Doja Cat Shapes A New Identity With ‘Scarlet’

Released on Sept. 22, ‘Scarlet’ is a manifestation of Doja Cat’s newly adopted persona.

Doja Cat’s “Scarlet” is a piece of art in search of itself.

Released on Sept. 22, the album is a manifestation of the rapper-singer’s newly adopted persona. The character balances out the feminine, dreamy feel of her 2021 album “Planet Her,” which she controversially called a “cash grab” in a slew of Twitter posts this past spring, according to Rolling Stone.

Her music video for the lead single and the album’s first track “Paint The Town Red” drew attention for its supposedly Satanic lyrics, demonic imagery and gory props. The track itself is a catchy, empowered exploration of fame.

“I’d rather be famous instead / I let all that get to my head / I don’t care, I paint the town red,” Doja raps in the intro.

The third line seemingly negates the previous two, suggesting stardom breeds egotism and she’d really rather not be a celebrity.

It’s hard to tell when or if Doja’s jokes are self-aware. Rhyming “China” with “vagina” in “Wet Vagina” is funny, but referencing the viral “what are those” Vine in “Demons” is painfully dated — especially when she references it again in “97.”

“Fuck The Girls (FTG)” has a nonchalant, Nicki Minaj-inspired flow. Between lines about a Versace coat and getting “rich-rich-rich,” the song is ultimately about misogyny. It could be the internalized misogyny of Doja’s persona or it could be a reflection of how society pits women against each other, especially in the traditionally man-dominated world of rap.

Her hip-hop roots are clear on the breathless, blood-pumping “Ouchies.”

It’s impossible to untangle her success from the internet. As much as she’s chastised fans — and haters — in the past, her career is indebted to her viral 2018 music video for “Mooo!,” in which she dressed in a revealing cow-print outfit in front of a low-quality green screen.

The backing track of “Go Off” sounds like a fun little lullaby, but its lyrics are far from kid-friendly.

“Lil’ mama, go off, let them gag and choke / With your Louboutins, put your new ice on,” Doja raps.

The brags and boasts make it a good getting-ready song for a night out, but the lines are otherwise boring — especially when she rhymes “me” with “me” in the second verse.

The ninth track, “Shutcho,” is more memorable — it samples English rock band 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love,” and its lyrics overflow with honesty and exasperation.

“How you hatin’ on the Lord’s day?” she sings, addressing the backlash to the supposed Satanism present in her songs and music videos, as reported by The Christian Post and poked fun at by Vulture.

In typical Doja fashion, however, she doesn’t take herself too seriously.

“Like Fortnite, imma need your skin,” she raps on “Agora Hills.”

The song also features Doja putting on a Valley Girl accent in a voicemail interlude, a meta reference to the raw audio trend in rap. The backing instrumental — a lo-fi R&B beat — sounds like a wonderful blend of Summer Walker’s “Playing Games” and SZA’s “Broken Clocks.”

Doja’s cool, crooning vocals on “Can’t Wait,” “Often” and “Love Life” beg comparisons to early-aughts R&B. The last two dip into a darker side of the concept album. “Love Life” has a depressing edge with eerie backing vocals that make the verses seem sarcastic at first, but again, it’s hard to tell with Doja.

“I love it when my fans love change, that’s how we change the game,” she raps.

The influence from Minaj is a common thread throughout the album. Doja once called herself Minaj’s biggest fan and even addressed comparisons on another of the album’s lead singles, “Attention,” according to Billboard.

“Why she think she Nicky M? / She think she hot shit,” Doja raps, mocking critics who accused her of copying the fellow rapper and singer.

She finishes the album with “WYM Freestyle,” an orchestra-backed track with so many F-bombs it could give Martin Scorcese’s “The Departed” a run for its money. On the surface, it seems spontaneous, especially with the ad libs “step on my toes” and “step on his feet,” but some lines seem more poignant in the context of the scope of her career.

“Ain’t no beef, ain’t no sides,” she raps, possibly referencing “Mooo!” and her recent dismissal of all her previous “cash grab” work.

It’s no coincidence this is the song that closes out the album. She’s making sure everyone knows she’s moving on to a different territory and greener pastures. (Pun fully intended.)

With “Scarlet,” Doja Cat tried to forge a new identity but the identity itself is unclear. She’s a rapping, rocking Ship of Theseus — a question of whether something with all its original parts replaced is still itself.

“Scarlet” is available to stream on all major platforms.

Featured image courtesy of Kemosabe Records / RCA Records

Mao Reynolds

Mao Reynolds