker is afraid to share. She’s been frank about her past as a stripper and her plastic surgery. She is very open, unfortunately, about her issues with vaccines and the COVID-19 pandemic. And she has been particularly forthcoming about the ups and downs of her courtship with Atlanta superproducer London On Da Track. Since working together on her debut album, 2019’s Over It, Walker and London have been in a highly public on/off relationship, which led to her having her first child earlier this year but has also been clouded by reports of London’s infidelity and prior issues with the mothers of his other children.
All of that is front and center on Still Over It, with Walker using the pain and complications of this relationship to make some of the best music of her career. Much like the previous Over It, London’s production makes up the bulk of the project, as it was in progress before their current split, and that tension only gives heft to the audaciousness of Walker’s ire. To paraphrase 2Pac, she “whoops his ass on his own beat.” If Lemonade was a mature voyage through the stages of grief that heartbreak can put you through, while still choosing forgiveness in the end, Still Over It is the more spiteful flip side: a musical journey of devastation and vengeance that still drips with the naivete of early adulthood, heartbroken but still horny and still hopeful that a fairy tale ending awaits after going through hell. Walker is not afraid to sing about her bitterness and insecurity, how much she resents the other women her man cheats with and having to hear about it on the Shade Room. It’s the soap opera of being a young, famous woman trying to find love in the music industry, and there’s something thrilling about her putting it all out there.
It helps that the songs are good. In a subgenre that can best be described as “vibes” R&B — a modernist vision of the blues that leans heavy on nostalgic references and sleepy, downtempo production artists like Drake and Frank Ocean have been at the forefront of — Walker is one of a handful who have stood out. It helps that she is an actual, traditional singer, one who outshines the track instead of being subsumed by it. Her voice is pronounced; she’s not trying to be cool and whisper through the record to cover deficiencies. She also understands good pop songwriting: Songs like “Ex For A Reason” and the Neptunes-produced “Dat Right There” are bouncy earworms built for parties or radio play (if that still exists) while still sticking to the concept of the record.
Still Over It is a worthy admission to the breakup album canon. Even if you don’t know the context, Walker makes it as explicit as she can, literally asking, “London did you screw this chick, for real?” on the opening track. But what makes it most effective is how direct she is in tackling her own insecurities that the relationship has exposed, detailing the fights and petty grievances that have built up as well as the toxic feelings she developed about herself because of their issues. “I would’ve played it just how you wanted to play it/ You didn’t yet see my worth, so you try to play me/ But I was so in love, love.” It’s a brave act to expose your turmoil in this way for the sake of art, but part of the beauty of a great breakup album is that feeling of exhaling after getting everything off your chest. It’s therapeutic, but on top of that it creates a connection with all those who have felt the same and who find validation through this art. How much that means to Walker I can’t know, but her success would indicate a long line of people her truth has spoken to.
This intense level of truth on wax is hard to capture effectively, and while Walker has a lot of very clear influences — from a Monica or Destiny’s Child to a Keyshia Cole, as well as peers like SZA, Kehlani, and Tink — the biggest throughline for this album is very obviously Mary J. Blige, an artist who both excelled at this hyper-vulnerable soul and went through her share of public and tumultuous relationships. It’s not a mistake that the cover of Still Over It is a reference to the shoot for Mary’s Share My World album, an only too appropriate association for Walker. And just like Mary J. Blige would’ve done, she takes heed of Cardi B’s words on “Bitter,” the album’s opening track: “Put that drama in your music. ‘Cause if bitches wanna get clout off you, you gonna get clout off them and you gonna put that shit in your music.” The drama made for great music, and all you can hope for is that it brings some absolution as well.