Doja Cat Challenges and Redefines the Image of Pop Stardom

Doja Cat will join Alesso poolside at Fontainebleau.
Doja Cat will join Alesso poolside at Fontainebleau. Photo by David LaChapelle
Doja Cat, as the trivial and titillating online persona, is not for everyone. But her music, with its genre-bending productions, enticing hooks, and earworm lyricism, entails a little bit of everything for everyone.

Yet, her critically acclaimed 2021 album, Planet Her, which is up for eight Grammy Awards next year, managed to combine and combust her quirks, signaling fans that she's the lone ruler of her otherworldly galaxy.

Preceding the anticipated album's release, Doja Cat (real name Amala Ratna Zandile Dlamini) released her debut EP, Purrr! back in 2014 after signing to Kemosabe Records, an imprint of RCA Records. The six-track project was helmed by trippy, lo-fi beats and her hazy vocals, which is what hooked fans on her breakout single "So High." (Though she would later be criticized for appropriating Hindu culture in the video.)

Four years later, in 2018, Doja Cat released another onomatopoeia hit with her viral track, "Mooo!" A world apart from her alternative R&B debut, "Mooo!" was a slapdash record that got stuck in the psyche of the internet. She later revealed the song was a comical way to thrust her into the spotlight. Not only was she successful at that, but it also set her apart from peers. Whether skeptics wanted to admit it or not, all eyes were on the girl twerking in a cow costume in front of a green screen.

Her strategy worked again when she released "Tia Tamera," featuring the punk-rap "It" girl Rico Nasty. The song is underscored by a whimsical loop and compares her voluptuous bosom to the popular Sister, Sister duo. "Money go long like Nia/I am the big idea/My twins big like Tia/My twins big like Tia Tamera." By the time her debut album, Amala, dropped, she was providing provocative bars over pop, R&B, and dancehall beats on tracks like "Wine Pon You," featuring Konshens; "Candy;" and "Juicy."
Released in 2019, her second album, Hot Pink, built on her momentum and housed her 2020 breakthrough single "Say So." A flirtatious, disco-inspired record that spawned a viral dance challenge on TikTok, it quickly climbed to the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 after Nicki Minaj jumped on the remix, marking the first chart-topping hit for both artists. "Streets," the sultry B2K-sampled track, followed suit this year with the popular #SilhouetteChallenge on TikTok.

While Doja's rise seemed to be on par for an artist of her caliber, the controversy surrounding her online behavior threatened to divert her trajectory. In 2018, fans uncovered old tweets from 2015 where she used homophobic slurs to describe rappers Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt. She subsequently apologized but incensed fans even further when she used a homophobic slur in her Twitter statement defending herself.

Last year, she was accused of "showing feet in a racial chatroom" on the site Tiny Chat after footage leaked of her in a chat with men who were alleged to be a part of an alt-right group. She vehemently denied those allegations but admitted to "dumb-ass behavior" in an Instagram Live video. Her 2015 song, "Dindu Nuffin," also sparked rumors that she'd made the song to mock victims of police brutality. Again Doja Cat, who is biracial, took to Instagram Live to explain that the song was a reclamation of the racial slur that is its title but also described it as "maybe the worst song in the entire world."
And then there's her affiliation with Dr. Luke, founder of Kemosabe Records and pop producer, whom Kesha accused of sexual assault in 2014. He's credited on some of her biggest records, including "Say So," under the pseudonym Tyson Trax. When asked about her collaboration with the defrocked producer, Doja told journalist EJ Dickinson for a recent Rolling Stone cover story that although "it was nice of me to work with him," she doesn't think she needs to work with him in the future.

Contrary to the tenets of #CancelCulture, Doja manages to skirt criticism despite her clumsy mea culpas. She hasn't let the rumors or allegations run her away from social media. In fact, that's where her absurdity abounds. She's unapologetic about her weird quips and knows the fleeting nature of the internet will wash away her sins, replacing them with someone else's immorality.

In an industry where some of our most influential pop stars only reward fans with PR-curated glances into their private lives, Doja is not concerned with reflecting her fans' sensibilities back at them because she's not a bot puppeteered by marketing machines. She's equally fascinating and flawed. Her past offensive behavior has managed to land on weirdness rather than bigotry. (Her current Twitter name is "poop.")

Where Doja the personality is rarely serious, Doja the artist exists in tangent and juxtaposition, proving she's an adept force no matter how uncouth her lyrics are. Her multifaceted sounds refuse to be trapped in one dimension. She coherently oscillates between pop, Afrobeat, hip-hop, and R&B. Described by Vulture's Craig Jenkins as "the always entertaining, occasionally frustrating star," Doja understands a liberating notion better than her predecessors who's been in the industry for decades: She'll never be everything for everyone, but she can be unapologetically herself.

On Planet Her, it's Doja's world, and we're all just witnessing a compelling and complex star in the making.

Doja Cat. With Alesso. 9 p.m. Friday, December 31, at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, 4441 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 877-512-8002; Tickets cost $349 via
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A Deerfield Beach native, Shanae Hardy is a South Florida-based culture and copy writer. When she’s not pressed over deadlines or Beyoncé, you can find her fixated on a book.