Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
When the MTV Video Music Awards announced its nominations last month, no one was surprised when Taylor Swift and SZA were the top contenders. But heads turned when SZA’s name was missing from the artist of the year category after the star launched one of the year’s top albums with SOS, both a critical and commercial success.
“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’s manager, Terrence “Punch” Henderson, tells The Hollywood Reporter in an interview.
Those nominated for artist of the year included Beyoncé, Shakira, Nicki Minaj, Karol G, Doja Cat and Swift, who won the prize at Tuesday night’s show.
Punch is the co-president of Top Dawg Entertainment, home to acts like ScHoolBoy Q, Jay Rock, Doechii, SiR and former client Kendrick Lamar. He says he contacted MTV about the snub — on a call about a potential SZA performance at the awards show — but “they couldn’t give a clear answer as to why she wasn’t [nominated]. It was just, ‘Well, she’s nominated for all these other [awards].’”
“And they ended up saying, ‘OK, well we could do another call’ because there were people on [the call] about logistics for the show who didn’t have anything to do with [the nominations]. When we tried to set up the second call, they didn’t want to discuss artist of the year, which to me was really a slap in the face,” he says.
SZA’s epic year included 10 weeks on top of Billboard’s 200 albums chart with SOS, which made history as the longest-leading No. 1 of the 21st century thus far on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop albums chart. Her sophomore project, released in December and already a triple-platinum success, launched five top 10 hits on the all-genre Hot 100 chart, including “Kill Bill,” which reached the No. 1 position. Her current single “Snooze” is spending its eighth week on top of the R&B charts and sits at No. 7 on the Hot 100.
“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,” he continues.
MTV didn’t reply to emails from THR when asked how the network selected the nominees for artist of the year.
SZA’s VMA nominations included album of the year, song of the year and best R&B, which she won for the hit “Shirt.” But MTV’s failure to resolve the issue didn’t sit well with SZA’s manager. “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 explains.
SZA didn’t attend the VMAs and Punch notes that the singer 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.”
“But ultimately,” he adds, “I felt it was disrespectful and I was very stern on that and influencing that. If there’s any issues or backlash and all of that, I’m taking all of that.”
The VMAs have been called out in the past for snubbing major acts. The awards show made headlines in 2017 when it failed to nominate the megahit “Despacito,” by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee; at the time the song’s music video became YouTube’s most viewed clip of all time by surpassing 3 billion views. This year, fans rallied around R&B singer Victoria Monét, who has written multiple Ariana Grande hits and is having a moment with the hip-hop-flavored single “On My Mama,” but she noted that MTV told her team it was “too early in my story for that opportunity.”
SZA has earned 15 Grammy nominations and won the best pop/duo group performance Grammy for “Kiss Me More” with Doja Cat. She’s expected to be the leading contender at the 2024 Grammys; nominations will be revealed on Nov. 10.
“The awards are not the sole reason we do this. We do this for the people, for the fans. The awards come with that. That’s just a byproduct,” Punch says.
On Friday, two new SZA songs were released: She dropped an acoustic version of “Snooze” featuring Justin Bieber, who stars in the hit song’s music video, while Drake released his new SZA-assisted single, “Slime You Out.”
SZA is planning to release a deluxe version of SOS and days before the VMAs, she performed her well-known hits as well as tracks from her upcoming deluxe project at a free concert for nearly 2,000 fans at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York.
“It was about her giving back to the fans — going out there doing a free show and showing love to the people that show love to her,” Punch says.