What I Learnt About Intimacy From SZA’s Hit Album Ctrl

It seems that in a world filled with easy access to sex with hook-up apps like Grindr, and a generation of young people taking to social media to express their innermost thoughts, real intimacy is hard to find.

SZA's long awaited major label debut Ctrl appeared June 9 and focuses on intimacy
Image: Sage


According to the Oxford English Dictionary Online intimacy can be defined as a close familiarity or friendship. In our own lives, we experience intimacy on a multitude of levels and scales, from friendships, social interactions and intimate relationships. It’s within these intimate relationships, sexual and spiritual, that intimacy can be felt almost exclusively and most profoundly.

Intimacy can be a taboo subject in the gay community. It seems that in a world filled with easy access to sex with hook-up apps like Grindr, and a generation of young people taking to social media to express their innermost thoughts, real intimacy is hard to find, and even more difficult to talk about honestly.

After a tough breakup earlier this year, I began to question myself on what real intimacy was. It was in this relationship that I had experienced what I believe to be true intimacy for the first time. We trusted one another, we loved one another, and we were honest and direct in what we expected and cherished in our relationship.

Post-breakup, I dipped in and out of albums on Spotify and found some real gems. When it came to artists I could relate to, there were a few standouts: Kehlani, Sara Bareilles and India Arie were some of my favourites, but no one impacted me more than American born singer SZA.


SZA is a young new artist making waves on the global music scene, with her hit album ctrl resonating with fans for its honest depiction of a broken and dysfunctional relationship. Intimacy, in the album, is depicted as something that is beneficial, hurtful and cathartic.

“Supermodel”, is the first single off the album and catches the young singer amid a turbulent relationship. Directed by Nabil, the music video depicts a modern fairy-tale, connoting sadness, escapism and playfulness. In a recent interview with GQ Magazine, SZA talks openly about the anguish she felt chasing after a guy that she knew was no good.

The lyrics are endemic of this as SZA says, “I could be a Supermodel if you believe / If you see it in me…I don’t see myself.” It’s a playful take on a very real emotion; the feeling of not being seen or indeed appreciated in a relationship. I related very profoundly to the honesty of the lyrics.

As I was scouring albums looking for songs I could relate to, in terms of the sadness I felt for the ending of my relationship, it was SZA who most naturally summed up what I was feeling; lost, inadequate and alone. It was refreshing to see an artist deconstruct her emotions from a place of clarity. It helped me to see my relationship for what it was; beautiful, messy and in no way regrettable.


Gay Relationships And Intimacy

After finishing the album, I began to think about what intimacy meant in terms of gay relationships. I feel that from a young age, men are conditioned to avoid intimacy with other men. By intimacy here, I mean breaking surface level interaction and moving into deeper, more engaging waters.

Heteronormativity was the only option for me growing up in a small town in Monaghan in the 1990s. I didn’t see any openly gay people in my town, and most men had a wife and kids. It was isolating but in a weird way quite liberating. I knew from an early age that I wanted anything but the life that was presented to me. I craved intimacy and interaction with others that were like me.

It wasn’t until much later in my life that this fantasy would become an actuality. I guess I always knew that intimacy with another man was possible, but it wasn’t until I went to my first gay bar that I saw gay men, and queer people of all sorts, embracing and being openly intimate with one another.

I often wonder if our conditioning as men growing up in a heteronormative society makes us less prone to intimacy. There seems to be a certain flippancy when it comes to sex amongst men in the gay community, and I wonder if that stems from a fear of intimacy. Sex can, of course, be intimate, but if you hardly know the person, how intimate can you get?

The Oxford English Dictionary provides an adequate definition of what intimacy is, but it wasn’t until I listened to SZA’s album ctrl that I finally got it. I think intimacy is about the willingness to be vulnerable. It’s also about the strength that comes from forming relationships that are based on more than just sex. Yes, sex is great and it’s liberating, but it can also be isolating, easy, and un-intimate. Wouldn’t it be much more daring to go out, get to know someone, and decide if you even want to be intimate with them? I think that’s much more liberating and bold.

There’s a reason why intimacy is the foundation for sonnets, operas, and full musical albums; it’s daring, audacious, and will give way to immense growth. It’s something that we’re perhaps missing nowadays more than ever. Ask yourself, when was the last time you had a relationship that hurt so bad, and gave you so much intimate pleasure, that you lost all control? If it takes you a while to recall, listen to this album, and it will make you crave that intimacy more than ever.

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