[Insert Outrageous Doja Cat Headline Here]
Doja Cat is great at going viral. We established this last year when “Say So” was on its way to #1. The woman understands the online attention economy. She is relentlessly charismatic. She is not above dressing in wacky costumes or singing silly lyrics when the situation calls for it. And beyond her ability to grab people’s attention with non-musical factors, she’s great at sliding between rapping and singing depending on the needs of the moment. Doja and her collaborators write extremely catchy songs. The production: Immaculate. The videos: Outrageously colorful. She can be a little much, but at 25, she’s one of the most consistently entertaining pop stars we’ve got.
Part of the package with Doja, though, is that every now and then she goes viral for more scandalous reasons. There is usually an apology, but getting there is always a wild ride. In 2018, before she had truly commenced her invasion of the pop mainstream, someone surfaced old tweets from high school in which she directed an anti-gay slur toward Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt, which she chalked up to being young and stupid. In her apology note, she used the same word several more times, so she then had to apologize for that. But enough ancient history. Last year, after laughing off COVID-19 — “I’m gonna get corona and then I’m gonna get a Corona, cos I don’t give a fuck about corona, bitch. It’s a flu!” — she did indeed get corona (from her Postmates driver, or something). In between was the incident with her reciting the N-word in a not-officially-racist-but-racist-adjacent chatroom for incels, while also displaying her feet, which inspired one of the greatest tweets of all time.
She in racial chat rooms showing feet!!!
— N.O.R.E (@noreaga) May 24, 2020
Also, the ordeal resulted in Nas dissing her on his song “Ultra Black”:
The showing feet situation more or less coincided with the resurfacing of an old Doja song called “Dindu Nuffin,” named for a phrase members of the alt-right use to ridicule victims of police violence. Supposedly it was an attempt to reclaim the phrase, one that nonetheless did not go over well. We haven’t even discussed yet how closely “Say So,” her biggest chart hit to date, resembles Skylar Spence’s funky disco track “Fiona Coyne.” (Spence noticed.) And then there is the matter of who produced the suspiciously similar beat under the pseudonym Tyson Trax: None other than Doja’s label head Dr. Luke, who faced allegations of rape and myriad other abuses from Kesha in 2014. Luke has consistently prevailed in court, but there are people who quite reasonably don’t want to support the guy or any artists he works with.
These controversies have not derailed Doja Cat. If anything, they’ve thrust her to ever greater fame. So it has been going since last spring, when it became clear that the artist born Amala Zandile Dlamini was not going to be a blip. Like the most resilient fame magnets of the social media era, she absorbs any and all attention and puts it back into the universe as magnetic notoriety. Doja Cat has never been bigger than she is right now, at the official dawn of summer 2021, four days from the release of her new album Planet Her. But if we admit she’s getting a boost from being consistently messy, we must now pivot back to a discussion of her music. The new album slaps, everybody. It’ll easily go down as one of the finest pop albums of 2021. Be prepared.
Many will be pleased to know that Dr. Luke, although technically involved in the entire album as the owner of Kemosabe Records, only participated in three songs. Alas, they’re the songs you are most likely to hear, ones that find Doja aligning with her fellow superstars. Lead single and closing track “Kiss Me More” with SZA, which taps back into that graceful “Say So” disco vibe and has been rewarded with similar chart success (it reached a new peak of #4 today), was a Lukasz Gottwald co-write. Luke also co-wrote and produced “Need To Know,” the icy futuristic trap&b track with Grimes in the video as part of Doja’s alien party posse. “You Right,” the also chilly and as yet unreleased song that finds Doja once again linking with the Weeknd? Luke co-wrote and produced that one too.
Those are three pretty good pop songs — that sung-spoken “All on my tongue I want it!” outburst elevates “Kiss Me More” to a higher plane — but Planet Her would still be stellar without them. Working closely with longtime co-writer and producer Yeti Beats, Doja roams the spectrum from pop at its sweetest to rap at its hardest, unfurling sexual braggadocio and dropping a few Easter eggs to keep the stans engaged. (And, if they stan Nasir Jones, enraged: Did you notice the acronym formed by the title of the squelching, swaying tell-off “N****s Ain’t Shit”?) On a friendlier note, the dancehall-rap banger “Get Into It (Yuh)” ends with an expression of love and gratitude for Nicki Minaj, who helped bump “Say So” to #1 by hopping on the remix, and whose whole “rapper who makes pop songs/pop star who makes rap songs” duality serves as a template for Doja’s career.
“Get Into It (Yuh)” is one of several songs produced by Y2K, an Arizona native known for “Lalala” by bbno$ and quite a few songs by SoundCloud-rap-lookin’ pop-punk revivalist lil aaron. If Planet Her is the album that cements Doja Cat’s place on the pop A-list, it’s also a coming out party for Y2K. His beats are magnificent here, starting with the harpsichord-powered “Payday,” which finds Doja and Young Thug veering into Grimes-worthy helium voice at times en route to giddy trap-pop euphoria. Alongside Sully, Y2K also did Doja’s latest Ariana Grande team-up “I Don’t Do Drugs” — a masterclass in the airy R&B vibe Ariana Grande long since mastered, cut with multiple waves of pure pop hooks that burst from the speakers. As if to prove how many instruments he can build a killer beat out of, Y2K helmed the hard flute/synth loop “Options” too, in partnership with Mayer Hawthorne of all people; it’s a sterling opportunity for Doja and J.I.D to go spiraling across the rhythm.
Sex remains Doja’s most consistent muse. Sometimes it’s merely suggestive: “Let me be your woman!” she instructs on the reggaeton-tinged opening track, resembling Rihanna on the hook and Anderson .Paak on her gravelly rap verse. Other times it’s extremely overt: The briskly clattering “Naked” lets her slice and dice melodically en route to the breathy hook, “When can we take off all our clothes?” and then drop nimble rapid-fire bars in the vein of “Follow me to my dressing room/ Let me know if you ain’t ’bout that NSFW.” “Need To Know” is even more explicit, sometimes overbearingly so, while the Drake-esque (or, rather, 40-esque) “Been Like This” puts a more melancholy emotional spin on physical connection. It ends with “N****s wishin’ that the pussy was a kissin’ booth” on “Kiss Me More.”
If the theme remains steadfast throughout, the music ensures all that body talk rarely gets old. If Planet Her feels surprisingly drowsy during its low-key middle stretch, on the whole it hangs together as a unified statement thanks to a bright, sleek, low-end-heavy aesthetic that fits with Doja’s space-age theme. The variety of rhythms and hooks that manifest within that range is impressive — a credit to Doja and Yeti’s work as executive producers. This is one of those cases where I truly have no idea which songs are going to be hits because it feels like all of them should be singles. Given Doja’s proclivity for seizing the spotlight one way or the other, I will be excited to see how many of them pop off before the next time her foot ends up in her mouth — or, you know, in the racial chat rooms.
Polo G has his first #1 album on the Billboard 200. As Billboard reports, the Chicago rap star’s Hall Of Fame earned 143,000 equivalent album units, including 18,000 in sales. He previously made it as high as #2 with last year’s The GOAT. Polo’s big debut means Migos must settle for a #2 debut with Culture III, which tallied 130,500 units, including 22,500 in sales. The first two Culture albums debuted at #1. Next up are Olivia Rodrigo, Lil Baby, and Morgan Wallen.
With 46,000 units and a week-leading 43,000 in sales, K-pop group TWICE debut at #6 with Taste Of Love, their first top-10 release. Also hitting the top 10 for the first time is comedian Bo Burnham, whose Inside (The Songs) — the soundtrack to his quarantine-inspired comedy special — jumps from #116 to #7 in its first full week of tracking. The album totaled 37,000 units and 3,000 in sales. It’s the first comedy album since to reach the top 10 since Lil Dicky’s Professional Rapper in 2015. Maroon 5 debut at #8 with Jordi, which did 37,000 units and 15,000 in sales. Moneybagg Yo and J. Cole close out the top 10.
BTS hold down the #1 spot on the Hot 100 for a fourth straight week with “Butter.” According to Billboard it surpasses “Dynamite” to become their longest running #1. It’s also one of 13 songs to debut at #1 and remain there for four weeks, a feat last accomplished just this year by Olivia Rodrigo’s “drivers license.” Speaking of Rodrigo, she remains at #2 with her former chart-topper “good 4 u,” followed once again by Dua Lipa and DaBaby’s “Levitating” at #3. Doja Cat and SZA’s “Kiss Me More” hits a new #4 peak. Then it’s “Peaches,” “Leave The Door Open,” “Save Your Tears,” “Astronaut In The Ocean,” “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” and “deja vu.”
Diana Ross – “Thank You”
No, Diana Ross, thank you!
Tate McRae & Khalid – “Working”
Why do I feel like this was originally written as a country song and transplanted into this playful digital pop environment? The song is OK, it’s just weirding me out a little bit.
H.E.R. – “Paradise” (Feat. Yung Bleu)
You have to work very hard to mess up a shadowy minor-key pop-R&B song like this. Fortunately they did not mess it up.
Griff – “Shade Of Yellow”
The way the hook cascades around that steady reverberating keyboard part is ace. The use of vocal effects is ace. The way a second separate chorus materialized out of nowhere: ace! Just all around ace.
Mabel – “Let Them Know”
Even after I realized this was going to be one of those songs that keeps getting better and better as it goes, I was not expecting it to lead to the climactic lyric, “Baby you’re that bitch!” I feel the need to exercise to this song immediately.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- George Michael’s estate released a statement about Lorde’s “Solar Power.” [George Michael]
- Olivia Rodrigo graduated high school. [Instagram]
- Lil Nas X appeared on Desus & Mero. [YouTube]
- Machine Gun Kelly and Travis Barker held a rooftop concert/flash mob on a rooftop in Venice Beach. [TMZ]
- The Space Jam: A New Legacy soundtrack has collaborated tracks from 24kGoldn and Lil Wayne; Chance the Rapper, John Legend, and Symba; Saweetie, Kash Doll, and Salt-N-Pepa; and more. [U Discover]
- Miley Cyrus’ Pride special for Peacock will feature Orville Peck, Maren Morris, Brothers Osborne, Mickey Guyton, and Little Big Town. [YouTube]
- DaBaby, Lil Baby, Lil Durk, City Girls, Roddy Ricch, and Tyler, The Creator are among the performers at the BET Awards 6/27. [BET]
- iHeartRadio Music Festival returns to Vegas in September with Billie Eilish, DaBaby, Olivia Rodrigo, Dua Lipa, and Cheap Trick, among others. [iHeart]
- Ariana Grade joined James Corden in a Hairspray parody about the end of lockdowns. [Twitter]