Julia Michaels and Selena Gomez choose simplicity and frankness to convey their struggles with mental illness in “Anxiety.”
Stream: “Anxiety” – Julia Michaels, Selena Gomez
Most people are familiar with mental health as a topic nowaday: Mental illness has never been so widely spoken about, and as stigmas fade, more people are opening up about their struggles with mental illness. That said, it is still not a popular topic in music — at least not on Top 40 radio, and not in a literal manner. Thankfully, that’s about to change: In “Anxiety,” pop artists Julia Michaels and Selena Gomez take a simple approach to mental health, going to the very basics with no metaphors and no fancy words. They explain, in an unadorned fashion, what anxiety feels like in the most mundane situations.
The opening song off Julia Michaels’ sophomore EP Inner Monologue, Pt. 1 (released January 25, 2019 via Republic Records), “Anxiety” captures a nuanced and complicated topic with poetic grace and musical suave. A somber song dressed in cool garbs, “Anxiety” comes off as light but not lighthearted: It starts in a pure manner with sampled vocals and an acoustic guitar, which then make way for Michaels’ intimate lilt and conversational tone.
My friends, they wanna take me to the movies
I tell ’em to fuck off,
I’m holding hands with my depression
And right when I think I’ve overcome it
Anxiety starts kicking in to teach that shit a lesson
Through uncomplicated melodies and honest lyrical simplicity, the singer portrays a day-to-day situation, and how mental health disrupts it. She opens up in the pre-chorus, taking a more intimate approach and talking about the non-so-tangible side of anxiety and depression.
Feel like I’m always
apologizing for feeling
Like I’m out of my mind
when I’m doing just fine
And my exes all say that
I’m hard to deal with
And I admit it, yeah
The chorus is the culmination of her confessions. Michaels delves into her frustrations, how she feels misunderstood and hopeless. Her singing is tinged with a slight hue of desperation and restlessness.
But all my friends, they don’t know
what it’s like, what it’s like
They don’t understand
why I can’t sleep through the night
I’ve been told that I
could take something to fix it
Damn, I wish it,
I wish it was that simple, ah
Selena Gomez takes over in the second verse, continuing the narrative in an even more speech-like tone, which lets vulnerability shine through. Tastefully word painting, she sings about fear in a fragile fashion:
If you’re sad put your hand up
If you hate someone, put your hand up
If you’re scared, put your hand up
The bridge keeps repeating itself, as if mimicking the recurring thoughts Michaels and Gomez are singing about. The music subtly switches away from the hopelessness reflected until this point, replacing those emotions with confusion and uncertainty.
I got all these thoughts, running through my mind
All the damn time and I can’t seem to shut it off
I think I’m doing fine most of the time
I think that I’m alright, but I can’t seem to shut it off
Easy to listen to and lacking an unnecessary ornamentation, “Anxiety” comprises a raw account of what it is like to live with mental illness. Choosing colloquial language and transparent production, Julia Michaels connects to listeners on a level she has not explored previously, scoring yet another success.
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📸 © Clare Gillen