The Doja Cat Phenomenon

By Noah Schulte

There is perhaps no figure who has become more viral over the past 18 months than Doja Cat. Since her release of the monster hit “Mooo!” that briefly took over the internet in the summer of 2019, she has become one of the most popular musicians online, establishing a full musical career for herself while dominating platforms like TikTok and Instagram along the way.  

What makes Doja Cat such an incredibly popular artist despite her relatively average music is her innate understanding of how to game internet culture. Everything she puts online, from her singles to her music videos to even her tweets, is designed to go viral. But the thing that separates her from other artists who try to do the same is the earnestness with which she does it. 

Her latest album, Hot Pink, is one of the most vibrant and fun projects of this year, and every song seems like it was written for social media. And while that would probably be an indictment for most other artists, with Doja, it’s actually a compliment. Doja is one of the few artists for whom these attempts are not only consistently successful, but also feel natural. Though tracks like “Say So,” “Cyber Sex,” and “Juicy” have gotten the most attention, nearly every song on the record brings the same infectious energy that made Doja so popular in the first place. “Won’t Bite,” which features St. Louis rapper Smino, is an auditory sugar rush that could easily be the next big sound on TikTok; “Like That” with Gucci Mane is a wildly catchy cut to which you can’t help but dance; and “Bottom Bitch” has just the kind of breathy hook and bouncy instrumental that K-Pop stans make fan-cams to. 

Though it’s her music that makes her stand out, it’s in her music videos where you can really start to see just how good she is at grabbing eyeballs. Each video has the look and feel of a Jojo Siwa-inspired acid trip combined with 2012-era Nicki Minaj sex appeal, all with the focus of a fourth-grader with undiagnosed ADHD. Skip to any frame and you’re bound to see something wild. Whether it’s a shot of a very naked Doja Cat with an animated cherry emoji covering her butt or Tyga surrounded by Lemons or a rainbow-splattered 90s-style game show with Rico Nasty, her creativity and personality constantly shine through–and it’s impossible to look away.

Contrary to her music video visuals, her Twitter feed feels less like that of a major up-and-coming artist with a brand largely built on bubblegum aesthetics and sex appeal than that of a washed-up, curmudgeonly rapper like Ice-T. When the account run by Rolling Loud tweeted out a promotional video from her set in December of 2019 a few days ago, she quickly fired back, tweeting this to her nearly 500 thousand followers, “Please stop. No one liked me at your thing.”  

The tweet quickly went viral and has since amassed over 200 thousand likes. And if you look at the rest of her feed, that feels pretty tame in comparison. She regularly roasts fans and critics alike, often attempting to end the careers of people in her replies with quote tweets like “I KNOW YOU NOT TALKING BUILT LIKE A SMEG KITCHEN APPLIANCE BUNDLE” and “don’t say nothin to me boi you deadass brush yo teeth w Hi-C.” Her meanness is just another part of her personality. 

And even though her fame was largely built on short-lived gimmicks like “Mooo!” and “Say So,” there’s reason to believe she’ll be able to stick around for a while. Her debut album, Amala, which was released in 2019, sold 86,300 equivalent units during its run, according to Rolling Stone, her 2020 sophomore record, Hot Pink, did even better, selling 199,200, and peaking at number 19 on the Billboard 200. For someone whose original fame came from a Photo Booth-quality recording of her making cow noises, those numbers are pretty solid. 

This is all part of what makes Doja Cat so special. By the sheer force of her personality, Doja has managed to amass a devoted following while figuring out how to go viral almost every other month. She seems perfectly built for the demands of a musician in the 21st century, and her career is only just starting. 

It’s Doja Cat’s internet–and we’re all just living in it.

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