Doja Cat at Coachella review – an electrifying tour de force

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Doja Cat took the Coachella main stage as the last official act to perform on Sunday’s bill, becoming the first female rapper to headline the festival. (She’s also only the second Black woman to do so, after Beyoncé in 2018.) Her closer rounded out a Sunday showcase of powerhouse female performers such as Reneé Rapp and Kesha duetting the recession banger TiK ToK – changing the opening line to “wake up in the morning saying fuck P Diddy” – and Victoria Monet grinding through a slick and ultra-sexy set, at one point receiving artfully-simulated oral sex from a background dancer.

It would be diplomatic to say that Doja maintains a distant relationship with her fans, who call themselves kittenz, though their fave does not sanction this moniker. Doja has told those who engage in parasocial relationships with the idea of her to “get off your phone and get a job” and “rethink everything” about their lives. Such boundary-setting has cost her some Instagram followers – around 300,000, to be exact, after going off on them in a social media tirade – but she could care less. “I feel free,” she wrote in an Instagram story after the snafu last year.

So it’s not surprising that Doja kept the stage banter to a minimum; about an hour in, she allowed a cursory, but seemingly genuine, “Thank you everyone.” That was about it. Still, Doja didn’t need to give us the cliched “it’s always been a dream to perform on this stage” monologue to show a deep respect for her audience. She did so by putting on a tour de force of a set, one that merged her musical talents with a clear knack for spectacle. I suspect it will become a staple on best-of-Coachella lists for years to come.

Doja first appeared by popping up on the stage’s extended catwalk, opening the night further back in the crowd, so those of us who hadn’t made it to the pit got a good look at her, too. She first wore an all-white hazmat suit. I thought it was a little Patrick Bateman; the girl next to me remarked that Doja looked like “a whole-ass sperm”.

Whatever the inspiration, she took that off pretty quickly, revealing extra-long blonde hair that went well past her butt, and a matching tunic also made of hair. Her background dancers matched in their own full hair suits, and when paired with their syncopated moves, the vibe was a little Bob Fosse meets Fraggle Rock. The South African a capella group The Joy encircled Doja during Shutcho, a diss track for haters that the group turned into a melodic, choir-like crescendo.

 woman with long blonde hair and a large white top holds a microphoneView image in fullscreen

Though Doja is a very 2020s pop star, terminally online and well-versed in the meme ecosystem, she didn’t rely on many gimmicks to make it through her set. The stage design was sparse and industrial. Her numerous outfit changes kept the same off-white palette, very Virgil Abloh-esque aesthetic: sculptural, sleek, architectural. My favorite look was a shaggy bikini set by Entire Studios that could have been a reference to Jane Fonda as Barbarella, or just a sartorial nod to the concept of merkins.

Doja tapped A$AP Rocky, 21 Savage and a giant recreation of a T-Rex fossil for guest stars. During her penultimate song, Paint the Town Red, which samples Dionne Warwick’s 1963 hit Walk on By, I wondered for a moment if Doja was about to make my entire life and bring out the octogenarian legend herself. Instead, she did perhaps the opposite of that and rolled around in a sapphic mud pit with her background dancers for the finale, Wet Vagina.

Though Doja found mainstream success in the pop arena with early pandemic groovers like Kiss Me More and Say So, her Coachella set stuck to rap. Understandably, much of it came from her latest release, last year’s Scarlet. She described the album as a“masculine” response to her desire of moving away from pop princess-dom.

This meant that the fans who were there for Doja’s more accessible fare may have been disappointed by the exclusion of those songs – when the set ended, many mulled around the stage as if they were sure she’d come back rearing into Say So. (Again, she didn’t.)

But to me, it didn’t matter: Doja followed her gut, performed the songs she felt represented her best, all presented in an energetic, top-of-game triumph. For all the endless chatter this year about a lackluster lineup, Doja proved she’s worthy of a headline spot, so long as the people in charge – and, crucially, her fans – trust her to do it her own way.


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