In her fourth and most recent album, “Scarlet,” Doja Cat exudes a sense of self-confidence while also expressing frustration. This mix of emotions seems to stem from the past two years of recognition and achievements, as well as the ongoing debates about whether she truly deserved these accolades.
It should be clarified that Doja Cat has indeed earned every bit of her success through her talent and hard work. However, success in today’s world often comes with conditions. For instance, if you are the top pop star of the 2020s, it’s argued that you can’t also be a rapper. Factors such as pretty privilege and sexism also play a role, with the latter suggesting that male audience members are entitled to control your sexuality, even if your art was never intended for them.
Over the past year, Doja Cat has been actively debunking these arguments, with much of “Scarlet” aimed at this goal. She has previously been described as a stylistic chameleon, but she has recently revealed how challenging the past few years of judgment and scrutiny have been. She has spoken out against the so-called “stan culture,” where obsessive fans of various pop stars engage in endless and increasingly hostile online debates on behalf of performers who rarely ask them to.
In “Scarlet,” Doja Cat emphasizes that this is not normal. The parasocial relationship between artists and their listeners has always had ominous implications, but these have become unavoidable on social media. Doja Cat is tired of this and repeatedly criticizes speculators and skeptics, inviting them to watch the show while silencing their toxic chatter and overfamiliarity.
At the same time, Doja Cat has also been challenging her own public image during the album’s rollout. While her polished pop persona has helped her climb the ladder of success, she has expressed that it hasn’t been creatively satisfying. At her core, Doja Cat is a backpack rap kid, influenced by artists like Little Brother and Erykah Badu. While even the most hardcore underground rappers aren’t afraid to experiment with sound, for Doja Cat, producing disco-pop hits like “Kiss Me More” and “Say So” must have felt restrictive.
On “Scarlet,” Doja Cat proudly displays her influences. Songs like “Often” are reminiscent of old-school Baduizm. She has attempted this sort of hazy, incense-infused style before, but she sounds much more natural and comfortable now. Meanwhile, tracks like “Paint The Town Red” and “97” resemble brighter, more futuristic versions of the murky underground rap that Doja Cat was exposed to in the early 2000s.
“Scarlet” is clearly the album that Doja Cat has wanted to create from the start. Her songwriting has always been sharp, but on this album, she combines her wit with specific targets in mind. She addresses rumors directly in “Skull And Bones,” mocking those who have speculated about her tattoos and personal life.
In “Agoura Hills,” Doja Cat shares her own theory about the controversies and backlashes that have followed her since her rise to fame. In her view, it all boils down to societal pressure to conform, directed at someone who has achieved so much precisely because she refuses to conform.
Doja Cat has stated that “Scarlet” was written during two very different periods in her life. This is evident in the latter half of the album, where Doja Cat seems to be in a softer phase. However, “Scarlet” itself challenges the notion that artists must fit into one or two categories or that their entire lives belong to their fans. While artists often credit their fans for their success, they also owe their success to their unique qualities that attract fans in the first place. They own this aspect of themselves and don’t owe it to anyone else. “Scarlet” serves as a reminder of this to both Doja Cat and her listeners.
“Scarlet” is now available from Kemosabe and RCA Records.