Doja Cat is back. The mercurial artist announced the release date for her return single “Attention” earlier this week after what appeared to be a mix-up with the pre-save link. This came after several months in which the mischievous rapper/singer appeared to waver on her upcoming fourth album’s title, genre, and even seemingly whether she wanted to even continue making music. She went through a half-dozen extreme makeovers — some temporary, others more permanent — and trolled her fans.
And yet, all those changes are actually true to Doja Cat’s character. She has always cycled through aesthetics, personalities, and sounds throughout her career; that she continues to do so just proves that she remains true to herself, despite fans’ concerns that she “switched up.” For Doja, switching up is core to the persona that she’s cultivated from the very beginning. With a new album on the way, no one knows what to expect — not even, it seems, Doja herself — but considering how things have been going so far, that’s probably a very good thing anyway.
From the beginning, Doja Cat has demonstrated a chameleonlike ability to transform to suit either the needs of the song she’s making or her own, often esoteric whims. Take her breakout song, “Mooo!” for instance. Doja had already been signed and releasing music for some years before the jokey track skyrocketed her to national notoriety. But “Mooo!” was obviously a huge departure from the spacey, bohemian vibe of “So High,” released three years before, or the lighthearted, poppy sensibility of the cunnilingus anthem “Go To Town” from the year before.
Instead, “Mooo!” was Doja at her goofiest; in the homemade video, she morphed into an anime cowgirl, showing that she didn’t take herself too seriously and wasn’t exactly married to either image of herself as an incense-burning hippie or a latex-clad pop vixen. And when the backlash against “Mooo!” from hip-hop traditionalists grew from a dull roar to a loud insistence that the accomplished but relatively unknown performer didn’t have anything else to offer, she transformed again.
On Doja’s next album Hot Pink, she embraced a truly bewildering variety of both genres and looks, while also insisting that she was taking music more seriously. That promise paid off with the embrace of a pop-punk aesthetic in the video for “Bottom Bitch” and couture looks in the one for “Rules.” Meanwhile, Doja’s musical experimentation broadened, from the glitchy techno of “Addiction” to the rhythm-n-bass of “Like That” featuring Gucci Mane to the nu-disco of “Say So,” Doja’s first-ever No. 1 hit single.
With the onset of the pandemic and the shutdown of live entertainment, Doja showcased her gift for metamorphosis with a string of live performances of her smash, reimagining “Say So” as a heavy metal rocker and an orchestral ballad. She attributes this to her boredom with performing the same song over and over again in mostly empty rooms, but where many stars would get by with adding a live band and reshuffling some choreography, Doja let her imagination run wild.
Since then, we’ve seen a lot more examples of Doja Cat’s penchant for reinvention throughout the rollout and tour for her third album Planet Her, and in the run-up to her next album. At first, she proclaimed it would be a double album, with one half entirely produced by 9th Wonder. Then, it was just one album, leaning more heavily into the hip-hop proclivities she gleaned from coming up in LA’s Project Blowed-inspired underground rap scene.
Of course, then Doja says her ADHD kicked in, prompting her to envision the album as a collection of R&B songs, then as punk. In the meantime, she underwent dramatic physical changes as well, shaving her head and eyebrows and railing against industry standards that demand women look “f*ckable” at all times. She adorned herself with a litany of tattoos, from 15th-century grotesqueries to anatomical diagrams. With her new aesthetics, she seems very much to be challenging the expectation of polished perfection that accompanied her prior pop-oriented efforts.
She changed the speculative title of her album from Hellmouth to Scarlet (at least, that’s what fans believe it’ll be called after some cryptic social media posts from Doja), implying a rebellion against traditional femininity either way. The term “Hellmouth” comes from the Buffy The Vampire Slayer franchise, which satirized horror conventions positioning women as frail victims or traumatized final girls with its high-indestructible, valley girl vampire killing machine.
And “scarlet woman” is a term that has long been bandied by the patriarchy to slander women who enjoy their sexual freedoms. It also evokes blood, like the cover art for “Attention” — a fluid whose association with women has always been one known to make men feel a little squeamish. Those wimps. So, it looks like Doja Cat is once again aiming to mutate into a new form, the consummate shapeshifter. This time, though, her new guise, whatever it is, will be for her and not for us. Even so, everybody wins.