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The Huntington News

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Review: Doja Cat paints her ‘Scarlet’ letter

Emma Liu

When splotches of red began to taint her albums’ covers on streaming platforms — with “Planet Her” and “Hot Pink” looking unrecognizable in most Spotify users’ libraries — audiences were shocked to see a new Doja Cat era begin. 

Amala Dlamini, known professionally as Doja Cat, has always been known as a more eccentric rapper in the industry. She rose to fame in 2020, when songs like “Say So” and “Candy” went viral on TikTok, quickly garnering a fanbase infatuated with her unique personality and remarkable stage presence. 

Unfortunately, the rapper has disappointed many of her fans over the past couple of months. From various negative fan interactions to losing hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers, Doja Cat lost a fair bit of her audience with the seemingly nonsensical internet war she undertook prior to the release of her fourth studio album.

Recently, the rapper garnered criticism from listeners when she posted a series of tweets regarding her career, essentially disregarding her fame and fanbase. She mocked devoted listeners for being too involved with her and claimed that she only released her older albums as a means to make money. Unhappy with the previous pop persona that had been applied to her, Doja Cat wanted to focus more on hip-hop and rap, along with a complete rebranding of both her as a public figure and her fanbase. And herein comes the release of her newest album: “Scarlet.” 

The release of “Scarlet” was one that fans had been eagerly anticipating since the start of Doja Cat’s fall from grace. Her last studio album, “Planet Her,” was a massive hit, spawning a popular tour as well, with clips of her singing and dancing bombarding everyone’s social media pages. Doja Cat was at the peak of her career.

At a surface level, the new album truly does exemplify Doja Cat’s vision with a flow that feels murky, demonic and heavy. She has striking imagery of thick, dark blood, satanic rituals and a gothic take on love, intimacy and power. The album takes a fiery stand against anyone who doubted her abilities as a rapper. Its goal of making her appear as a talented and serious rapper, though, falls a bit short. Her pseudo-horrorcore branding doesn’t quite work with the image she has already cultivated on the internet, which will take more than just one album to eradicate.

The album begins with her newest single, “Paint the Town Red,” where she raps, “Yeah, said pop make money / You could make a revamp with a new vibe.” The song blew up in popularity, despite some fans’ insistence that they would not be streaming her music following public callouts from the artist herself. Even if it is just hate-listening to her album, her audience has quietly come together (albeit unknowingly) to give her enough views and listens to get “Paint the Town Red” to the top of the Billboard charts. Compared to other songs on the album, this one is the most similar to her old music with that Doja Cat-esque vibe her fans are used to. However, this quickly changes with the next song.

In “Demons,” Doja Cat opens with a sound that her audience has not heard from her before. The song takes on an angrier tone, with Doja Cat firmly positioning herself as a rapper with range. She raps, “I’m on to bigger things now,” reaffirming her departure from the pop industry and dismissal of the “mediocre” lyrics in her older songs. 

The track is accompanied by a music video with horrific visuals that rival those conjured by the works of Stephen King. The song is a quiet yet pounding flurry of rage and discontent. The music video that accompanies it features Christina Ricci as a woman living alone in her house, while Doja Cat, dressed as a demon, terrorizes her. The setting and concept itself highlight the idea behind the song. However, Doja Cat falls short when it comes to the outfits and scare factor. 

Fuck The Girls” features Doja Cat rapping passionate and resentful verses against the “girls” who undermined her before. The track is repetitive, fast-paced and aggressive. She raps, “Fuck the girls, they ain’t with me, then they with me / Fuck the girls, I don’t need them, I’m too pretty.” She takes her listeners back to the 1980s with this song, with a beat akin to the many old hip-hop songs that inspired her.  

Shutcho” features a long intro with drawn-out melodies before Doja Cat begins to rap. The track is more dream-like than anything else on the album, with heavenly instruments backing up her toned-back rapping. The song brings out the best in her voice, with expert switches between quick rapping and slowed-down lyricism. 

“Agora Hills” comes with another music video, though this one features imagery from the early 2000s and late 1990s. Surprisingly, Doja Cat’s voice changes for this song as well, as she sings like female artists from this era — specifically Christina Aguilera and Fergie. The outfits in the video are Y2K-inspired, laden with ribbons, tall boots and tank tops with short skirts. The sets for the video are reminiscent of a 90s bedroom, where she is shot lying on the floor while speaking to someone with a wired telephone and long painted nails. 

Despite Doja Cat’s attempts to break free of the pop branding that was assigned to her, “Scarlet” does not hit the mark of being a record-breaking album. Though the intent and meaning behind the album are there, it is more unsure and erratic than listeners might have hoped for. 

Still, Doja Cat is undoubtedly one of the most influential and creative artists of the 21st century — and she is just getting started. Whether she drops the horrorcore genre and returns to pop or continues to unravel her demons, she is certainly one to watch for many years to come.

About the Contributors
Rachana Madhav
Rachana Madhav, Opinion Editor
Rachana Madhav is a third-year behavioral neuroscience major with an English minor. She is currently working as deputy opinion editor of The News. She is excited to provide a platform for those with ideas and opinions and very eager to read anyone's work. You can follow her on Instagram at @anna_rac7.
Emma Liu
Emma Liu, Deputy Design Editor
Emma Liu is a second-year behavioral neuroscience and design major. She is currently working as the deputy design editor for The News. Originally from Philadelphia, Emma loves to collect sonny angels, volunteer at local orgs and find good food in her free time.
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