Doja Cat's easily digestible yet genre-subverting records have helped her achieve pop stardomLavishRuby, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ever since launching her career, Doja Cat has understood how to craft a glossy, perfectly-packaged commercial pop hit. Months after the release of her last two albums, Planet Her and Hot Pink, catchy hooks from previously unappreciated tracks continued to go viral. The easily digestible yet genre-subverting nature of these works ensured that Doja achieved pop stardom. Yet Doja refuses to acquiesce to the media by adhering to what is traditionally expected of a star. Instead, she is relentlessly drenched in controversy. Responding to a tweet asking whether she loved her fans, Doja wrote: “I don’t though cuz I don’t even know y’all”, leaning into a chronically-online and combative persona while thriving off the discord.

This eccentricity permeates her music, which can shift from ironic and sharp to sultry and soft in a single breath. Highly theatrical, Doja demonstrates a diversity in tone currently lacking from many mainstream artists. As we all began to tire of her breakout hit ‘Say So’, Doja reinvented the track at every award show performance, shifting from grunge rock at the MTV Awards to a 1920s-esque Broadway performance at the BBMAs.

“Doja demonstrates a diversity in tone currently lacking from many mainstream artists”

In the run-up to her latest album, Doja hinted that she would finally address the public image that has long remained separate from her music. Disparaging her previous projects as “cash grabs”, she rejected the pop formula that has earned her countless hits. She repeatedly spoke about making “a real rap record”, when previously critics have struggled with which box to place her in.

The album’s lead single, ‘Attention’, showed that she was deadly serious. Seemingly unfazed by her critics, Doja asks, “Ain’t the bad press good?”, while deploying a blood-drenched alter ego on the single cover. Her new sound is darker but no less polished. The stark contrast between the song’s sharp-witted verses and soft chorus allows her to be both emotive and aggressive.

The record’s second hit, ‘Paint The Town Red’ channels early 90s rap and masterfully samples Dionne Warwick’s ‘Walk on By’. Doja rejects any need for approval by proudly stating, ‘‘Fame ain’t somethin’ that I need no more”, gleefully undermining the pedestal she has been placed upon.

“The album’s diversity often makes it feel too dense rather than intriguing”

Although ‘Demons’ is a tad too relentless to be an earworm, it is nonetheless novel and evocative. It extends the theme of proudly engaging with one’s negative persona in the media. She deviates from the tightly packaged production of previous hits like ‘Kiss Me More’, adding an exciting new element: unpredictability. In the final single ‘Balut’, Doja showcases her skilful rapping, while still pulling off the air of nonchalance that has served her so well.

Despite the potential shown by these singles, the album itself is disappointing. Unlike her previous projects, which were crafted to be endlessly consumable and snappy, the record feels unrefined. With so little negative space, the album’s diversity often makes it feel too dense rather than intriguing. The intro of ‘Love Life’, for instance, is excruciatingly repetitive, while its concept is bland.

Large swathes of the album are unmemorable (despite a few standouts including ‘Skull And Bones’ and ‘Gun’) – an issue Doja has seldom faced before. Indeed, the lyrics rarely invite the listener to return and unpack them. Doja’s talent is evident in the sheer variety of songs. However, the album loses coherence, becomes overwhelming and ultimately leaves you feeling numb.


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Occasionally, this variety produces gems such as ‘Agora Hills’. Employing a softer tone (reminiscent of rising stars Ice Spice and Pink Panthers), Doja proves that even an artist known for defying expectations can still fashion a new sound.

As ‘Paint The Town Red’ deservedly becomes one of the biggest hits of the year, the failure of Scarlet to deliver feels even more disappointing. Instead of a brutal rebuke about owning the less palatable parts of her identity, what we get is mellow and underwhelming. Perhaps, in a few months, snippets from these songs will resurface and captivate. For now, however, the bulk of Scarlet fails to hold my attention.