Living with anxiety often feels like having a ball and chain shackled to your feet.
It’s like an invisible weight that stops you from enjoying—or even attempting—things that appear to come so effortlessly to other people, whether it’s as torturous as speaking in public or as trivial as going through the check out instead of using the self-service machine at the store.
I say that from personal experience, which means I’m also familiar with that terrifying decision you eventually force yourself to make: do I keep avoiding these triggers and be content—not necessarily happy, just content—or do I fight this shit and live life to the fullest, as they say?
Sometimes you’re able to pick that ball up and launch it further than you ever thought possible, other times you just don’t have the strength to move it. Oh well, this is me.
Watching Syd Bennett’s evolution has been a source of inspiration, though—and I’m probably not alone.
When The Internet—the now-five-piece band she started with fellow Odd Future collaborator Matt Martians—first formed in 2011, Syd (then known as Syd Tha Kyd) was an auspicious talent but had yet to develop a presence. On the group’s dreamy debut Purple Naked Ladies, Syd felt more like a backing vocalist than a commanding lead singer. It was clear she had yet to find confidence in this new role.
“I didn’t feel comfortable singing over a two-track,” she recalled of those early days in a VIBE cover story in 2015. “I can’t sing. It was going to be like some American Idol stuff.” When it came to bringing the music to life on stage, Syd’s pre-show nerves would kick into overdrive, as you can imagine. “Before, I would go crazy inside,” she said. “My anxiety would get out of control and I would have to meditate and be by myself.”
Ask most people to sing in front of a crowd and they’ll probably run a mile, but it was hardly a surprise to discover that Syd wasn’t exactly Miss Popularity in high school. “I was a loner, I spent the first half of high school alone,” she toldLA Weekly in 2012. “I was extremely depressed at Palisades, I won’t say that switching school even helped that completely.”
You might be tempted to point to Syd’s sexuality as a source of her depression (“My mom wasn’t expecting me to end up how I ended up”), but according to Syd, she was just sad.
“It started in ninth grade. I would start crying for no reason. I don’t know what it was,” she told VIBE. “I was a loner though so that might have had something to do with it, but I don’t think so. I wouldn’t be thinking about that kind of stuff when I was really sad. I would just get really sad out of nowhere and not be able to control it.
“I really believe it was some sort of chemical imbalance because I was diagnosed with like manic depression, at one point,” she added. “I took antidepressants [while I was on tour with Odd Future]. The first couple of tours with The Internet I was on them too.”
How things have changed.
In 2015, The Internet released their third—and most complete—album, Ego Death, which was nominated for a GRAMMY for Best Urban Contemporary Album (it was beaten out by The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness). Beyond the rich blend of funk, soul and R&B production, Syd’s vocal performances shone throughout. That timid, anxious girl from Purple Naked Ladies had blossomed into a sexy, self-assured star.
Dare I say “Girl” is what Aaliyah might sound like if she was alive today (sexual orientation notwithstanding)?
It’s a similar story on stage, where those pre-show panic attacks are a thing of the past. Now, only confidence and charisma runs through Syd’s veins while performing. “Bennett flirted with the crowd, peeking at them through her heavily lashed eyes, shooting sly smiles at fans and gently lifting her chin to acknowledge those she knew,” wroteThe New York Times last year.
Perhaps the biggest sign of Syd’s growth will be her solo debut album, Fin, which is set to arrive next month (February 3, to be exact). Featuring collaborations with Hit-Boy, MeLo-X and fellow Internet member Steve Lacy, the project is “more mainstream” and “like something you might hear on the radio,” according to Syd.
That’s certainly true of the album’s first single, “All About Me,” which was released yesterday. The song finds Syd straddling the line between singing and rapping over dark, moody production—think Tinashe meets Timbaland. You can tell Syd has been bumping Drake heavy, because each line sounds like a ready-made hook for Aubrey’s next hit: “Take care of the family that you came wit / We made it this far and it’s amazing / People drowning all around me / So I keep my squad around me.”
Fin is a bold departure from the winning formula of Ego Death, not least because of the negative connotations associated with tailoring your music for the “mainstream.” But if “All About Me” is any indication, we’re about to witness Syd stepping into the spotlight on her own, proudly declaring, “that’s ’cause it’s all about me.”
So, what’s Syd’s secret? What was the major breakthrough that helped her overcome her anxiety and depression, and grow into the confident solo star we see today? The answer is: there isn’t really one, other than practice, persistence and her passion for music.
“Just practice. There’s no substitute for practice and experience,” Syd told VIBE. “Doing shows is the best practice I think because that’s where it counts. I’m starting to get very confident in my abilities to the point where I’m not nervous before shows.” That improved self-belief bled over into the music, too. “There’s a lot more confidence in [Ego Death] and a lot of that came from having the confidence to get up in front of a bunch of people and sing even when I don’t feel like it," she said in a separate interview with Noisey.
Maybe the only real epiphany Syd had was learning to love who she is, rather than who she’s supposed to be. “We did a US tour the end of last year. I had hired a new vocal coach because I felt like I wasn’t good enough still,” she toldRBMA last year. “That tour was so stressful. I was trying to be somebody else. After that tour, I was like, ‘Fuck this shit. I’m just going back to how I used to sing.’ It’s the easy shit. The shit that’s easy for me. My whole world opened up. Just do you.”
2017 marks roughly three years since Syd has been off antidepressants. There’s no guarantee she won’t need them again, but with her debut solo album—and The Internet’s Ego Death follow-up—on the horizon, Syd will only continue to grow into her skin, as an artist and a person. “I’m happy. I was really depressed back then. I’m not anymore.”
As heavy as that ball may seem, Syd's journey is a reminder to never give up fighting for happiness.
By Andy James. You can follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Fuck Justin