Syleena Johnson's greatest instrument is her voice and has recognized her passion for music since her earliest childhood memories. With a father who was in the entertainment industry as a singer, music was part of her life from an early age and eventually blossomed into her participating in talent shows and showing the world what she was meant to do. "I just finished filming my UNSUNG episode which will premiere on TVOne early 2021 and that will tell the readers a lot about my story and how I began. I am excited for you to see it. It will show you how I got my start in the industry and how I got to where I am now," she spilled to xoNecole about her upcoming project.
As a singer, she has used her voice and songs to uplift women and Black people, but now as a talk show host on Cocktails and Queens on Fox Soul, Syleena is using her voice to empower Black women to demand respect and equality on the other side of the couch. "I am still and will always be a part of music," the former Sister Circle host told me about her transition into being a talk show host, "However, opportunities and God have allowed me to become a talk show host and share my opinions and thoughts as a woman in this world and in entertainment."
Nowadays in her career, Syleena can apply the multitude of lenses to her craft from the talent side to research and development as the interviewer. When she's not on the couch interviewing talent or in the booth making new empowerment anthems, the "Guess What" singer has been working on her latest docuseries project, The Making of a Woman, which was heavily inspired by her recently released Woman album.
Courtesy of Tony Tyus Photography
"This docuseries will show what my experience as a Black woman has been in this industry for over 20 years as well as being a working-class woman, a wife and a mother raising two sons. It will inspire people to see the challenges Black women face on a day-to-day basis and how we overcome it," she explained. "I wanted to show a message and present that in a body of work to create more of a conversation and a call-to-action. I've realized in order to make change, we must create content or use our voice to make a shift in change in our society."
xoNecole had the opportunity to catch up with the Grammy-nominated singer herself about using her voice to uplift women, her new docuseries The Making of a Woman, and being a Black woman in 2020 demanding equal rights in our current racial climate. Check out our conversation below.
xoNecole: Tell me about your docuseries, 'The Making Of A Woman', the messaging and the inspiration behind it.
Syleena Johnson: The docuseries The Making of a Woman is heavily inspired by my recent album, Woman. Each of my albums as a solo artist have been titled after chapters, however with today's racial climate I decided to create the album and docuseries to speak on the struggles and experiences of everyday Black women and what we go through in life in 2020. I created this docuseries to vocally create a body of work that documented the journey of what it took to create this album, mentally, internally and spiritually while sharing the experiences of what women go through like demanding equality and respect, having a voice to even having to work twice as hard as our male counterparts even through pain and adversity.
How does your new studio album, ‘Woman’, directly correlate with the story that you're telling us in the docuseries?
It's my journey, my thoughts and what I and many women endure as a Black woman in society as well as this industry. You'll see me on my journey of completing my album and shooting the video to my lead single off my new album. You'll see the vision that I had to want to highlight how beautiful and special women are. The docuseries speaks on dishonesty, respect and the many examples of inequality Black women face while showing the process of creating a body of work that shares the same message.
How are both releases timely considering our current racial climate?
Right now, we are in the year of the WOMAN. We have a Black woman that is working tirelessly to be the next Vice President of the United States. Black women are on the front lines organizing, protesting and leading the forefront of creating change for our economy and the futures of our next generation. Considering our current climate, both releases vocally tells a story that we still have work to do and are still fighting for respect in 2020. With both releases of my album and docuseries, I wanted to use what I've been seeing in situations like the #MeToo and Time's Up movement, and use my voice and passion in music to be a vessel for other women's stories and journeys.
What do you define as the makings of a woman?
The makings of a woman is the willingness of a woman to grow despite her flaws, despite her mistakes, despite her circumstances and her setbacks in life. The ingredients of the makings of a woman is built up of all the little experiences that you had and how you've handled them and most importantly learned from them. These are the certain experiences you must endure in life to come into your womanhood while helping you grow as a woman.
Courtesy of Tony Tyus Photography
"The makings of a woman is the willingness of a woman to grow despite her flaws, despite her mistakes, despite her circumstances and her setbacks in life. The ingredients of the makings of a woman is built up of all the little experiences that you had and how you've handled them and most importantly learned from them."
When do you feel the most "womanly" or the most beautiful as a woman?
I feel the most womanly when I am being a mother to my sons, when I am being a wife. Always working or in business mode does not make me feel like a woman, it makes me tired. I feel more womanly when I can have peace, when I can have "girl time" for myself. I feel the "womanliest" when I can be appreciated and when I am treated like a woman. I feel womanly when I can be heard and valued. More than anything, I feel the "womanliest" when I can operate as a mom and wife without having to be the authoritative figure. When you are a CEO and an entrepreneur you are the authoritative figure but when I come into my household I can relax without having to be the authoritative figure all the time because I have support.
"I feel the most womanly when I am being a mother to my sons, when I am being a wife. Always working or in business mode does not make me feel like a woman, it makes me tired. I feel more womanly when I can have peace, when I can have 'girl time' for myself. I feel the 'womanliest' when I can be appreciated and when I am treated like a woman. I feel womanly when I can be heard and valued."
What is the moment in your life when you believed that you were coming into your own as a woman?
That moment for me was when I got the diagnosis that my youngest son had autism. I developed a level of selflessness that had to take place mentally and emotionally in order for me to grow as a woman. Something like that is supposed to take me out of here and it did, however what that diagnosis did was made me come into my womanhood, turn up my senses as a mother, as a provider. I had to turn up those senses and it made me develop my own personal internal growth spurt. This has allowed me to grow into my womanhood and has taught me to be more patient overall in life. That moment and many life lessons made me understand and be OK with me, unapologetically. It allowed me to love me for who I am and become appreciative of being OK with not being perfect.
There are a lot of conversations around gender and sex. What do you see is the difference between femininity and womanhood, if there is one at all?
What I've learned throughout my own experiences in life is that femininity is a characteristic. Womanhood is a state of mind. Whereas a woman doesn't have to be any of those feminine qualities, and still be a boss, knowing who she is, having a voice, understanding her worth - those are the things that encompass womanhood. Femininity is a characteristic, an accessory. Anyone can be feminine, however it is a characteristic that is interchangeable, whereas womanhood is a growth process, state of mind. A state of being.
Courtesy of Tony Tyus Photography
"What I've learned throughout my own experiences in life is that femininity is a characteristic. Womanhood is a state of mind. Femininity is a characteristic, an accessory. Anyone can be feminine, however it is a characteristic that is interchangeable, whereas womanhood is a growth process, state of mind. A state of being."
For Black womanhood, what do you believe makes Black women the most powerful and most majestic?
Resilience, our humility, our hearts have made us majestic. The fact that we've endured so much from the test of times has made us extremely powerful and majestic. We are resilient, durable, sustainable. We are smart, we are vociferous, brilliant, studious, meticulous, but we are kind, careful, and multi-layered.
How would you say that you've grown as a singer-songwriter since you first started in the music industry?
I have grown tremendously since coming into the industry and my writing has grown and evolved. I have a different and new sound. I've grown as a woman so I can't stay in the same frame of mind as my other albums. When you're saying different things, you have to stretch out and grow. And that's where I've improved as an artist and singer since first being introduced in the industry.
Being a Black woman in the industry is tough, especially when you're in the spotlight as an artist. How do you manage your mental health and how can the music industry do a better job at protecting Black women?
I manage my mental health by working out and doing stress reduction activities. I am really into fitness and bodybuilding. It allows me to be focused and gain mental clarity. I am also an advocate and use therapy as an outlet to manage my mental health. I have recently embarked on a fitness journey where I competed in a fitness bodybuilding competition which totally improved and helped with my mental health. I was able to not only transform physically losing over 55 pounds but was also able to grow internally within the process.
The music industry can do a better job protecting Black women. The most important thing they can do is listen to Black women. We are not objects. We are not possessions. Listen to Black women and see how they feel, ask are you being heard and valued? Are you being treated fairly? That is how you can protect Black women by listening and valuing us.
If you listen, you learn.
For more of Syleena, follow her on Instagram.
Featured image courtesy of Tony Tyus Photography
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Gender wars. If there’s one thing that social media — hell, the internet, period — is gonna have ready and waiting for you on a daily (oftentimes hourly) basis, it’s some freakin’ gender wars. And if there’s one topic, specifically, that I try not to let trigger me, yet many times it does just that, it’s the topic of dating.
Between men either implying or flat-out saying that after paying a certain amount of money on a date (or flying someone out), sex should be expected and women and their long (and oftentimes super annoying) TikToks about how a man should damn near break the bank on the first date and/or pay for whomever they choose to bring along (which is mad rude, by the way) — the transactional approach to something that once was way more intentional, pure and holistically beneficial has really got out of hand.
And although I can’t stop an avalanche once it’s begun (no one can), it is my hope that this piece will restore some integrity back to what was designed to bring genuine connections together — not make booty calls easier or Instagram posts imitate dates from The Bachelor/The Bachelorette franchise (or whatever not-so-reality-based show that’s on these days). By the way, 21 years into both of those shows, although there have been 34 proposals, only six couples are still married. That’s not a success story; that is utterly ridiculous.
So, let’s tackle dating in a way that can actually bring some sanity, practicality, and, shoot, dare I say, virtue back into it by restoring a bit of order when it comes to what dating should actually be about.
When You Don’t Know the Purpose of Something, You Will Misuse It
Tag someone who could use these questions ❤️ #relationships #datingtips #marriageadvice #dayingadvice #blacklove
I’m pretty sure that it comes as no shocker that I am a huge fan of healthy relationships. I am also a big-time investor in Black love and an advocate for Black men. So much, in fact, that I have been known to say, pretty consistently, in fact, that I have been customized for a Black man. No one else is an option. Hey, that’s just me.
And because I do spend so much time writing about relationships, working with couples, and hopefully helping people to see themselves in a light that will cause the light in others to reflect the best back to them (in their relationships), I constantly encourage others to move in purpose when it comes to dating.
The definitions of purpose include “the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc.” and “an intended or desired result; end; aim; goal.” So yes, when it comes to dating before anyone shares their time, energy, feelings, resources, body parts, or anything else, it’s imperative — crucial even — that they spend some serious, sobering, and significant time figuring out the reason behind why they want and then choose to date, along with what they ultimately desire to get out of doing so.
And that’s why I thought it would be a good idea to lead this all off with the TikTok post above. Because sis definitely dates with a clear purpose (the first date?! Wasted no time!). Do I think that a first date has to be this…heavy? No. Oftentimes, a first date is about seeing if there is any chemistry that could possibly evolve into a connection — and that’s why I’m all about short ones like coffee dates, drinks, and/or appetizers; it’s not about a man “getting off cheap,” it’s about both of you trying to figure out if something is there. If there is, there will be a second date. If not, no harm, no foul on either side.
Anyway, when it comes to this particular couple’s journey (she used the word “fiancé” so clearly her approach paid off for her), again, even though a first date can certainly go much lighter than this, I do salute the fact that she provided a stellar example of what it means to know what your purpose is for dating so that you know how to move — and what to expect based on your personal standards and even convictions — while you’re dating. Good stuff.
So, how did dating become what, in my opinion, is the colossal-ishshow that it currently is? It’s because, as I oftentimes say, when you don’t know the purpose of something (or someone), you will be almost guaranteed to abuse (abnormally use) or misuse it — and if you ask a lot of folks who yap about their dating expectations to explain their purpose for dating in the first place…many of them will have absolutely no clue. And that’s truly sad. In many ways, it’s counterproductive as well.
It’s kind of another message for another time yet, just like it irks me to hear single guys say that they expect single women to submit to them (even the Bible says that submission is for marriage, and yes, we’ll have to tackle that topic on another day; I do wish more people understood its purpose better, though — Ephesians 5:21-33[AMPC], I Peter 3:1-7[AMPC], Colossians 3:18-20). What I think they actually mean is they like the femininity of a woman to show up during the dating process. Anyway, along these same lines, I don’t like how dating and courting overlap, either.
Let’s deal with dating first.
If you were to talk to, probably your great-grandparents at this point about the topic of dating, they would probably say that there is no need to go out on a lot of dates with someone unless you see some real potential there. As antiquated as that might sound, it’s a mindset that can also keep you from wasting time, it can potentially spare you from investing in something that isn’t really going anywhere, and it can prevent you from moving too quickly (on the emotional and physical tip — check out “Ever Wonder If You're Moving Too Fast In A Relationship?”).
Because, if you’re dating with a clear purpose and say that it’s so you can transition into courting, then engagement, and then marriage — why date for years on end? Yeah, dating is like the “first base” of getting to know someone.
Now am I saying that only people who want to get married should date? Contrary to what a lot of church culture thinks, no. Personally, I get that not everyone desires marriage (check out “Single-Minded: So, What If You Like Dating But DON’T Desire Marriage?” and “12 Couples Reveal Why They're Happy With A Long-Term Commitment Instead Of Marriage”) — and they shouldn’t be forfeited romantic companionship because of it. In fact, I respect people who value marriage so much that they know, ahead of time, that they don’t want to play with it; not enough people see it from that relational lens.
However, even if marriage isn’t on your menu, you still need to have a purpose for dating, and you still need to be intentional about seeing if the individual who is sitting across from you is on the same page as you are — whatever that page may be. And so, it’s a good idea to not be so transactional in your mindset that you cheapen the entire experience.
How? Probably one of the easiest ways to describe a transactional kind of relationship is it’s something that you see as not much more than a lop-sided business dynamic. All you care about is how you can benefit and what your demands are. There is very little compromise or mutuality — and that makes it hard for anything with a healthy emotional foundation to evolve.
And honestly, that’s why a lot of guys tend to sound so cold and flippant when they talk about dismissing a woman who won’t give them any after a date (or trip), or a lot of women sound so rude and inconsiderate while “grading” their dates or who they are dating — things have become so transactional that there is no real connection beyond “what can I get out of this as quickly as possible?” — and that hinders a fulfilling dating experience and almost always sabotages the possibility for courtship.
As I’ve already stated, Black men are always gonna be my preference. That doesn’t mean I don’t know fine when it comes to other ethnicities when I see it, though, and looka here — some of y’all will probably have no clue who I’m talking about, but Michael Landon, the man who played Charles Ingalls on the Little House on the Prairie, was fine and then some mo’ fine.
Anyway, there are many things that I still appreciate about that show. One of them is how they modeled courtship back in the late 1800s. When a young man was interested in a young woman, he would go to her parents (specifically her father) with his plan for how long it would take him to build a home and provide for her so that he could propose marriage and, after the wedding, move directly into their new home. Typically, if the plan was going to take more than a couple of years, the parents wouldn’t be interested in giving their blessing.
Lawd, how far we have gotten away from this — and I’m not convinced that we’ve elevated. Yet the main point I’m making is dating, and courting were never designed to be the same thing. Dating is about seeing if you want to transition into courting, so that you can either get engaged or go into something more serious and long-term. And what this means is no, men nor women should expect (and definitely not demand) “courting privileges” during the dating season. Meaning, why should someone be paying someone else’s bills while dating? Why should someone expect marital duties to be performed while merely dating? THEY SHOULDN’T. Both directions.
Until it’s been clearly and mutually articulated that both individuals want to do life together, as a couple, on a very serious and committed level, courting is not to transpire — only dating is. And that means that people need to remain in a state of simply enjoying someone’s company while collecting the data/intel that they need in order to decide if they should move forward with someone or…not.
Bottom line, dating and courting are not to be used interchangeably; their purpose and agendas are quite different.
No One Is OWED AnythingGiphy
A couple of nights ago, while having dinner with my godchildren’s mother, one of the things that we discussed is how entitled my older goddaughter (who is officially a preteen now) is. An example is my telling her that if she found some sneakers for $85 before tax, I would get them for her birthday. When she went on to say that she only prefers Air Force 1s (this kid), I went on to tell her that she took the entire joy out of getting her anything because of her entitled attitude.
“She’s gonna be someone who guys are not going to be interested in dating if she keeps this up,” I said to her mother after she shared with me that after coming back from a camp that cost a pretty penny, just hours into being home, my goddaughter was whining about how boring her life is at home. Whew, chile.
Entitlement is unattractive. ENTITLEMENT IS UNATTRACTIVE. Why? Because the message it sends is that someone owes you what they have. Plus, there tends to be a total lack of graciousness if you happen to receive whatever you’re expecting — and no one who values themselves or their time wants to be around someone like that. And yet, here we are, watching the entitlement of so many people rise to a fever pitch in our culture, especially when it comes to dating.
And here’s the real trip — no, you are not entitled to what someone has just “because you are worth it” and the same thing goes for them when it comes to you. Owing someone is about being obligated or indebted, and that’s why the whole “a man should pay hundreds on a first date” mantra is ridiculous to me. What makes him obligated to do that for someone he barely knows? What have you done for him that makes him indebted to you on that level?
In a time in our culture where more narcissists are being created (and even cultivated) than ever, it’s important to keep in mind that people who are entitled are self-absorbed, have a puffed-up attitude, are typically quite difficult to get along with, do not reciprocate in relationships and suck at listening. Who wants to even attempt to build with someone like that?
You know, one time I spent, hell, more time than I should’ve, watching TikTok posts on dating standards. One woman (who I will spare by not linking her into all of this) had a list of about 20 things and started off her video by saying, “You know, I have been on many, many dates…”
Sometimes I wonder if people listen to themselves before they hit publish on their videos because if you’ve got a ton of first dates with not much else to show for it, you might want to revisit if all that you think you deserve (check out “Before You Talk About What You 'Deserve'...Do You Know What That Even Means?”) or are owed on a first date is actually working for you or…against you. Because while you’re calling them “standards” what they really might be is super unrealistic dating demands.
This brings me to my next point.
Standards and (Unrealistic) Demands Are Totally DifferentGiphy
When it comes to the topic of standards, I once heard someone define them as being a healthy set of boundaries (or limits), principles, values, morals, ethics, and habits that you choose to base your life on. That said, if there’s something else that social media has done (to our overall detriment), it’s provided a platform for people to loudly use words without really knowing the core essence of their meaning.
That said, an example of thinking that an unrealistic demand is somehow a dating standard is saying that you want a 6-6-6 man (check out “Okay, So Here's What You Need To Know About the '6-6-6' Man”) and yet, in your mind, he should text you several times a day or immediately answer every call. Ask any super ambitious man (or the woman who is with him), and they will tell you that they have to manage their time, almost down to the second, in order to meet their (oftentimes daily) goals. This means that testing him to see if he will be at your beck and call? That isn’t really about boundaries or values — c’mon…that’s either about a profound insecurity or it’s about being consumed with getting a shot of ego boosts on a daily basis.
And that’s what can jack a lot of people up when it comes to dating in these days and times too — both men and women. Yeah, I have this conversation with men as well. You want someone you’re dating to cook for you all of the time? What man needs that? What is ethical about it? And how does taking that kind of stance put you into the mindset of being grateful if you feel like she is required to do so? And what would make a woman want to marry you if you’re already acting that way?
So yeah, it’s definitely a good idea to set your own ego aside and ponder which of your dating standards are actual standards and which ones are basically ridiculous. And before you offer pushback by saying that if your standards are too high, “oh well,” let’s bring any angle about double standards as I close out.
Remember the Golden Rule. Always.Giphy
Something that oftentimes tickles me when I talk to singles about what they expect in a future partner is how so many of them have these long ass laundry lists about what they require, and yet, when I ask them if they have achieved or accomplished what’s on their list, suddenly they’re either deflecting or irritated. He’s gotta make six figures and have great credit when you make $30K (gross), and your credit score is barely scratching 550? She’s gotta have a banging body when you’ve got plenty of girth around the middle? Why are you out here thinking it’s so easy for someone to have or be what you desire…when you’re (general "you") not even those things yourself? Please stop.
That’s another ridiculous thing about transactional dating culture, for sure. Far too many folks are out here expecting what they absolutely are not — and yes, that is a double standard. Know what else it is? It’s hypocritical as all get out. Besides, someone who hits even 80 percent of your list, guess what? They are more than justified to expect you to be what you asked of them. And either that should be a humbling revelation or something that makes you want to revise your list or commit to doing some serious self-work before going out on a new string of dates.
Yeah, I can only imagine how much the quality of dating would shift, for the better, if people committed to implementing the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you — or, in this case, be what you require. Because when you genuinely and sincerely come from this frame of mind, it’s hard to be transactional because you are more focused on being realistic and holistically beneficial.
And that, my friends, should be the framework for dating.
Be real: is it yours?
If not…why not?
No one wants to be treated like nothing more than a basic transaction. So, let’s all lead by example out here in this dating (and social media) streets. Straight up.
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Featured image by Jill Giardino/Getty Images