Sza’s Album Represents the Reality of Black Women’s Relationships

Issa and Lawrence talking after their breakup

When Sza’s album Ctrl came out last month Black Twitter was in uproar. I’ve listened to her music for a few years now but her most recent album took her to mainstream charts. Most artists have their breakthrough success from music about relationships — — more specifically, music about breakups. They are the most relatable and who can deny the lyrics of love and heartbreak, it’s universal. Sza’s sultry and soulful ballads weren’t the main topic of conversation however; it was how she spoke on her relationships with men, or shall I say relations. There was also a clear gender divide in how folks criticized Sza’s lyrics with majority of Black, cis-heterosexual men tweeting misogynistic opinions on her behavior.

When I first heard Ctrl there was a sincerity and familiarity to it. It wasn’t just the style of her music or the way she sings, which I love. It was her lyrics. As a woman I felt her when she cries out on the first song of the album, “Supermodel”: “Why am I so easy to forget like that, It can’t be that easy for you to get like that”. Sza’s album represents the reality of Black women’s relationships today. We don’t always date formerly, but we’re still intimate as hell. We gain partners and form relations that aren’t validated in a concrete sense, and as a result our feelings are not validated… and sometimes our feelings aren’t validated from the beginning. We fall in love with the wrong men who sell us false lies because that’s the trials and tribulations of love. Sza puts into words how it feels to fight for a man who was barely yours to begin with.

Sza doesn’t just show the reality of Black relationships today, she accurately illustrates how many women deal with the emotions of messing with “ain’t shit men.”

Probably the most controversial and talked about lyric was from, “Supermodel.” Sza opens up the track talking about how lack of control is fatal. She describes writing a letter to tell her ex-boyfriend telling him she’s leaving for good this time, then reveals that she slept with his best friend when he left her for Vegas on Valentine’s day. This lyric alone caught the attention of many people who criticized Sza’s behavior — “Why would she mess with her man’s best friend, she’s a hoe for that.” This binary between “good girl” and “bad girl”, how a woman should and shouldn’t act doesn’t leave room for the complexities of a woman’s feelings, especially when she’s been constantly hurt. Not only that, but it’s sexist rhetoric to control a woman’s sexuality; calling her a “hoe” for making an informed decision about her body.

It’s no surprise that Sza’s album was released around the same time season two of “Insecure” came out, which features many songs from the album. “Insecure” is one of the Blackest shows on television right now, and it centers around the deteriorating relationship between main characters Issa and Lawrence. In the first season Issa grows tired of Lawrence’s lack of ambition and laziness. Lawrence was stagnant in his career and their relationship was at a standstill. It wasn’t long before Issa starting hanging with her friend/fuck buddy/CouldHaveBeen, Daniel. In the end, Issa had sex with Daniel and Lawrence found out, which obviously did not end well. #TeamLawrence asserts that Issa was in the wrong and should have just broken up with Lawrence like she wanted to. However, I’m quick to point out the hypocrisy in many of the sexist statements that tend to come from straight, Black men.

What Issa did was wrong, but I also have sympathy for her. I understand what it’s like to be with someone for years and feel like it’s going nowhere. It’s also necessary to point out how long Issa waited for Lawrence to get his life together. She gave him many chances, something most men would have never done. Hell, most men would have fell for Tasha’s flirting unlike Lawrence’s ass. Men need to give women the same understanding we give them when they cheat. Relationships are complicated, feelings are complex, and so are women. There shouldn’t be a double standard. And I’m tired of people holding women to a higher moral standard when it comes to relationships. If anything, Issa cheating represents why her and Lawrence were failing to begin with. She can’t be the only one holding up the fort, and she certainly can’t be the only one to blame when it’s falling apart either.

The reality is that there’s a lot of truth in Sza’s lyrics. I relate to yearning for answers and trying to gain control of my feelings. I’ve wished men would give me a little more of themselves— anything that could make our relationship seem more real. More than ever, I relate to the way Sza acts when the men in her life treat her like she means nothing to them. I’ve ran into an ex’s arms while in a serious relationship and things weren’t working out. I’ve messed with men who had girlfriends, and sometimes I’ve wished I could be a “normal girl.” Sza’s album is brilliant because it’s honest and raw. It’s speaks to the type of relationships women are in but are afraid to talk about. It highlights the nights some women have but are shamed for. It may be “controversial,” but it’s real. And maybe that’s what I love most. It could be the feminist in me, but I enjoy listening to her sing about getting revenge on her ex-boyfriend for leaving her on Valentine’s Day. Is it wrong, probably, but has anyone ever been concerned with what’s right and wrong when it comes to feelings and love? It’s refreshing and beautiful to hear a young, Black, woman speak about vulnerability, which is what Sza does on Ctrl. I see myself mirrored in her songs, and if there’s anything I’ve learned from Black Twitter and “Insecure”, I definitely ain’t the only one.