When Ashanti and French Montana presented best R&B at Tuesday night’s MTV Video Music Awards, the category’s winner, SZA, was not present to pick up her Moon Person for “Shirt” — but she didn’t just skip the show for no reason, her manager revealed.
SZA entered the Sept. 12 ceremony as one of the night’s most-nominated artists, with eight nods total, including video of the year (“Kill Bill”), best art direction (“Shirt”) and album of the year (SOS). Despite being one of the most omnipresent artists of the past year, however, SZA’s name was left off the list of nominees for artist of the year.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter published Friday (Sept. 15), Terrence “Punch” Henderson, SZA’s longtime manager, said, “Obviously, she had one of the best years, if not the best year, of any artist at this point. I don’t see why she wouldn’t be nominated for artist of the year. It just really didn’t make any sense to me. It’s disrespectful.”
SZA released SOS in December, and her critically lauded sophomore studio album has dominated 2023. The record has been present in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 nearly every week this year, spending 10 nonconsecutive weeks at No. 1 and ranking at No. 2 on Luminate’s 2023 Midyear Music Report. “Kill Bill,” the record’s breakout hit, topped the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 and spent months in the chart’s top 10. On Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, “Kill Bill” broke the record for most weeks spent at No. 1 (21 weeks).
SOS also yielded the Hot 100 top 10 singles “Nobody Gets Me” (No. 10) and “Snooze” (No. 7), which reached the top 10 in its 35th week on the chart. Prior to the album’s release, two other singles hit the top 10: “Good Days” (No. 9) and “I Hate U” (No. 7). The VMA-winning “Shirt” peaked at No. 11 and topped both the Rhythmic and R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay charts.
During a call about a potential SZA performance at the show, Punch says MTV “couldn’t give a clear answer as to why she wasn’t [nominated for artist of the year]. It was just, ‘Well, she’s nominated for all these other [awards].’” The nominees for artist of the year at the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards were Beyoncé, Karol G, Shakira, Doja Cat, Nicki Minaj and eventual winner Taylor Swift.
The nearly four-hour-long 2023 VMAs ceremony featured an overwhelming amount of performances, none of which included SZA — despite the initial efforts to have her grace the show’s stage. During one of those negotiations, “because there were people on [the call] about logistics for the show who didn’t have anything to do with [the nominations],” Punch said, “they ended up saying, ‘OK, well we could do another call.’” Nonetheless, MTV “didn’t want to discuss artist of the year, which to me was really a slap in the face,” he remarked.
“Why wouldn’t she be nominated for artist of the year? Even with the other artists that were nominated for artist of the year, some of them were even off-cycle. They didn’t have an album out. I mean, no disrespect to them or anybody else; everybody’s great and all of that, but still, you can’t discredit what SOS has done and is currently doing,” Punch added.
Three of the nominees — Doja Cat, Minaj and Shakira — had not released albums since the 2022 VMAs ceremony.
Ultimately, MTV’s failure to provide an explanation for the snub and reach a resolution spurred Punch to pull SZA’s performance. “I figured, why go perform and do this if she’s not going to be respected to the highest level? So it was my call to actually pull out of the performance,” he explained. However, the Top Dawg Entertainment president noted that SZA is “a very sweet person and she’s not for all of the nonsense and the politics and the back-and-forth and all of that. So, our feelings might be a little different.
“Ultimately, I felt it was disrespectful and I was very stern on that and influencing that,” Punch concluded. “If there’s any issues or backlash and all of that, I’m taking all of that.”
Despite the VMAs kerfuffle, SZA is currently powering through the final leg of her SOS headlining arena tour. According to Billboard Boxscore, the tour has grossed $34.5 million and sold 238,000 tickets. On Friday (Sept. 15), the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter released two singles: a Justin Bieber-assisted acoustic reboot of “Snooze” and a highly anticipated Drake collaboration titled “Slime You Out.”
Last week (Sept. 8), SZA announced a deluxe edition of SOS titled LANA at a surprise event at New York’s Brooklyn Navy Yard. The expanded version of her triple-platinum album will arrive “this fall.”
SZA, an Academy Award-nominated songwriter, has earned eight top 10 hits on the Hot 100 from 40 career entries. On the Billboard 200, she has earned two top five albums: 2017’s Ctrl (No. 3) — which has spent a whopping 326 weeks on the ranking — and 2022’s SOS (No. 1).
The revelation of SZA’s situation comes after another R&B artist — Grammy-nominated “On My Mama” singer Victoria Monét — revealed to fans that MTV told her team that it was “too early in [her] story” to perform at the VMAs. Monét is a three-time Grammy nominee with writing credits for a range of artists including Ariana Grande and BLACKPINK. She has also charted a pair of albums on the Billboard 200 and two songs on the Hot 100; Monét made her recording debut in 2014.