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SZA: Photos From the Billboard Cover Shoot

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A trampoline park in Austin isn’t the first place you’d expect to see hundreds of SZA fans. Yet on a Friday night in October, there they were — lined up, excitedly chanting the lyrics to “The Weekend” from the singer-songwriter’s 2017 debut album, Ctrl. And in fact, it wasn’t a completely unexpected sight: SZA had just wrapped her headlining set at the Austin City Limits festival and sent an open invite on Twitter to “randomly jump w me” till 2 a.m. The former competitive gymnast flipped into the foam pit with the utmost joy, just like her fans.

Altitude Trampoline Park, which bills itself as the “world’s best trampoline park,” also might not be where you’d expect to hear a preview of what RCA Records chairman/CEO Peter Edge calls “one of the most important albums of the year.” But on this particular evening, for any attendees listening closely, it was. Terrence “Punch” Henderson, SZA’s manager and president of her label, Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), played “at least 4 songs off the new album on the loud speakers,” she tweeted the following morning. Unlike this night in Austin, though, getting that album out has been far from all fun and games.

When SZA released Ctrl on June 9, 2017, on RCA and TDE, she immediately established herself as alternative R&B’s girl next door and one of the most exciting new voices in music. Sonically, it was the kind of music SZA had always wanted to hear growing up but never quite found outside of herself — an abstract form of R&B influenced by indie and trap music and shaped by lo-fi beats. And lyrically, it was the kind of ultra-relatable songwriting that young people from all walks of life needed: SZA chronicled familiar coming-of-age quandaries, like wondering if your significant other believes you’re enough, or debating if being normal would benefit your relationships, or, well, questioning everything else life throws at you in your 20s.

Read SZA’s full Billboard cover story, part of our R&B/Hip-Hop Power Players issue, here.


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