I am sitting with Doja Cat in an Airbnb in Universal City, California, in mid-November, listening to a punk cover of “I Saw Her Standing There” and polishing off the toothsome lobster-caviar rolls she made. She’s talking about an ex-boyfriend and puffing on her omnipresent highlighter-colored tobacco vape (“I don’t crave many things other than this stupid thing. That’s pretty much it. Chocolate, sex, and vape”). All of a sudden, after about an hour of chatting about her last album and past relationships, she looks down at her Minnie Mouse-encased iPhone and excuses herself to go to the bathroom.
For a few minutes, I’m standing in the kitchen, scribbling notes, cleaning up lobster meat, and trying to figure out the automatic trash can, when she comes back and calls out, “My throat and nose are really fucked up.” Her managers (she has four, two of whom have been hanging out in another room on the premises) scurry into the kitchen as if summoned by conch shell.
“Is everything OK?” I ask.
“Yeah, everything’s great,” she says. “I appreciate it. Really, I do.” And she disappears.
We had planned to have dinner and hang out for a few hours at an Airbnb her team had rented for the occasion. (“They wanted me to be like, ‘This is the place I’m staying at,’ but I’m not staying here. It’s just an Airbnb. I didn’t want anyone in my house. No offense,” she says as she chops chives on a cutting board.)
Doja had confessed to being run ragged by her schedule. She played the Day N Vegas festival two nights before, then flew back to L.A. for her manager’s birthday party, arriving late and needing to do some shots to catch up. Today she’s wildly hungover, and we’d commiserated about being on our periods. (Later, on Zoom, I learn she had been running a high fever.) One of her managers mentions she’s taking Doja to the doctor before handing me a carton of artisanal water. “Take this for the road,” she says.
Doja would love to be in the studio making music, but she’s unable to do so because, “I’m doing all this other shit.” There are, in fact, mountains of that other shit now that Doja is on the precipice of superstardom. Doja spent years in relative obscurity, releasing a critically acclaimed yet widely ignored debut before blowing up during the early days of the pandemic with “Say So,” a flawless disco-inspired track off her second album, Hot Pink, that went viral on TikTok and became her first Number One hit. In June, Doja released the excellent Planet Her, a cavalcade of wall-to-wall bangers that vacillates seamlessly from sultry Afropop (“Woman”) to polished Top 40 jams (“You Right,” “I Don’t Do Drugs”) to the R&B throwback “Need to Know,” which Doja tells me she wrote when she was drunk in the studio. In November, she received eight Grammy nominations, the second most of any other artist for the year.
She has all the markers of pop superstardom: the high-gloss music videos (she writes most of the treatments herself); the makeup line; the bevy of brand deals; the award-show appearances decked in Gaultier and Thom Browne; the calls from Vogue to do makeup and skin-care tutorials; the cadre of managers; the creative director and choreographer and videographer and other assorted team members. Even her two cats, Alex and Ray, have become famous, though not famous enough that they were allowed to play themselves in the music video for “Get Into It (Yuh),” which features Doja’s cat being kidnapped by an evil alien overlord. (Doja’s team held a casting call to play her cat in the video; she decided to pick a “funny-looking one with really dirty, crazy eyes.”)
One thing she says she could do without: being interviewed. Despite her bombastic tantric-sex alien persona, those in her circle say she’s an introvert. In person, she is polite yet circumspect. When I first meet her, at a studio in North Hollywood, where she’s rehearsing a video for “Get Into It (Yuh),” she leans in for a hug, but it’s the type of hug you get at your 10th-anniversary reunion from a college nemesis who is palpably disappointed you didn’t get fat.
“It’s cool when it’s a hot guy asking you questions, or someone, like, you’re hooking up [with], who’s like, ‘So what was your favorite thing when you were in high school?’ ” she says. “[But] if you just want to chill out and just, like, fuckin’ vibe all day, and then you have to get out of bed to go somewhere and have people ask you questions that you’ve been asked, it’s a little exhausting.”
Doja Cat’s management team offers two explanations for her success. The first is her undeniable technical gifts and staggering versatility as a rapper and vocalist. “You don’t see any rappers doing punk-rock songs like ‘Bottom Bitch.’ You don’t see them using Paul Anka as a sample,” says her manager Lydia Asrat. On a track like the breakup anthem “Ain’t Shit,” for instance, Doja vacillates from a husky growl to anime-character falsetto in a manner of seconds; listening to her is like watching Robin Williams do stand-up in the Seventies. She says she likes to imagine herself guesting as her own “alter ego” when she writes verses: “I think it turns songs into more like rides or experiences.”
Ironically, her versatility is something of a point of contention among hip-hop fans, who obsess over whether she should be classified as a rapper or as a pop artist. She correctly views this as the type of argument “that children on Twitter like to have, but nobody in the real world really cares to talk about.” But such criticism also clearly wounds her. “Anyone who says that I’m not a rapper is in denial,” she says. “They don’t know what they’re talking about.”
The second explanation for Doja’s massive success is her willingness to be wacky and unpredictable in an age of polished, hyper-image-focused pop stardom. On her Instagram Lives, she’ll twerk in beige cat ears, which she proclaims she bought “for sensual reasons”; on TikTok, she’ll make fun of gravelly voiced himbos and dance seductively in a Ron Weasley wig; and on Twitter, she’s the consummate shitposter, regularly posting tweets such as “peepee vagina” and “my ass is foul.”
Then there are also the less innocuous social media posts, the ones that have gotten her in trouble throughout her career: the time she used homophobic slurs to describe rappers Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler, the Creator, for instance, or a leaked video from a room in Tinychat rumored to be associated with white supremacists, in which Doja can be seen rolling around suggestively on a bed and saying the n-word, a controversy famously summarized by rapper N.O.R.E. as Doja being “in racial chat rooms showing feet.” (There is no evidence the other members of the chatroom were, in fact, white supremacists.) More recently, she lobbed insults at fans who lambasted her for attending Kendall Jenner’s birthday party during the pandemic, saying in a now-deleted tweet, “Shut the fuck up hag” to one who criticized her behavior.
These behaviors have given Doja a reputation for being Extremely Online, though that’s a characterization she refutes: “I definitely was a kid of the internet,” she says, “and now I’ve backed away from it. . . . Unless I’m lonely or alone, and then I go on Twitter and fucking fire off tweets for two hours straight.”
But the lack of filter has only partially translated in her recent work, which is more polished than her quirky online presence would suggest. “At first it was really easy to originally compare her to SoundCloud rappers, and it was like, ‘She raps. She must be like Nicki or she must be like Cardi,’” says her manager Josh Kaplan. “I think she’s different. I’ve always seen her as more of a Lady Gaga type.”
Doja’s team views her ability to project authenticity online as something of a competitive advantage. When most artists found themselves at a loss for what to do during the pandemic, Doja was constantly on Instagram Live, making music, asking Alexa to “play the sounds of Forest Whitaker taking a shit,” playing Fortnite, and announcing when she had the runs to her devoted fans. “She’s a master of the internet,” says Doja’s manager Gordan Dillard. “That’s one of the three to four things that put her above other artists during that pandemic. . . . The artists who knew how to work the internet were the artists who won during that time frame.”
Doja has won, her team insists, largely by being herself. But it’s unclear whether the edgelord who tells her fans to shut the fuck up on Twitter can necessarily be synonymous with the pop starlet firmly ensconced in the star-making machine. It’s also unclear at what cost Doja is willing to keep winning.
Most people in Doja Cat’s immediate circle don’t call her Doja. (Her stage name, a nod to both her love of felines and her love of weed, is a source of some consternation for her: She has tried a few times over the years to change it and was persuaded otherwise by a former manager. “My image was the pothead hippie girl, and I’m not that,” she says. “[SNL] made a joke the other day that Doja Cat sounds like a Pokémon. And, you know, it didn’t hurt my feelings, but it definitely hurt my feelings.”) They call her Amala, as in Amala Dlamini, her real name.
The younger child of graphic designer Deborah Sawyer and South African actor and dancer Dumisani Dlamini, Doja moved to Rye, New York, to live with her mother’s mother, a Jewish architect and painter. (They were not particularly observant; Doja says she grew up eating lobster and celebrating Christmas.)
Growing up, Doja had no interaction with her father, and though they have since connected on social media, she has never met him in person. All she knew was what she remembers her mother telling her: that they’d met in New York while he was performing on Broadway, had had a brief relationship, that he was too busy traveling and touring to spend time with her and her brother. “I felt confused, a little bit,” she recalls. “It’s a little strange to see everybody else with their dad, and you didn’t even really have one.”
Gabrielle Hames, one of Doja’s childhood best friends, says growing up without a father impacted Doja tremendously. “She would always think her dad was coming, and he didn’t come,” says Hames. “She’d say, ‘My dad is gonna come, he lives in Africa, he’s just performing,’ and he wouldn’t come.”
When Doja was about eight, Deborah, who would later go by the Sanskrit name Ishwari, packed up the family and drove across the country to relocate to the Sai Anantam Ashram, a commune in the Santa Monica Mountains led by jazz legend Alice Coltrane. Deborah wanted to move to the mountains to get some peace and quiet, but this did not particularly jibe with Doja, who describes herself as a “hyper” kid. “It was very restraining,” she says of the ashram. “My brother liked it. He had a lot of friends. But I didn’t have many friends. For me, it was just like, ‘I can’t eat what I want to eat. I can’t really do kid stuff.’ Like, God forbid you don’t have a scarf on your shoulders.”
The family eventually moved to Oak Park, an upper-middle-class suburb of Los Angeles, where Deborah befriended and started making jewelry with Hames’ mother. Hames’ older sister, Alexis Haines, occasionally babysat for Doja and her brother. (The sisters would later be featured on the E! Reality TV series Pretty Wild, and Haines served one month in jail for her involvement in the Bling Ring celebrity-robbery scandal.) “We were a little bit more of the latchkey kids,” says Haines. “We had these hippie moms and were given probably more freedom than kids should have been.”
Doja and her brother were one of the few, if not the only, mixed-race kids where they grew up. “I looked different. My hair was different,” she says. “People were very racist and very rude and unhinged and weird.” Most of her friends growing up were white and Jewish, she says, and her brother used to make fun of her for not having Black friends. Haines remembers that Doja would constantly beg her to flat-iron her hair.
According to Haines, Doja’s brother’s behavioral issues “took up a lot of space in that household.” “There may not have been space for [Doja’s] feelings,” Haines says. “She had other outlets and avenues and ways of trying to get attention, but she was a good kid, a sweet kid.”
It was while Haines was babysitting Doja that she started rapping, posting verses on Haines’ MySpace. Doja had grown up with music: Her brother often played 50 Cent and Nas, her mom loved Erykah Badu and Earth, Wind, and Fire, and many afternoons at the ashram they’d participate in ecstatic-chanting services. “I knew that I could rap. That was the first thing I knew in my heart I could do,” she says.
She did not feel the same way about singing, which still makes her self-conscious. Her aunt, a vocal coach, taught her breath control by having her sing in front of a candle without moving the flame, and she was able to successfully prepare for her audition to the same Los Angeles performing-arts high school her brother had attended (she sang “Part of Your World” from Little Mermaid).
When she was 16, Doja dropped out of high school, which she has attributed to her struggles with ADHD. “It felt like I was stuck in one spot and everybody else was progressing constantly,” she says. She’s said this was a period of artistic awakening for her, a time when she became obsessed with the sound of her voice layered on top of beats. But it also seems like a difficult time. “I definitely didn’t like to leave my room. I don’t know if I was agoraphobic, but I definitely thought that I was at the time,” she says. “It was very, very hard for me to go outside, but then there was a period where all I did was go outside to get the fuck out of the house and it didn’t matter where I was going,” she says. She smoked a lot of weed, scoured YouTube for beats, and posted songs she made, including “So High,” a wispy, Ambien-tripping dream-pop anthem that caught the attention of the man who would become her longtime producer, Yeti Beats.
Today, Doja cringes when she listens to “So High” — “It’s some of the laziest lyrics I’ve ever written,” she says. But Yeti heard the song and was “blown away” by her talent. “The recording wasn’t great, but this girl’s voice was so crazy,” he recalls. He started shuttling her to his studio in Echo Park to record, immediately recognizing that the studio served as an oasis of sorts for Doja to escape from the turmoil at home. “I don’t know if she would want me saying this, but she was a shut-in,” he says. “The studio was a safe place for her. I had this feeling we’d met for a reason, and I tried my hardest to bring her to the studio every day and give her a place to feel creative and go.”
Through Yeti’s connections, Doja signed with Kemosabe Records, an imprint of RCA helmed by pop-music magnate Dr. Luke. In 2014, Kemosabe released her debut EP, Purrr!. “So High” gave Doja her first taste of mainstream success, as well as her first taste of internet outrage when people criticized the Hindu imagery she’d used in the music video. At the time, she pointed out that she practiced Hinduism as a child and was inspired by her time on the ashram, but in retrospect, she regrets the video. “If I knew not to do that, I probably wouldn’t have done it,” she says. “When something is so sacred to many people, I think it’s good to be more sensitive about it and just kind of back away.”
Over the next few years, Doja was stuck in something of a creative limbo. Though she continued to tour and make music, she was smoking too much weed, she says, and was “very unhealthy and needed a break.” (She has since quit cannabis: “I don’t do any drugs. I just drink way too much,” she says.) “She stopped making music for a while. She was finding herself, and the label wasn’t paying much attention to her,” says her former lawyer and manager, Josh Kaplan.
It’s probably not a coincidence that this period coincided with Dr. Luke’s legal battle with Kesha, which became public shortly after Doja signed with Kemosabe. (A representative for Dr. Luke declined to comment on this topic.) Of all the controversies dogging Doja’s career, her association with a man Kesha accused in a lawsuit of drugging and raping her is perhaps the most notable. His resurgence — he was nominated for a Grammy in 2020 for his work on “Say So,” and has three more nominations this year, two of them for work on Planet Her — is unquestionably tied to Doja’s success. (Dr. Luke has denied Kesha’s allegations and sued her for defamation. Kesha dropped her lawsuit in 2016; Dr. Luke’s lawsuit is ongoing.)
Doja has not publicly commented on her relationship with Dr. Luke, though she has tweeted appreciatively at fans defending her from criticism for working with him and liked tweets asserting she signed with him before the Kesha allegations became public in early 2014. (Instagram posts on Yeti’s account appear to show Doja and Yeti taking meetings with RCA in the spring of 2013.) Luke has writing credits on such hits as “Best Friend,” Saweetie’s female-empowerment anthem featuring Doja; Saweetie has said the songs she produced with Dr. Luke were part of her bundle deal with him, and she’s indicated she has no plans to work with him again in the future.
I ask Doja whether she feels the same as Saweetie, i.e., if she will continue to work with him in the future. At first, she is reticent: “That’s not a question I feel really comfortable answering,” she says, then pauses. “I haven’t worked with him in a very long time,” she finally says. “A lot of those songs were . . .” She pauses again. “There’s shit that he’s credited for, where I’m like, ‘Hmm, I don’t know, I don’t know if you did anything on that.’ ”
“Like what?” I ask.
“It doesn’t matter,” she says. “The point is he’s gotten some credit for shit. And, you know, it’s whatever. I don’t think I need to work with him again. I don’t think I need to work with him in the future. I know that.” She pauses. “I think it was definitely nice of me to work with him,” she says, emitting a dry chuckle. (Reached for comment, a representative for Dr. Luke wrote that “Luke is very proud of Amala (Doja Cat) and the work they have done together,” and that Luke has “written a uniquely large amount of hits and career-defining songs, and continues to do so. As it is his daily work, his practice, as is the industry’s, is to receive publishing when he creates songs.”)
A few weeks later, Doja sends a follow-up statement regarding her comments on Luke. “I wanted to clarify something that I had been thinking about since the interview,” she wrote in an email sent through a representative. “When asked about Luke I may have said something that someone could interpret as me saying that he had taken credit on things he didn’t deserve to. I just want to be clear that I have no firsthand knowledge of that being the case and I don’t want to participate in the rumor mill. The credits on my music are accurate, and I don’t want to imply anything else.”
She added that her previous comments were borne out of her “sensitivities in the past about certain people attributing my general success to the work of others — in particular, men.” She continued, “As a young woman I think it is always important to fight for the credit that we are all due, and that was the point I was trying to make there.”
In 2018, right after releasing Amala, Doja Cat was frustrated. Her old manager at Roc Nation had quit, and her label had little idea what to do with her. Then, shortly before Doja was set to go on tour for Amala, producer Troy Noka sent her a sample of Wes Montgomery’s “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” asking her to make a beat for his album. She had just gotten a cow costume in the mail to wear on her tour, and she used the sample to start writing “Mooo!” on Instagram Live with fans. Then she shot the video, using her childhood bedroom to make an impromptu green screen. The result, showing her in a crop top eating a cheeseburger and dancing in front of bouncing anime breasts, is quintessential Doja: one part titillating, one part absurd, and a genuine example of her verbal virtuosity.
“Mooo!” was not Doja’s only novelty song: She had also released “Nintendhoe,” the hook of which features Doja’s pornographic moaning (“We thought ‘Nintendhoe’ would be the thing that blew her up,’ ” Asrat tells me), and she’d later release the laconic single “Waffles Are Better Than Pancakes” (featuring the hypnotic outro “Fuck pancakes/They taste like shit”). When I ask Doja if it bothers her that a novelty song about being a sexy cow is what got her label to take her seriously, she says it does not. “I knew that it was goofy. It’s very blatantly a joke. But I also wanted it to musically sound good to people, and it does.”
The success of “Mooo!” irrefutably proved that she was a marketable artist. “It was kind of an eye-opener,” says Yeti. “We’d been working on ‘serious’ music, but people love who she is, so let’s lean into that more.”
Hot Pink further cemented Doja’s status as a pop jack-of-all-trades. “I remember playing the album for the whole RCA team and they were like, ‘Oh, shit,’ ” says Kaplan. “Everyone knew as soon as they heard it. People I’d met several times all of a sudden remembered my name.” The album inspired numerous trends on TikTok, especially during the early months of the pandemic; the sultry “Streets,” for instance, spawned TikTok’s Silhouette Challenge, in which users pose provocatively in a doorway bathed in a red filter.
And then there’s “Say So,” a disco-pop-rap hybrid inspired by Nile Rodgers’ guitar work on “Good Times.” “Say So” helped kick off a midpandemic resurgence of escapist, frothy disco pop and prompted the creation of a coquettish viral dance on TikTok (Doja later cast the creator, Haley Sharpe, in the video for the song). Doja says the song came from her “mumbling” the lyrics and the melody after she received the beat, noodling around on Logic in her room at her mom’s house. Dr. Luke is also credited on the track as a co-writer and the song’s sole producer, the latter credit under the pseudonym “Tyson Trax.” Those credits, one music-industry insider says, are basically single-handedly responsible for the resurgence of his career: He has since worked with DaBaby and the Kid LaRoi, as well as Saweetie. “He’s back to producing superstars again. And the only hit he had that year was ‘Say So,’ ” the industry insider says.
Doja has developed something of a complicated relationship to this song for other reasons; one viral clip shows Doja rolling her eyes during a performance of the song. “It just became a very sad and repetitive and underwhelming thing for me,” she says of performing ‘Say So’ on Zoom during the pandemic. “[There] was a point where I was like, ‘God, I can’t wait to perform this’; then all of a sudden I am performing one of my favorite songs off the album, but I’m not even able to do it for my fans in real life. So now there’s this negative connotation behind it, like, ‘Well, fuck, I can’t even live the dream that I had for “Say So,” really.’ . . . So that kind of fucked me up a little bit.”
The pandemic was a boon to Doja Cat’s career, but it also brought her a lot of unwanted attention: specifically, to her history of edgelord behavior online. In 2018, for instance, after fans unearthed old tweets of her using the f-word, her initial response was to double down, tweeting, “I called a couple people faggots when I was in high school in 2015 does this mean I don’t deserve support? I’ve used faggot roughly like 15 thousand times in my life.” (She later deleted the tweet and issued a more polished apology.)
To some extent, much of Doja’s older online behavior can be attributed to a teenager’s tendency toward provocation. An old Facebook profile that appears to have been operated by Doja does reflect a predilection toward casual homophobia — “#gayassnigga” she hashtags one 2012 post mocking her brother for rapping along to Lil’ Kim — but mostly it’s just a repository of selfies and druggie memes and 8-bit-aesthetic Tumblr art; a portrait of a kid who’s just trying to find her shit out.
But Doja’s edgelord tendencies have continued to resurface throughout her career. At the beginning of the pandemic, she went viral for appearing to undermine the seriousness of the virus, saying on Instagram Live, “Bitch, I’m not scared of a coronavirus or the motherfucking beer version of that shit. I’m gonna get corona and then I’m gonna get a Corona, ’cause I don’t give a fuck about corona, bitch. It’s a flu!”
“That was just a way to lighten the mood,” she says when I ask about her Covid comments. “It wasn’t something to make light of, and I guess I didn’t see the immensity of it and how dangerous it’s been and devastating. I think it was me just being like a dumb fucking idiot on Live.” (Several weeks after I meet with Doja, she announces she tested positive for Covid and drops out of the Jingle Ball Tour.)
At the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, after the “racial chatrooms showing feet” controversy, people online became further incensed after finding one of Doja’s old SoundCloud tracks, 2015’s “Dindu Nuffin,” a reference to a 4chan slur for Black victims of police brutality. “Unfortunately, what’s happening here isn’t that uncommon for Black people who grew up in predominantly white spaces,” writer Damon Young of the Root wrote about “Dindu Nuffin” and the Tinychat controversy. “Whiteness — particularly the cool and edgy white boys — is fetishized, and to assimilate, some flatten themselves into the Black kid who isn’t offended by slurs and can be just as edgy as they are.” When I ask about the controversies, she declines to get into it. “I’ve talked about this many times in the past, and I feel like all of that’s been pretty thoroughly explained, and I don’t need to talk about it anymore,” she says.
In a PR-approved statement from 2020, as well as a less-filtered Instagram Live, Doja admitted to spending a great deal of time in her youth in online chatrooms, but denied being “involved in any racist conversations” on Tinychat, calling anyone who referred to her online friends as white supremacists “fucking stupid.” She also says “Dindu Nuffin” was her attempt to reclaim the term after having it thrown at her by white people in chatrooms. “I’m a Black woman,” she wrote in her statement. “Half of my family is Black from South Africa and I’m very proud of where I come from.”
Many in Doja’s orbit say her inability to censor herself is one of the many things that makes her eminently relatable. “She’ll just say crazy stuff,” says Noka. “If anyone wants to talk trash on that they can. But I’m sure in the dark they admire that.” When I ask Doja’s manager Dillard about her getting in trouble on social media, he frames it as road bumps on the path to superstardom: “When you’re dealing with a real artist, everyone makes mistakes. Everyone says things. I would be lying to you if I said there wasn’t nervousness [about her being online]. But Doja’s growing into an adult. She’s maturing. She’s a human being. And I can never be mad at her for being herself. She is who she is.”
The idea that Doja Cat struggles with internalized racism has dogged her throughout her career. Nas referenced the controversy in his 2020 track “Ultra Black,” referring to himself as “unapologetically Black” and “the opposite of Doja Cat.” This seems like an egregious criticism to level against a woman who is biracial, and as a result has consistently been in the position of having to defend her Blackness to the rest of the world. At first, she denies that such criticism has much of an effect on her: “It didn’t hurt me. It was just like, ‘Oh, this sucks. This is no good.’ ” But as she talks about it more, it’s clear that it has wounded her.
“It’s just like, ‘This is a human being, a real human being with feelings,’ ” she says. “[I] don’t think it had anything to do with me, to be honest. I think whatever [Nas] was talking about was something that other people kind of planted into his mind. [But] if you’re able to reach that conclusion about me so confidently, there’s no point in ever talking about it. . . . I’m also very nonconfrontational, and I don’t like the vibe of trying to prove myself to somebody that I don’t need to. I don’t think I really need to respond to that without humor.” And indeed, she did: When she teased the misandrist “Ain’t Shit” on Instagram in the summer of 2020, she initially introduced it as “N.A.S.”
This kind of flippancy serves a protective purpose. The idea that nothing matters and no one really cares has allowed Doja to thrive as a shitposter and helped her deflect criticism. “My formula for Twitter is to tweet something that has little to no meaning, or if you have something meaningful, to say it,” and then undercut it with a joke, she explains. “I think Idles is one of the best punk bands in the world. So I made that apparent. And the next tweet was, like, ‘boobs’ or something,” she says by way of an example. “[Honestly] I think it’s better to tweet the shitpost than it is to tweet anything that means anything, because who fucking cares? Nobody cares.”
She’s talking about her social media strategy, but it’s hard not to think she’s talking about her public persona as well, which can best be summarized by one of the verses on “Get Into It (Yuh),” which plays on a loop she lip-syncs to as she rehearses the steps for the accompanying music video: “You just wanna party/You just want a lap dance/You just wanna pop up on these clowns like you’re the Batman/You just wanna ball out in designer with your best friends.”
Doja feels there is an unfair conception of her as “a vapid rapper girl with boobs and ass, and I have no opinions. You see someone on a screen, and they’re putting on an act and doing a thing for a camera, and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s how they are all the time.’ It’s a shallow way to think, that the person on the TV is nothing but a glob of pixels doing clown shit,” she tells me.
Publicly, at least, she’s almost comically averse to espousing any preexisting set of politics or agenda. Though she donated $100,000 to the Justice for Breonna Taylor fund after the “Dindu Nuffin” controversy, Doja doesn’t use social media to broadcast any specific political views.
“I’ve never really been interested in politics,” she tells me on Zoom. “It just seems like a boring issue. My brain just doesn’t attach to that. I’m more of, I don’t know, a doodling kind of person. I like to doodle and dance and just get through my day.” Of President Biden’s performance during his first year in office, she feigns ignorance: “I don’t know. I know that he has a face and legs and arms and things like that, and he walks around with them.”
To an extent, it’s novel, even refreshing, to talk to an artist who refuses to engage with any substantive issues of any kind. But it’s also part and parcel of a general shitposter outlook, wherein the danger of participating in public displays of earnestness far outweighs any risks associated with cancellation. “What I’ve learned is, nobody cares. Nobody cares that you’re upset about something, unless you’re, like, scary and you have a lot of power. No one gives a fuck that you’re upset about this casserole that you made,” she says of people being angry on social media. “It’s fun to just be a goofy guy.”
Doja is similarly averse to opening up about her personal life. “I don’t like seeing people talking about their relationships and shit on Twitter. That’s fucking embarrassing, and it’s a dumb thing to do. You know, don’t put your personal business out there,” she says on Zoom during a follow-up interview, as her cat Alex scurries in the background. (Her Zoom handle at one point, for what it’s worth, is “Nicolas Cage.”) “I wouldn’t, like, announce that I’m single. I’d announce that I’m horny, but I wouldn’t announce that I’m single.” (For the record, she says she is, though her manager does mention in passing that Doja has a boyfriend who’d previously hated cats.)
Doja says she approaches songwriting similarly to social media, where her emotions take a back seat. “I worry so much about how things sound that I think often the lyrics fall short,” she says. “I try not to think about myself too much. I more just think about the tonalities and my voice.” Of injecting her personal life into her music, she says: “I don’t like to just parade personal experiences through my music because everybody has something to say about me and they think they fucking know me. That kind of turns your life into this big, big Broadway show.”
She does confirm, however, that half of Planet Her was written in Hawaii in February 2019, when she was vacationing with Asrat and rebounding from a breakup (though she doesn’t specify whether the breakup in question was with her ex-boyfriend, the musician Jawny). The other half was produced in quarantine, reckoning with her explosive success. “We approach songwriting like it’s a time capsule of that moment of Doja’s life,” says Yeti.
Most of Planet Her makes Doja’s life sound really, really good. “Imagine,” Yeti says, is “representative of Doja’s journey, the dream come to reality”: “Imagine, imagine/Put the studio in the mansion/Pull up in a new high fashion.” So is “Payday,” a jaunty tune resulting from a collab with Young Thug: When Doja croons in falsetto, “I just can’t believe I got what I wanted all my life,” you believe her.
Then there is “Alone,” one of Doja’s favorite songs on Planet Her. On its surface, “Alone” is a throwback R&B jam about a slovenly ingrate of an ex-lover. But the second verse alludes more explicitly to the pressures of success: “I ain’t wanna share my dreams when it involves you/Not the man I need,” she raps. “Started feelin’ like I failed my team/Missin’ gigs for you, bet you never felt like me.” She also alludes to her ex feeling resentful of her success and in turn behaving ungraciously toward her: “Spendin’ bands last week while your ass act cheap/Lonely at the top while your ass miles deep/Got me thinkin’ that you scared of yourself, not me.”
“Alone” shows a glimpse at the flip side to achieving your dreams, the enormous weight of responsibility that comes with having people’s livelihoods rise and fall on your ability to successfully post premium-bottled-water sponcon. And it’s a song I think a lot about in October, when Doja writes some posts on Twitter that raise alarm bells for many of her fans.
“I’m just tired and i don’t want to do anything. im not happy.: I’m done saying yes to motherfuckers cuz I cant even have a week to just chill. im never not working. im fucking tired,” she said in the posts. “[I] just keep agreeing to shit I dont wanna do in the future. its my own dumb ass fault. And then im too tired to put any effort into this shit. cuz im so run down from everything else.” As soon as they appeared on the internet, Doja deleted the tweets.
When I ask Doja about the tweets, she seems almost embarrassed. “I really hesitated on posting that in the first place, because I don’t really need people feeling bad for me and shit ’cause I’m really fine,” she says. “I just was, like, very fucking tired. There was a lot of shit going on, and I needed to vent a little bit. But obviously Twitter is not the best place to talk about that.” She later tweeted “i like pumkins” with a pumpkin emoji.
“Going forward, I don’t want to post things like that because I don’t want people to feel worried or anything like that,” she says. “It feels dramatic. I don’t think it’s very beneficial.” Later that fall, she will go on Instagram Live and echo the sentiments she’d shared with me in the kitchen of the Airbnb: that she missed making music, that she just wanted to be back in the studio. “I’m doing all of this shit that I don’t fucking want to do,” she said. “I don’t wanna take fucking pictures . . . I love fashion . . . I love to dress up . . . I feel pressured to do shit like that. I don’t fucking wanna do that.”
After Doja cuts our lobster-roll dinner short, one of her managers sits with me outside of the Airbnb to wait for my Uber. “Us, as management, it puts us in a tough position,” she says of Doja and other artists’ grueling schedules. “Obviously, we want to bring everything to her and to all of our clients, and make their careers what they want them to be. But I don’t know if everybody gets into this business realizing — you can make it, but you have to work twice as hard when you get on top, to stay on top. The grind at the beginning is just a different grind.”
Next year the grind will continue with Doja Cat’s first full-length tour. She’s also planning a yet-to-be-finalized cooking show, in the style of Action Bronson’s Vice series. She loves experimenting with recipes, making Wagyu sandwiches with Gruyere truffle cheese and fondue for dinner-party guests, attributing her love of cooking to an “insanely French” ex-boyfriend. “Amala loves to cook. You’d think she just wants to be a housewife,” says Asrat. “If Amala could stay at home and cook for a month, she would. That’s her in her element. But Doja can’t.”
There are many things that Amala would like to do right now that Doja can’t. She’d like to travel, preferably to go back to Italy. She’d like to relax in the pool at her new house in Beverly Hills, which she recently moved into. She’d like to hang out with her cats. She’d like to sit in one of the bean bags she has in her living room and play Xbox. She’d like to go back to the studio and make music, which is the reason she started the grind to begin with. She’d just like to party. She’d just like a lap dance. She just wants to pop up on these clowns like she’s the Batman.