SZA on Redefining Hitmaker Status and Finding a Place For Her Sound After ‘Punching Up’ For So Long

SZA on Redefining Hitmaker Status and Finding a Place For Her Sound After ‘Punching Up’ For So Long

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SZA has been honored with Variety’s Hitmaker of the Year Award. After the release of her debut album “Ctrl” in 2017, the shapeshifting singer released her follow-up “SOS” to great anticipation. And it paid off. Following its release in December last year, the album shattered records from Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin and would eventually become the longest-running No. 1 on the Billboard Top R&B Albums chart.

SZA, who brought her goddaughter, Nova, on stage with her at Variety’s Hitmakers event to accept the award, began by thanking her parents and her friends, only to be interrupted by an unexpected voice.

“And Nova,” Nova piped.

“And Nova,” the honoree answered with a big smile. “Thank you to Nova for bringing me joy and teaching me childlike wonder and reminding me what it’s like to not know what is going on and still be happy anyway,” the artist amended, drawing laughs from the crowd.

“I just think it’s really ironic that I’m considered a hitmaker because punching up for so long, the whole conversation was, ‘I don’t make radio music. I don’t have any radio hits. I don’t have a sound.’ I realized the biggest thank you is to those who saw me as a hitmaker before that,” said the “Kill Bill” singer. “To all my fans that listened to me before I ever went number one or anything like that.”

“I really feel like being a hitmaker is just having other people, the public, believe what God and your inner circle that you’ve been blessed to have around you already sees in you. And I’m grateful to have an exceptional inner circle,” SZA continued as she brought up more names of those who have helped her in her journey. “Thank you for taking the time to break it down for me and just give me patience and encourage me to believe that, ‘It’s okay. There will be a time for you to do your thing and they’ll play you one day. And that day did come. And I’m so grateful.”

Variety‘s Executive Editor of Music, Jem Aswad, presented SZA with the award.

“It’s very rare for an album to top the charts, the critics’ polls, and win people’s hearts the way SZA’s album, ‘SOS,’ has done,” said Aswad. “She was our first choice for Hitmaker of the Year.”

The tailwind of SZA’s “SOS” is long, and still going. She recently earned nine Grammy nominations for the 2024 event — more than any other artist — and recently wrapped the second leg of her stadium tour. Fans have consistently gravitated towards her diaristic lyrics and flawless delivery, almost as if she’s singing directly to you. That conversational tone has propelled songs like “Kill Bill” and “Snooze” up the charts, and with a deluxe version of the album titled “Lana” slated for release in the near future, its impact will only continue to grow.

“It’s definitely turning into its own album… and I guess I could drop a new album randomly, because no one’s actually expecting that from me right now,” she told Variety. “But I can’t tell if now’s the time to be consistent, or carefree. On the one hand it’s like, ‘What would Beyonce do?,’ but I am also deeply inspired by people who do whatever the fuck they want, like Frank Ocean and Andre 3000. Some of my favorite songs were the ones that I dropped on SoundCloud [early in her career], because it was so stress free.”

With a second European tour leg for “SOS” on the horizon, SZA is capping a remarkable year filled with hits, broken records, and continuous peaks that only keep scaling higher.

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