September was a prolific month for music. Albums from across different genres rolled out almost every week from artists such as Laufey, Lil Tecca, Mitski, Demi Lovato, Lil Wayne, and Olivia Rodrigo. Doja Cat, one of Spotify’s most popular hip-hop artists, also dropped her fourth studio album Scarlet after becoming famous in early 2019. Even though she has never been one of my favorite artists, I am disappointed and unsurprised by this release.
When Doja Cat first became popular, I was in middle school. Her popularity amongst young people played an important role in her exposure on social media platforms, where short clips of her songs became viral. Her music incorporated sparkly and upbeat genre-blending pop and R&B. She used clever metaphors, such as fruit and “juice” to represent her body. Doja Cat released two studio albums with hits like “Say So” and “Streets” that were popular on social media in 2019 to 2020. In 2021, she released a space-themed album called Planet Her, which gained her billions of streams. Honestly, I liked Planet Her until it became overplayed, and her early music conveys a sense of happiness and nostalgia for me. I always enjoyed her music, and so did tens of millions of people. Considering the fact that this hyper-feminine, boppy sound gave her so much success, it seems counterintuitive for Doja Cat to completely switch up her aesthetic.
However, if Taylor Swift has taught me anything about self promotion, it’s that people love eras. Especially with social media’s fast-paced trend cycle, artists are constantly reinventing themselves to stay relevant. It’s very possible that Doja Cat has been sitting on this album for a while now, but it was not until she could break away from her previous glittery pop-star aura that she could release horror-themed, rap-heavy music. In order to generate attention, she began posting bizarre photos on Instagram of spiders, monsters, and the Illuminati, departing from her previous pink and glittery persona. Earlier this year, she pulled a 2007 Britney Spears by shaving her head.
Since beginning this transformation, Doja Cat has also involved herself in quite a few controversies: fighting with child actors online, claiming she was quitting the music industry, and wearing a very risky outfit to the Met Gala. Controversy is one of the most effective ways to promote an album. Some of the most memorable 2010s albums, such as Lemonade by Beyoncé and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West, were released to critical acclaim after major artist controversies. Over the summer, Doja Cat released “Attention,” a song addressing her haters. The lead-up to her newest album Scarlet was very carefully crafted, leading me to wonder if Doja Cat’s persona is authentic, or just a PR gimmick.
I decided to listen to Scarlet during my free period. It is not good studying music, for sure, and arguably not good music at all. Her lyrics throughout the album lack the interesting word play, metaphors, and fresh perspectives that define high quality hip-hop. However, one enjoyable aspect of Doja Cat’s recent music is the catchy samples and beats that she uses. The lead single for Scarlet, “Paint the Town Red,” is a fun song that was played constantly over the radio after its release, becoming the first of seventeen tracks on Scarlet. The first half of the album was not for me. Although it is true that female hip-hop artists are overly criticized for having sexual lyrics, there were certain songs, such as “Wet V****a” and “F**k The Girls,” that seemed unnecessarily vulgar and awkward to listen to. The first nine songs on Scarlet were not enjoyable to me, even with an extremely high production quality. However, “Agora Hills,” the 10th track, turns the album around. Her sound changes from very aggressive and forced to more natural and chill. This felt much better to me, especially because mellow rap has been trending throughout 2023. Although the last few songs are less memorable, they are much more listenable. While the end of the album improves on the disastrous first nine songs, I still do not like Scarlet nearly as much as Doja Cat’s last three albums, and honestly, it’s a shame.