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Doja Cat’s new polarizing, dark side cashes in on how controversy always sells


Pop musicians love eras. Every album cycle they put on a new alter ego different from the last like a costume, taking on a whole new personality, aesthetic and sometimes public persona too. Taylor Swift and Beyoncé are literally in the midst of tours that cycle through their decades-long careers, personalities and music. Pop rapper Doja Cat is no different from every other pop star even if she claims she isn’t.

The singer is using controversy to sell her new venture into what she calls her truest rap era.

For her new album “Scarlet,” the pop rapper transforms into her new era: The Scarlet Era. She now dresses in a new demonic, blood-red look all the while fending off her fans in real life and on the internet (See “Attention” music video). The promo for the album mostly consists of images of a bloodied Doja Cat and her dancers. At the VMAs, the artist was accompanied by a legion of bloodied Scarlets, and statues of red Scarlet mannequins have been popping up all over the country.

It’s a change from her previous albums “Hot Pink” and Grammy-nominated “Planet Her,” which fans familiarized themselves with her pop sound and look. It’s almost fitting that the rapper has released songs titled “Demons” and “Paint the Town Red” when she is aiming to burn down whatever favorable image people and her fans had of her before this new cosplay became her personality.

Like every artist that has come before Doja (think in the vein of Miley Cyrus), the singer is using controversy to sell her new venture into what she calls her truest rap era. Rappers usually have a closet full of skeletons and so does Doja Cat even though she says she doesn’t in the song “97.”

In the last handful of years, during her meteoric rise, the musician has faced possible cancellation for a plethora of bad behavior. It goes as far back as her early internet days saying homophobic slurs, in 2020 being accused of engaging in race-play chatrooms, and starting a feud with teen “Stranger Things” actor Noah Schnapp. While all this behavior she’s accused of is troubling and odd, unfortunately, it’s become expected for chronically online people to be engaging in this type of edge-lord, troll-like behavior. That’s not even the extent of where Doja’s controversies end.

Earlier this year, the singer took to Threads to claim that her former successful and critically lauded pop albums were “cash grabs,” upsetting her fans, who weirdly call themselves Kittenz. And yes, it’s with a “Z.” In a now-deleted post, Doja upset them even more: “My fans don’t name themselves s**t. If you call yourself a ‘kitten’ or f**king ‘kittenz’ that means you need to get off your phone and get a job and help your parents with the house.” When fans asked her to tell them that she loved them she said in response, “I don’t though cuz i don’t even know y’all.”

She’d rather be famous for metaphorically burning down her image because she let fame go to her head.

She reportedly lost 500,000 Instagram followers after the set of deleted posts. Fans even began to deactivate their fan accounts — no longer wanting to support the singer after her refusal to coddle fans. After the mass unfollowing, Doja said that it felt like she “defeated a large beast that’s been holding me down for so long . . . I feel free.” 

In her second Billboard No.1 single “Paint the Town Red,” the musician raps about this newfound freedom. She’d rather be famous for metaphorically burning down her image because she let fame go to her head. And she’s going to have so much fun in the chaos because “she’s the devil/She a bad lil’ b***h, she a rebel.”

She spits:

Yeah, b***h, I said what I said
I’d rather be famous instead
I let all that get to my head
I don’t care, I paint the town red

Furthermore, the fans also have a beef with Doja Cat because of her relationship with comedian and Twitch streamer J. Cyrus. The controversial Cyrus has been accused of emotional abuse, lying and manipulation by female moderators on Twitch. Fans also claimed that Cyrus would flirt and message younger female fans who were of legal age but were significantly younger than him.

Despite the allegations of abuse and following outcry from fans, Doja and Cyrus are reportedly still dating. There is speculation that her newest single off of “Scarlet” addresses everyone’s concerns about her relationship. The singer is in love in “Agora Hills” and she doesn’t care to show it off to everyone who chides her for it. But she also calls out her fans’ involvement in her personal life, and she basically tells them to bugger off.

The rapper sings:

Get used to my fans lookin’ at you
F*** what they heard, I don’t f*** with them birds
I’m a mean kitty, don’t get stabbed with the rat tooth
Boys be mad that I don’t f*** incels

In a moody “F**k the Girls (FTG),” the rapper again tells her fans off by referencing her viral Threads message: “I don’t love you h**s, you worship everything you couldn’t be.” In “97” she again, repeats the same grudge she holds against her haters who ultimately double as her fans:

Like they wasn’t tryna fight me in Threads (‘Bout some music)
In a tweet that I’ma probably still stand by (I’m ruthless)
Keep ya money, funky b***h, ’cause I don’t play about (The rumors)
They gon’ buy it, they gon’ pirate, they gon’ play it, they consume it

Doja Cat has a right to criticize how attached fans are to her personal life. Every celebrity deserves their right to privacy especially when it comes to their relationships, but the constant barrage against her fans feels like it’s misdirected and maybe even a level of projection. As someone who is so hell-bent on incinerating her already charred reputation, the singer sure as hell cares about what people think about her. As a woman, I understand her need to want to burn everything down and lash out when people are expecting too much from her. She will never 100% appease every single stan but regardless if celebrities like it or not they do have a pre-established social contract with their fans. Whether they honor it or not is up to them but they can’t be surprised when there is backlash when they say their fans are basically nothing to them. 

It’s easy for me to be unsympathetic to the backlash against her because she prides herself in being the same level of internet troll as her extremist super stans. Some pop music stans can act like rabid animals, and I know this as I had a One Direction Twitter fan account in 2013. But the only way to win the internet troll games as a creative artist passionate about the work is to drown out the noise and trust the opinions that hold real weight. 

Throughout “Scarlet,” Doja is palpably angry. She is ready to retaliate against the negative effects of the parasocial relationships between fans who have still given her the level of fame that allows her to openly say to them that they should “f**k off.” And even though the new album is receiving mixed reviews from critics, moderate sales numbers and a public souring on her image — she still has secured herself a Billboard No. 1 single. Selling controversy is the cheapest trick in the music game and clearly, no musician is above making a buck off their own personal mess. But it absolutely drowns out what is important about the art and fabricates it into a spectacle — the very thing Doja Cat is afraid of becoming.

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