Doja Cat Is Good At Making Pop Music And Even Better At Going Viral
“Let’s break the internet,” Doja Cat sings on the first song from her recent album Hot Pink. It’s a cyber sex reference (the song is literally called “Cyber Sex”), but the rapper and singer born Amala Zandile Dlamini has a pretty strong handle on breaking the internet in the more traditional sense of the phrase, if such a phrase can be called traditional — that Kim Kardashian-on-the-cover-of-Paper virality that sends social media networks into a frenzy. She has managed to make lightning strike more than once.
First it was a lark called “Mooo!” that significantly raised Doja’s profile in the summer of 2018. She’d already released a major-label debut album called Amala earlier that year, a colorful collection of gleefully sexual songs that blurred any remaining distinctions between pop and rap. From opener “Go To Town” (a celebration of cunnilingus) to self-explanatory closing track “All Nighter,” her whole persona was in place on Amala. The music was solid, too — as bright, shiny, and engaging as you’d hope for from an aspiring pop star, with the range to pull off both the neon trap-pop party “Cookie Jar” and the sensuous chopped-and-screwed “Wine Pon You.” But what captured people’s attention was a lo-fi novelty track and video she supposedly threw together in 12.5 hours, in which she proclaimed, “Bitch, I’m a cow/ Bitch, I’m a cow/ I’m not a cat/ I don’t say meow.”
“Mooo!” found Doja goofily crooning and talking shit about life as a bovine over a minimal jazzy hip-hop loop, backed by her own voice harmonized into a twinkling hook. Along the way she interpolated both “Old MacDonald” and Kelis’ “Milkshake” while throwing shade like “You a calf bitch, you my daughter” and “Got milk bitch? Got beef? Got steak ho? Got cheese?” In the lo-fi video, she wore a cow costume while dancing against various green-screened backdrops. It was the kind of joke song that felt like a stroke of genius when I let myself get swept up in its giddy headspace and like Idiocracy coming true when my mood was less generous. Whenever I start to feel like the song’s breakout success is symptomatic of our cultural decline, I laugh at a line like, “Bitch, get out of my hay” and conclude that I’m taking “Mooo!” way more seriously than Doja Cat ever intended.
Regardless of its artistic merit, “Mooo!” turned out to be an extremely savvy release. The song spawned a #MooChallenge that had people all over Twitter and Instagram shaking their asses in cow costumes, and less than two years later the original music video has racked up more than 66 million views on YouTube. Essentially Doja Cat had pulled off a small-scale version of Lil Nas X’s success story several months before “Old Town Road” hit the internet. What both artists understood implicitly is that social media has effectively collapsed the barrier between a hit song and a viral meme, and that fame from such successes is currency you can parlay into a lasting career if you spend it wisely.
In Doja’s case, the “Mooo!” craze led to radio play for certifiable jams like the Rico Nasty collab “Tia Tamera” (later added to the deluxe edition of Amala along with “Mooo!”) and the Tyga duet “Juicy,” which became Hot Pink’s lead single and Doja’s first Hot 100 hit. “Juicy” is maybe the most contagiously catchy Doja Cat song yet, boasting light-as-air production and vocals that intuitively slide between rapping and singing. It was also the first Doja Cat single cowritten by Dr. Luke, the songwriter and producer who has been in exile on the fringes of the mainstream ever since Kesha accused him of sexual assault and other abuses half a decade ago. He ultimately prevailed in the lengthy court battle and has been edging back toward making hits in recent years through work with artists like Kim Petras and Ne-Yo. With Doja Cat, who is signed to his RCA imprint Kemosabe Records, Luke is back on the charts in earnest.
The Dr. Luke association will likely be a turnoff for some Doja Cat listeners, as will a 2018 dustup in which she initially refused to apologize for old tweets using the word “faggot” to describe members of Odd Future. (She eventually deleted the tweets and issued a series of apologies.) But far from going off the rails due to controversy, Doja’s career has continued to build momentum. Two months into 2020, she’s bigger than ever thanks to another runaway hit. The “Juicy” video, in which Doja’s body morphs into various fruits while twerking, seemed like an attempt to go viral all over again, but she ended up hitting big organically with an entirely different song thanks to — you guessed it — a teenager on TikTok.
this is my audition for @thehypehouse!! i will be expecting an acceptance letter shortly!!! @lilhuddy @charlidamelio
Haley Sharpe, a 16-year-old from Huntsville who posts under the name @yodellinghaley, had already developed a wide audience on the video platform when she posted a clip of herself (superimposed over another version of herself) dancing to Doja Cat’s Hot Pink track “Say So.” Soon Sharpe’s “Say So” choreography spread to other influential figures, including 15-year-old TikTok queen Charli D’Amelio, who has already starred alongside her sister Dixie in a Super Bowl ad for Sabra Hummus and is a member of the influential Hype House collective. (The group creates TikTok content out of a home in Los Angeles, not unlike the Team 10 house that helped propel the likes of Jake and Logan Paul to YouTube stardom.)
I’m not going to pretend to understand the labyrinthine teenage social media apparatus that made “Say So” a smash. What I can tell you is that in keeping with prevailing trends, the song’s popularity among the youths of TikTok has spilled over to established grownup channels as well. “Say So” was up to #51 on the Hot 100 last week and looks primed to climb far higher when this week’s chart is released in full, partially due to Doja Cat recognizing her moment and seizing it. Last week she performed the song on Fallon and released an official music video in which she and Sharpe perform the dance moves that helped the song take off. (UPDATE: Yup, “Say So” is up to #33 this week, a career best for Doja Cat.)
For a song with such a hypermodern success story, the sound of “Say So” is decidedly retro. The track boasts a lush disco-funk groove and breathy vocal harmonies that are catchy enough to stick with you even as they mostly get out of the beat’s way. The video plays up that ’70s aesthetic with analog-tinted video filters and a glittering disco dance party. “Say So” wasn’t initially a single, but perhaps not coincidentally, it’s blowing up at a moment when disco vibes are suddenly trendy again. More than 40 years past Disco Demolition Night, Lady Gaga, Dua Lipa, and Justin Timberlake and SZA have all bet big on the sound in recent months.
If Doja didn’t plan for her disco track to catch on, she certainly knows how to capitalize on it. Much more so than Gaga and Timberlake, Doja is a creature of this moment, with the skill set to thrive across genres and, perhaps more importantly, across platforms. Her songs expertly navigate the modern music landscape, steering the explicit escapades of Megan Thee Stallion and City Girls into sparkling, crossover-ready pop songs. Yet she may end up benefitting more from her intuitive grasp of the online realm that increasingly dictates all pop culture. Anyone can go viral once by chance, but in order to break the internet consistently, you have to understand how it works.
BTS have the biggest album debut of 2020 so far with Map Of The Soul: 7. The LP enters the Billboard 200 at #1 with 422,000 equivalent album units and 347,000 in sales, good for the group’s fourth #1 album in less than two years. According to Billboard, it’s the largest debut for a group since One Direction’s Made In The A.M. started with 459,000 in 2015. Impressively, BTS racked up those 347,000 in sales without the help of album-ticket bundling. Map Of The Soul: 7 is only the 10th mostly non-English album to top the Billboard 200.
YoungBoy Never Broke Again’s Still Flexin, Still Steppin debuts at #2 with 91,000 units, 87,000 of them via streaming — this just five months after AI YoungBoy 2 became YoungBoy’s first #1 album. Up next is a #3 debut for Ozzy Osbourne’s Ordinary Man thanks to 77,000 units and 65,000 in sales. It ties his career best chart placement (2007’s Black Rain also debuted at #3) and becomes his eighth top-10 solo album. The rest of the top 10 comprises Justin Bieber, Roddy Ricch, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Post Malone, Pop Smoke, Trippie Redd, and Billie Eilish.
Over on the Hot 100 singles chart, Roddy Ricch’s “The Box” rules for a whopping eighth straight week, followed yet again by Future and Drake’s “Life Is Good” at #2 and Post Malone’s “Circles” at #3. Debuting at #4 is BTS’ “ON,” their highest-charting hit to date. Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now” remains at its #5 peak, followed by Arizona Zervas’ “Roxanne” at #6 and Tones And I’s “Dance Monkey” at #7. Reaching a new #8 peak is the Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights.” (Another Weeknd track, “After Hours,” climbs 57 spots to #20 in its second week.) Maroon 5’s “Memories” and Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone You Loved” round out the top 10.
Lady Gaga – “Stupid Love”
Yeah, I already wrote about this song when it leaked, so what?! An instant-classic Lady Gaga club track merits this kind of attention, even if the Grimes-inspired video is campy even by Ms. Germanotta’s standards.
SZA & Justin Timberlake – “The Other Side”
As Trolls soundtrack singles go, this is more immediately tasteful than the knowingly corny “Can’t Stop The Feeling,” but it doesn’t impact with the same effervescence. I predict I’ll never listen again by choice but will hear it in grocery aisles for many years and not mind.
Bad Bunny – “Si Veo a Tu Mamá”
Only a few artists currently working have the personal magnetism to make Casio-preset elevator music sound like cutting-edge pop. Bad Bunny is one of them.
J Balvin – “Rojo”
So many reggaeton tracks blur together for me, but this one manages to stand out by somehow rewiring that familiar thump into a ballad’s beating heart.
Loote – “This Is How You Feel”
Loote, the duo of Jackson Foote and Emma Lov Block, have been kicking around the mainstream music machine for a few years now. With the crisp digital ripple “This Is How You Feel,” they’ve got a potential radio smash on their hands. Pretty much all pop now is computer pop, but this one feels like deeply human sensations encased in silicon. I’m into it.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Harry Styles announced two Harryween Halloween concerts at MSG with Orville Peck. [Twitter]
- Styles also released his “Falling” video, in which he plays piano underwater in a nightgown. [YouTube]
- Guess what else Harry Styles did? He bought a hoagie at a Delaware Wawa! [ABC]
- Normani spoke about Camila Cabello’s old racist social media posts and the bullying she endured from some Fifth Harmony fans. [Vulture]
- Nick Jonas said Jonas Brothers have been back in the studio with Ryan Tedder and will announce a new album in the next couple of weeks. [Today]
- Bad Bunny and Sech did “Ignorantes” on Fallon. [YouTube]
- Halsey says that “2020 will mark the end of me touring for a very long time.” [Instagram]
- Katy Perry will play a one-off Australian show in support of bushfire relief efforts on 3/11. [Instagram]
- Niall Horan will guest on James Corden all week next week. [YouTube]
- Maren Morris, Thomas Rhett, and producer Dann Huff lead the ACM Award nominations with 5 nods each. [CMT]
- Justin Bieber, SZA, Lil Nas X, and Maluma appear in a new Calvin Klein commercial soundtracked by SOPHIE’s “Ponyboy.” [YouTube]
- Lil Nas X shot a new music video in a treehouse. [TMZ]
- Kelly Clarkson returns as host of the Billboard Music Awards on 4/29. [Broadcasting Cable]
- Hailee Steinfeld did “Wrong Direction” on Colbert. [YouTube]
- Coldplay released a video for “Champion Of The World.” [YouTube]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
The Box by Roddy Ricch… made with only sounds from me being trapped in a box pic.twitter.com/BKq2N3NbZD
— Ali Spagnola (@alispagnola) February 27, 2020