Monday, February 11th, 2019

Julia Michaels ft. Selena Gomez – Anxiety

This doesn’t work for us…


Juana Giaimo: I’m glad artists are starting to be open about their mental health, but I wish “Anxiety” didn’t sound just like a campfire song. The acoustic indie pop feeling of the late ’00s — it even features claps and rustic backing vocals at the end — sweetens a song that I’m not sure needs to be sweet.

Stephen Eisermann: I always appreciate songs like this that try to destigmatize mental health, but there’s something pretentious about the melody and production on this track that I can’t pinpoint. Although Gomez puts that weird affect on her voice, both she and Michaels do offer honest interpretations of the track, but something still feels off. Like trying to enjoy yourself during a bout of depression, I so badly want to love this track, but all I can manage to do is like it.

Thomas Inskeep: As someone who lives with depression and anxiety, I appreciate that Michaels, a dull songwriter and worse pop singer, is attempting to write/sing about mental illness. But then she brings her pal Selena Gomez, who may actually be a worse singer, to join in. And she forgot to have anyone produce “Anxiety,” which sounds like a bedroom demo. Oh, and lyrically, the song is garbage. (Musically, it barely exists.) So I’d give this about a “C” for effort, but that doesn’t change the fact that I hate this thoroughly and completely.

Will Rivitz: There aren’t many hard-and-fast rules to good songwriting, but “Don’t do anything Colbie Caillat or Jason Mraz did fifteen years ago” should be one of them. (This took me ten minutes to make in Audacity.)

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The sparse arrangement and guitar playing is meant to recall “Uh Huh,” surely. With the removal of the drop goes with it all its magnetic energy, but this contrast does allow “Anxiety” to highlight how the same person can inhabit these two disparate modes of thinking. While this is a fun kumbaya for a generation of people open about mental health, the affected vocalizing isn’t particularly engaging as a musical element — Selena’s part, for example, finds her rehashing the “Bad Liar” talk-singing to diminishing returns. Oh well, it’s still a good enough song you can tweet alongside the word “mood.”

Alfred Soto: The gritted teeth delivery is supposed to suggest suppressed anxiety, and the basic guitar strumming, jaunty almost, is supposed to create tension, but the melody and lyrics would make for an okay aspirin or a Farmers Insurance commercial. The cure is spending money on shit. 

Crystal Leww: I’m not so into how twee the production here sounds — like Lily Allen in the late aughts — but I am kind of interested in Julia Michaels attempting to carve out space for herself as a the every-girl pop-ish artist so openly grappling with mental health in her songs. Teaming up with Selena Gomez makes a lot of sense. Has there ever been a pop star that so blatantly wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear from the public eye quite like Selena G? 

Jonathan Bradley: Twee bullshit can be wonderful, but this mannered bourrée of wandering guitar and logorrhea only proffers mental health trouble as shareable content. Tethering together rehearsed asides and faux-cutesy metaphors (“holding hands with my depression”), its candor is descriptive not evocative. Selena Gomez has the more irritating lyric, but she’s the better actor of the two, and at least wrings a half-believable character out of her false starts and faltering tones. The song, however, is a public service announcement in search of a personality. Retweet if you agree.

Iris Xie: If you take Twitter hot takes, Instagram self-love image shares, and Facebook self-disclosures, all about mental health, it could lead to a good empowering song. However, “Anxiety” rips that apart and builds a suffocating container. It is a slow, excruciating take on the deep immersion of self-loathing and self-isolation. Michaels’s mumbling delivery, paired with her plodding guitar and boxed-in instrumentals, expresses the interiority of being trapped in isolated cognitive distortions. Unfortunately, Gomez is even worse, and has an awkward delivery that sounds more like a sketch comedy skit instead of a heartfelt testimony, that reveals a lack of ease with herself that would’ve been far more interesting to explore topically. However, lines such as “my friends don’t know what it’s like/they don’t understand why” and “I wish I could take something to fix it/I wish it were that simple,” are destructive, because there are no solutions here for its vulnerable fanbase. Nothing about going to therapy, unlearning unhealthy coping behaviors and survival mechanisms, or talking to friends for support. There are other songs that explore intense, isolated anxiety, or discuss anxiety in much more connected ways that can allow a listener to process and understand their experiences. But this is less of a song, and more of a cry for help.

Will Adams: Maybe the chirpy backing and odious attempt at relatability in the final “I love this song!” exclamation (this song’s analog to “WHO CAN RELATE”) are intentional and meant to evoke the same alienation felt when scrolling through feeds on a Sunday morning, watching everyone else be connected and valued and adored while you lay, inert, on your bed, as you acknowledge that you have nothing to show since you stayed in this weekend, again, and it’s just another weight to plunge you further into your ever-present fear that you’ve wasted everything that’s been given to you until now, and you aren’t worthy of any further investment or love or even life. Or maybe it’s just a cynical garbage fire.

Katherine St Asaph: A novelty of a credit — think “Bonnie McKee ft. Katy Perry” — and some endearing vocal delivery wasted on a campfire strum and the cuddliest-bunny depiction of anxiety and depression. I don’t know either artist’s inner life, only what’s on record; and I do get why so many depictions of mental health are this anodyne: to show that it can affect even people with seemingly great lives. But it’s hard not to suspect the commercial intent was to excise anything genuinely scary, alienating, or unrelatable by the “good” ones, resulting in a fantasy of anxiety without consequences. Anxiety means people disappear from your life, or you disappear them. Your friends don’t ask you to the movies but silently block you on Facebook so you won’t contaminate their happy hours or rooftop barbecue invites: one more lifelong, irreversible regret. Your exes don’t say you’re “hard to deal with” but use stronger, nastier language; or perhaps are confused and heartbroken about being silently withdrawn from by a partner who only presented a painstakingly curated, secretly dissociated 10 per cent; or perhaps are abusers, because those people feed upon anxiety.You don’t overthink about FOMO but getting fired for ghosting work; or all the people you’ve alienated, running around out there like viruses spreading word of you; or perhaps how you can’t even motivate yourself to play Fortnite, let alone do useful things; or perhaps thousands of dollars sunk into therapy, prescriptions, or for some even hospitalizations. These are ugly, unmarketable (or are they) consequences of anxiety, and few people will relate to all of them; but for those who do, their absence from songs like this is the opposite of comforting. Even Logic, who just turned “1-800-273-8255” into an “I banged your mom” joke, was more forthright than this. He may have sung “I don’t want to be alive” like a jingle, a counterproductive earworm, but at least it acknowledged the fundamental fact that depression makes you want to die. It’s telling that the last words here are a giggly “I love this song!” When depression and anxiety get really bad, you don’t love songs. You don’t love anything.

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3 Responses to “Julia Michaels ft. Selena Gomez – Anxiety”

  1. Reading personal internet posts about mental illness is what made me realize that I needed professional medical help, but the problem I have with a lot of our current meme-based discourse around mental illness is that it’s self soothing wrapped up in the banner of healing. This is maybe a hardline take, but actually a .png with the words “everything is difficult so it’s okay if you did nothing today” on a pink background is both meaningless and probably also Glossier advertising. Not that I particularly think that art about mental self-destruction needs to come with walkthrough of CBT done in meter (cf. The Weeknd’s discography) but I find this “awareness” space that musicians seem to have taken up to be incredibly disingenuous as it contributes nothing to both the societal work of making institutions less harmful to the mentally ill and also the personal work of trying as hard as possible even though you’ll be sick until you die. Like Katherine said, it’s vulnerability as hashtag relatable commercial product. Plus, unlike Ariana’s breathin (which is not exempt), this song doesn’t even slap.

    Anyway I recommend Esmé Weijun Wang’s most recent essay “Yale Will Not Save You.”

  2. Will – the mashup is (too) perfect.
    Katherine – says things more beautifully than I will ever say them.

    Just listened to this for the first time and I couldn’t even make it all the way through because it felt so discordant, not in a purposeful way, but up there with “Wap Bap” in terms of weirdness. There’s a lot of great writing in here; nice job y’all.

  3. like just a few hours ago I found out people were upset with me over a grammys post I wrote. this is not “your friends like you and want you to go to the movies with them,” it’s “people are discussing publicly the ways in which you suck.”