Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

For this year’s update of our ongoing Greatest Pop Star by Year project, Billboard is counting down our staff picks for the top 10 pop stars of 2023 all this week. At No. 2, we remember the year in SZA — who had the best 12 months of her career and confirmed herself as one of the inner-circle stars of 2020s pop music.

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When SZA’s SOS closed out 2022 with record-breaking stats — 318,000 units earned first week, the biggest streaming week ever for an R&B album, and (eventually) ten non-consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart — that moment seemed like the climax of a years-long campaign for the Grammy winner’s sophomore studio album. If anything, it turned out to actually just be the warning shot for an even more dominant 2023. 

Billboard’s Greatest Pop Stars of 2023:
Introduction & Honorable Mentions | Rookie of the Year: Peso Pluma | Comeback of the Year: Miley Cyrus | No. 10: Drake | No. 9: Doja Cat | No. 8: Bad Bunny | No. 7: Olivia Rodrigo | No. 6: Karol G | No. 5: Morgan Wallen | No. 4: Ice Spice | No. 3: Beyoncé

The Grammy winner entered this year still basking in the glow of SOS’ chart takeover. “Kill Bill” was essentially glued to the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, while several album tracks – including “Blind,” “Love Language” and “Low” — were gaining traction on TikTok, and “Shirt” was still blowing through the competition at R&B/hip-hop radio, where it eventually peaked at No. 1. The early love for myriad selections from the 23-song set would soon give way to another year-defining hit single by the time the summer drew to a close.

Courtesy of RCA Records

Courtesy of RCA Records

But before that, by February, SZA had already gone back to dropping new music — this time assisting Lizzo with her “Special” remix. While the track was far from a major hit, it did reach No. 1 on Adult R&B Airplay late in the year, making for a pleasant full circle moment, considering Lizzo helped honor SZA with her Billboard woman of the year award in March. The duo’s personal friendship and professional partnership was set to continue with co-headlining slots at Made In America, but the show – like a number of hip-hop festivals this year – was ultimately called off

Nonetheless, SZA still dazzled on the road in 2023, visiting the U.S. and Europe on her 54-date headlining arena tour. Complete with cinematic interludes, explosive choreography and innovative props, the SOS Tour found SZA blooming into a top-shelf pop star with each new date. From February to October, she trekked across the globe, bringing out surprise guests such as Cardi B, Phoebe Bridgers, Sexyy Red, Travis Scott, Lizzo, Lil Baby and Summer Walker along the way. 

By April, a Doja Cat-blessed remix of “Kill Bill” helped vault the song to No. 1, becoming SZA’s first Hot 100 chart-topper and cementing its status as one of the year’s defining pop songs. Around that time, “Snooze” was getting ready for its moment in the sun. The song had been swirling around on TikTok for months, and its consistent streaming presence would ultimately keep it on the Hot 100 for an entire year, but the combined efforts of radio’s complete embrace and a star-studded music video (featuring the likes of Young Mazino and Benny Blanco) lifted the song to new heights. Justin Bieber – who also appeared in the music video – later guested on the acoustic “Snooze” remix, helping the track reach its ultimate Hot 100 peak of No. 2. 

The summer months found SZA blessing some of her peers with hits, and, in doing so, she solidified her spot as the year’s resident hitmaker. In July, she gifted Travis Scott a standout verse on “Telekinesis,” which helped the song become an instant fan-favorite from Utopia, spending 11 weeks on the Hot 100 without an official single release. September brought on “Slime You Out,” a much-derided duet with Drake that still debuted atop the Hot 100 — thanks, in large part, to SZA’s commercial dominance. That much was proven the following month, when “Rich Baby Daddy,” a collaboration with Drizzy and Sexyy Red, emerged as the breakout hit and standout track on his For All the Dogs album. How could it not be SZA’s year when some of the biggest stars in contemporary pop music are running to her to guarantee a hit? 

To close out the year, SZA emerged from Grammy nominations morning with a whopping nine nods – the most of any artist this year, and a cool bookend to her artist of the year snub at the VMAs back in September. With nods across three different genres and recognition in album, record and song of the year, SZA’s Grammy nominations haul served as the perfect encapsulation of just how towering and ubiquitous she was a cultural figure and hitmaker this year. On Billboard’s Year-End charts, she boasts the No. 3 album of the year and the No. 3 (“Kill Bill”) and No. 9 (“Snooze”) songs of the year – the only artist with two unaccompanied solo entries in the Year-End Hot 100 top 10. 

Truthfully, there’s only one pop star who can hold a candle to SZA’s dominance this year – and you probably already know exactly what their name is. The difference with SZA, however, is that she did it all without ever giving off the largely calculated, pre-scripted feeling that so often characterizes a run like that one she’s on with SOS. She moved at her own pace and reaped unbeatable dividends.

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The post Billboard’s Greatest Pop Stars of 2023: No. 2 — SZA appeared first on WorldNewsEra.

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