Doja Cat’s newest album Planet Her debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart. With the album’s popularity, it’s hard to believe last spring Doja was on the verge of being cancelled – again. The singer’s ability to stay afloat amidst the constant barraging of her character is impressive, but her ability to be herself — flaws included — even through backlash might be her greatest asset.
Doja can continue to circumvent the throes of cancel culture because she operates outside the traditional industry just enough to dodge its convictions
In many ways, it seems like August 2018 – and Doja’s acceleration to popularity — was last month and not three years ago. She had just released her hit song turned meme-of-the-month “Mooo!” and the internet went on a cow-themed frenzy. But the artist’s quick ascent to popularity was not without challenges. Just as Doja Cat’s name started creeping its ways into every pop culture conversation, old tweets where she had used the f-slur resurfaced. Doja quickly responded with a tweet, half-apologizing but mostly defending her use of the word saying, “I called a couple people fa***** when I was in high school in 2015 does this mean I don’t deserve support?” And it seemed most people ultimately agreed that cancel culture vultures swooped in too quickly, including Rico Nasty who featured on “Tia Tamera” in January 2019.
In some ways, Doja’s ludicrous apology and larger-than-life personality made her error more meme material rather than an egregious misstep. And being so new to industry fame, her past mistakes were much more easily swept under the rug. Her career was too short to be cut off. Her cavalier attitude was a fresh breath of air to the industry and the internet.
Doja started mainly as an independent artist, publishing her music on SoundCloud or YouTube and other soundbites on her Instagram Live sessions. While she did get picked up by Kemosabe Records (co-founded by the rightly infamous Dr. Luke) fairly quickly in 2012, her personality and style has stayed relatively true to her original sound.
In a world where “three major record labels produce two-thirds of all music consumed in America,” maintaining one’s authentic self draws audience — especially when an artist like Doja promotes that honesty as central to her branding and virality. And in this way, Doja can continue to circumvent the throes of cancel culture because she operates outside the traditional industry just enough to dodge its convictions.
Adhering to industry standard is a strong prerequisite for success in music, so maintaining one’s artistic and personal integrity is a risk not many are willing to take. But Doja has conjured a sound which maintains pop music’s core sonic qualities while developing her niche within the genre. She has crafted her own template for success. Her musicality attracts the audience, while her inventive music videos, personality, and vocals elevate her music from a song in your headphones to a full body experience.
Much like Lady GaGa and Nicki Minaj, Doja continues her performances offstage. From turning herself into memes to excelling at quippy Tik Tok videos, she positions herself at the center of pop culture. Anywhere you turn, Doja appears, and it’s almost impossible to cancel someone so fluent in self-promotion. Her arrival filled a need for the quirky Black pop girl missing on everyone’s playlists. Without being able to point to a similar artist who creates bops that are just as fun to jam to, Doja will be here to stay.
Controversy continued to follow the California-born artist though. Just as her songs began trending on Tik Tok in spring 2020, Doja’s history with TinyChat came to light. The hashtag “#DojaCatIsOverParty” began trending on Twitter shortly after footage surfaced of the singer allegedly engaging with various racist chatrooms. Though Doja denied any engagement with openly racist users, she does admit her behavior was less than ideal, “I’m not perfect – but at the end of the day I shouldn’t be doing dumb [stuff].”
For a brief internet moment, I thought Doja would actually get removed from her pedestal. But just as the controversy came to a head at the end of May, George Floyd’s murder rightly took everyone’s attention. And as international attention was drawn to another account of police brutality, Doja escaped persecution. A quick Twitter search reveals hundreds of tweets from May 25 and onward which all say some version of “We ain’t forget, Doja.” But with Planet Her’s success and three of the album’s songs circulating Tik Tok trends, it seems people have.
More than forgetfulness though, it seems Doja has baffled her audience. Her success is not only a testament to her talent but her ability to keep people so on their toes with her peculiarity, they cannot pin her down long enough to throw their cancellation darts. And this dodging is a talent of its own. In 2021, whether or not you believe cancel culture is toxic, evading it is now a part of the celebrity job description. And being able to overcome it multiple times is a skill worth noting.
And herein lies Amala Dlamini’s magnetism: her peculiarity not only in her music, but also in her offstage behavior; her offenses like using TinyChat rooms not to further any internalized anti-Blackness, but to talk about foot jobs. Her strangeness is a double-edged sword, a siren’s call and a sinking ship. But as long as Doja Cat is able to maintain her weirdly enchanting hot girl status, she won’t be going anywhere.