Doja Cat review – hair-raising US rapper puts on a fiery display

Estimated read time 5 min read

Hair and fire: Doja Cat’s blistering set boasts copious amounts of both, often in worryingly close proximity. The star herself is modelling a new look tonight, a date added owing to demand. While her first night in London Doja was a blonde, tonight, she sports a long black fringed wig with rectangular glasses, giving this frequently shape-shifting artist the unexpected form of a sexy secretary in a temper.

Doja Cat’s excellent live band are perched atop risers entirely covered in blond extensions; later, a giant Rapunzel-like plait descends from the heavens for Doja Cat to rub herself up against. The set is not quite as shaggy as the rapper singer’s standout performance at the US Coachella festival in California in April, where her dancers resembled a bevy of headbanging Cousin Itts from The Addams Family, but it is enough to make a point. Back in 2022, the artist born Amala Ratna Zandile Dlamini shaved her head and eyebrows on Instagram live, resulting in both alarm and dismay among her fans. In typically robust style, Doja Cat met those feelings with a bristle. You want hair, her set asks? Here’s your hair.

The frequent outbursts of pyro, by contrast, help to set the hellish scenes of Doja Cat’s most recent album-and-a-half: 2023’s Scarlet and its extended version, Scarlet 2 Claude, released in April. The artwork for the Scarlet tour casts Doja Cat as a succubus, perched on the chest of a ravished sleeper. Her track Demons is one of tonight’s hardest-hitting, as Doja Cat bangs her mic on the floor and the crowd finish off the lines of her rapped tirades, dripping with aggression and wit.

“Lots of people that were sleeping say I rap now,” she seethes, in a style that strongly echoes the excellent Nicki Minaj, her declared idol. Those sleeping could be forgiven. Before Scarlet, Doja Cat hit streaming records and garnered awards for a body of pop – and R&B-leaning work – such as her No 1 hit from 2020, the disco-lite Say So (with Minaj on the remix), and the playful Planet Her LP (2021); work Doja Cat has now controversially dismissed as “a cash grab”.

Her set tonight is 99% bilious and bawdy hip-hop, unapologetically delivered with a series of gyrations and twerks, plus one uncharacteristically smiley traipse through Say So. In April, Doja Cat railed at parents bringing younger kids to her shows. There are a few here tonight who didn’t get the memo and you feel a little for them during Wet Vagina. Apropos her stated intention to double down on more aggressive sounds, the PA plays Australian punk band Amyl and the Sniffers before she comes on.

For such a hugely entertaining artist, there are barriers to unproblematically enjoying Doja Cat’s work. To many, it seems as if Dlamini has been on a mission to lose fans and alienate people. Last summer, Doja Cat lost hundreds of thousands of social media followers in a month after refusing to tell her fans she loved them. Previously, she had expressed extreme frustration at criticism over her choice of partner (she was then seeing a comedian who had been accused of manipulating co-workers).

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A number of factors were at play: the increasing demands of “stan” culture, where largely female stars, often running their own social media, have become held to unreasonable levels of accountability by fans whose opinions on the artist’s output and life become increasingly aggressive; and Doja Cat herself, a digital native with a very chequered online existence, whose attitude to trolls is to throw hunks of flesh at them. Or to out-troll them. “If somebody wants to fight me on the internet,” she said inVariety last year, “I will gladly join in, balls to the wall. It’s fun for me. I’m a very messy bitch.”

Tonight’s gig actually doubles as something of a charm offensive, however, one in which this controversial, avatar-like vocalist does conventional things surprisingly well. Doja Cat has been an able and fluent rapper for a very long time in internet years: her breakout viral track, Mooo! from 2018, was a cow-themed romp that skilfully referenced vintage hip-hop artists such as Wu-Tang Clan, Ludacris and Kelis’s Milkshake (2003) while packing in quips about breastfeeding, beef and methane.

Get Into It (Yuh) is one of few fun tracks that survive tonight from Planet Her, displaying Dlamini’s cuter, more tongue-in-cheek side, complete with a breathless Minaj-aping flow. Paint the Town Red, Scarlet’s breakout hit, is the defiant climax, however. “Yeah, bitch, I said what I said,” she raps, leaning hard into her devilish persona. “My happiness is all of your misery.”

For someone who seems to exist entirely online, and to be making dismaying choices there – most recently, Doja Cat was slammed for wearing a T-shirt featuring an internet-infamous rightwing comedian – IRL Doja exudes old-fashioned showbiz skills and presence. Her rap credentials are further burnished by an absence of dancers, as there might be at a pop show: she carries the show largely alone, save for four backing vocalists. As for the band, for all the hair-booted electric guitarist’s solos, the drummer outshines him, manning a giant kit with audible muscle.

Most shocking of all, perhaps, is not Doja Cat rapping, or doing the splits, or grinding on a hair-covered mic stand. It’s when she says those three words – “I love you!” – at the end of Get Into It (Yuh). On the recorded track, her love is addressed to Minaj. But when Doja Cat says it tonight, she is beaming straight at her assembled fans, all smiles.


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