From the Internet to the Cosmos, Doja Cat Takes New Strides With ‘Planet Her’
Doja Cat is a quintessentially Generation Z artist. She began releasing her music on Soundcloud as a teenager, promptly landed a record deal, and went viral when her song “Mooo!” became an internet meme. Her 2019 single “Say So” topped the Billboard Hot 100 after it inspired a dance trend via TikTok. She has almost fallen prey to cancel culture, due to continued careless statements and rants on social media in the past, but has managed to stay afloat and generally remain outspoken. Doja’s success on TikTok makes sense, as both her music and persona are well-suited for such platforms. She strings together memorable soundbites to infectious beats, and serves them up with style and attitude. She has spoken of the division in public opinion regarding whether she is a hip-hop artist or a pop artist — as if the two were ever mutually exclusive. In Doja Cat’s case, however, such questions are slightly understandable, as she combines hip-hop and pop sensibilities in a way of her own. On her latest album, “Planet Her,” which she has described as “for the girls,” she leans slightly more to the hip-hop side, but continues to mix things up with her usual spark.
Doja Cat immediately qualifies the album’s title with the opener “Woman,” a lively Afrobeat track devoted to a celebration of the feminine spirit. She throws in trace bits of social commentary, with allusions ranging from Rihanna’s Fenty brand to the film “Mean Girls,” but the song derives most of its impact form the simple repetition of “Woman, woman, woman,” and the joyous manner of its delivery. Doja drops a rap verse, as she does on most of the album’s songs, and makes a strong first impression, sounding sprightly and full of fresh, dynamic fluidity. She affects some vaguely Caribbean pronunciations at moments, which is not much more of a stretch than the accent that she normally puts on when she raps, as anyone who has heard her speaking voice can attest. The party vibe continues on “Naked,” an upbeat, vaguely tropical number about taking off your clothes. Doja dons a baby voice, of sorts, and delves into full dance pop fare, but throws in a proper rap verse for good measure. The way she shifts gears without ever seeming forced recalls the stylings of Azealia Banks, whom Doja has indeed expressed admiration for. On the carefree “Payday,” Doja rises to a new level, turning up both the poppiness and the eccentricity. Her vocals are delivered in a breathy, processed caricature, with a bubbly, hyper-feminized sound perhaps a bit like some of Grimes’ K-pop inspired output. Young Thug is the perfect feature for the track, with his ever-idiosyncratic, colorful flows matching Doja’s just right. Doja shows her rapping skills on “Get Into It (Yuh.)” She flows in a designedly scratchy voice, and takes unpredictable, animated turns, with an old school hip-hop undercurrent to it, suitable for the frivolous, festive feel of the track. You can hear traces of Nicki Minaj’s instincts make their way into Doja’s flow, and Doja actually makes a shout out to Nicki at the end of the track.
“Need to Know” is the next step from “Naked,” a forward call to get busy. This track is an especially effective demonstration of Doja’s singular blend of quirk and surefire pop instinct. It’s a more laid-back number than some of the propulsive opening numbers, and Doja settles effortlessly into a groove, sing-rapping with plenty of swag, and riffing off of the infectious chorus melody for essentially the whole song, Even when she is in a relatively mellow mode, there’s an eccentric mania at close reach, coming out in outlandish pronouncements that emerge in her rapping flows, keeping things exciting. “I Don’t Do Drugs” pairs Doja Cat with Ariana Grande. The singers trade verses and both take turns singing the refrain. They seem to meet halfway, moderating their tones and timbres to similar levels, although Grande sounds a bit more breathy and vaguely ethereal, Doja more grounded and direct. When the two join in harmonies, it’s a sugary blend of effervescent, gliding melodies. The song’s key line, “I just want you, but I don’t do drugs” is a snappy one-liner that could itself make a song. It segues directly into “Still I want you, ooh-ooh,” making for a somewhat novel spin on the timeless pop song about amorous ambivalence.
This begins a stretch of songs steeped in relationship drama. “Love to Dream” is a relatively softer song, about fantasizing and reminiscing about a past paramour. Doja’s rap verse on this one is consistent with the dreamy subject matter, delivered in frivolously playful meters, with every line ending in a sort of la-di-da tune that functions to lightheartedly shrug off the emotional baggage at the crux of the song. By the time “You Right” comes along, the album’s sequencing is certainly having an impact. The songs naturally blend into another — not seamlessly, but in overall sound and mood. Doja has carved out a characteristic sonic space for herself, and settled into it comfortably. On this song, the chorus lines are designed to end with seemingly nonsensical vowel sounds, even though they have actual words, so as to give that primal ring that makes for a memorable soundbite. Like “I Don’t Do Drugs,” it’s a song about resisting temptation, but this time more specifically about when one is already in a relationship. Again, the climactic line of “Can’t help it, I want you” has a shrugging-off implication. The Weeknd drops a short verse, but packs plenty of personality into it. As soon as his voice enters, the atmosphere adjusts to fit his spacy, soulful wallowing, and then reverts promptly to the punchy chorus
“Been Like This” begins with haunting ambience and pitched-down vocals courtesy of Bryson Tiller, sustaining the ambience briefly introduced by the Weeknd. Doja dons a more aggressive rap voice, then switches back to subdued singalongs. The track is basically a break up song, but a decidedly undramatic one, about cooly calling it quits. Following naturally is “Options,” about a no-strings-attached romantic arrangement. On this one, Doja goes for standard trap phrasing, almost exactly the type Eminem parodied in his song “Not Alike.” And it’s perfect for what it is. She switches things up, launching into a sprightly, pixie voice at moments. Rapper JID drops a solid verse, and the track is overall a hard-hitting, head-nodder.
At this point, Doja Cat has battled intrigue and attachment, nonchalantly passed on a relationship, and extolled casual encounters. The inevitable next step, of course, is an impassioned repudiation of all that came before. And so, we get “Ain’t Shit,” with its refrain of “Niggas ain’t shit” — essentially a diatribe on deadbeat guys. Doja takes up the topic with a fair share of humor, and the whole track is decidedly jokey, with the silly refrain delivered in a singsong tune and Doja launching into her feistier, more eccentric voices during her rapping spurts. The chief drawback of the track is that it’s maddeningly repetitive, as is a considerable portion of the album. This becomes more egregious yet on the next song, “Imagine.” Doja Cat crafts condensed choruses of two or three lines that succeed in being catchy, but sometimes in a thoroughly irritating way. At least, in this case, it fits the frivolity of the song, giving a fitting ring to lines like “Put the studio in the mansion / Pull up in a new high fashion.”
“Alone” has a bit of a 2000s throwback feel — a hip-hop beat with vaguely Spanish guitars, reminiscent of tracks like R Kelly’s “Fiesta.” Over this backdrop, Doja asks, “Is it crazy I’m not scared to be alone?” Notably, she sings it with a composure that makes it clear she isn’t too worried about whether it’s crazy. After all, she already made that quite clear in “Ain’t Shit.” And with that settled, she ends on a positive note, with the SZA-featuring single “Kiss Me More.” With a chorus of “Can you kiss me more? / We’re so young, boy, we ain’t got nothin’ to lose,” it affirms the priority that previous songs have led up to the realization of — simply enjoying life. And the song effectively captures the appropriate feeling — upbeat, cheery, and catchy. The catchiness is largely due to an interpolation of the refrain from Olivia Newton-John’s 1981 hit “Physical.” Of course, sampling, covering, and interpolating can all be artistic, but that’s not the case here. Doja Cat took the key part of Newton-John’s song — the defining, memorable melodic snippet — and made it the key part of her own song. She fashioned a catchy chorus out of someone else’s catchy chorus. It’s quite safe to say this isn’t exactly the highest form of art. Otherwise, “Kiss Me More” is a solid single and closer. Doja’s rap verse sounds especially spirited, and SZA sing-raps, leaning more toward the singing side, letting her cadences flesh out into bellowing swells, but keeping her verse short and sweet, fitting for a streamlined single.
“Planet Her” isn’t particularly focused on women’s issues, as its title might suggest, but it’s music does generally have strikingly feminine sensibilities. Doja Cat’s strain of rapping borrows heavily from the likes of Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, who have carved out a distinctly female space in the traditionally male-dominated hip-hop sphere. And when it comes to her singing, Doja Cat is a full bubblegum caricature of sugar and spice and everything nice. The album isn’t especially cohesive, although the songs about relationship drama and the disavowal of it fit into some semblance of a narrative arc. The songs are all catchy, although sometimes gratingly so. At any rate, they’re a bit of fun. Moreover, Doja Cat is a phenomenal performer, a vibrant and versatile voice with a certain devil-may-care frivolity about her that sets her apart, and is enough to make “Planet Her” an enjoyable listen overall.
“Planet Her” releases June 25 on Apple Music.