WORDS: CAIT EMMA BURKE
Strep throat, waffles, cows, and boobs. Thematically, they don’t have much in common, but place them in the hands of Doja Cat and they become the topics of certified bangers. The 24-year-old rapper and singer has a remarkable knack for taking the asinine and turning it into a catchy, cheeky, and more often than not, radio-friendly hit. I was 19 when I first heard a Doja song. It was the mellow and repetitive ‘So High’, one of the earliest songs released on her SoundCloud and a track that, as the title suggests, is packed with marijuana references. It was an undeniable earworm. Only 17-years-old at the time, Doja had already been making music for about a year, after dropping out of high school to sit in her room, trawl the internet, and record songs on GarageBand. The reception her songs received encouraged her to keep experimenting, and in 2013, almost a year after its initial release and following her signing to RCA Records, ‘So High’ was repackaged as her debut single.
But her entry into the public consciousness as a wisecracking, sexually brash, and chart-topping pop star didn’t happen until after the release of her debut album, Amala, in 2018. Amala, named after her birth name Amala Dlamini, was receiving limited airplay until an unlikely hit appeared in the form of ‘Mooo!’, a meme-worthy song and video Doja released directly to YouTube. A true testament to her DIY ethos, the track and its zany visual were made in one day—she created the song while on Instagram live and made the video by covering her bedroom’s walls in sheets, making an intentionally low-fi green screen. If you’ve been on the Internet at all in the last year, you’ve probably seen ‘Mooo!’—it’s currently at 59 million views and counting—but to recap, the video features Doja dancing around her room in a cow print two-piece, fries stuck up her nose and a burger in hand, as spliced clips of hentai breasts bounce around in the background while she spits the now infamous refrain, “Bitch I’m a cow / I’m not a cat / I don’t say meow”. It was destined for virality, and overnight, she became an accidental popstar.
When we meet at the Acclaim studio, she’s exactly how I imagined her to be, minus the cropped lime green wig that she’s wearing for our digital cover shoot. She’s petite and curvy, with cartoon-like eyes and a confident, laidback demeanour, and has a Californian drawl, peppering almost everything she says with ‘like’. Before we’ve been properly introduced, she tells me she loves my top—a ’90s pink and orange long sleeved printed mesh that I wore as a nod to her famously out there aesthetic—and I suddenly understand why her chilled-out brand of silliness has caught on the way that it has. In a climate of uber woke, politically-engaged celebrities, Doja is something of a rarity; a pop star that refuses to take herself too seriously. While I interview her, the hairstylist manipulates Doja’s fluorescent wig into gravity defying flicks and the stylist bustles around, putting together a vibrant selection of looks that Doja occasionally cranes her neck to get a glimpse of. I can tell that she’s eager to get behind the camera. After the interview wraps, I hang around on set for a while, watching Amala transform into Doja Cat. She’s a potent mixture of goofy facial expressions and sultry stances, and it’s clear that she’s genuinely enjoying herself. As if to confirm this thought, a member of her team leans over to me and whispers, “She could literally do this all day, she just really loves photo shoots.”
And that’s what’s refreshing about Doja—she’s a colourful antidote to the strain of self-important seriousness that’s permeated popular culture in recent years. If she wants to make a song about how much she loves butts, she’s going to do it, and it’s guaranteed that the dancefloor will fill out the second it plays. If she wants to share a grainy video of her dancing accompanied by the caption, “PLEASE DO NOT BUY MY ALBUM IF YOU BUY MY ALBUM I WILL PEE IN YOUR LAP” to celebrate the recent release of her second album, Hot Pink, then that’s exactly what she’ll do. There’s no posturing with her, no half-assed attempts to be profound and change the world, and really, you’ve got to admire the simplicity of her mission; she wants to make you laugh and she wants to make you move your body. Just make sure you don’t take yourself too seriously while you’re doing it.
What were you like as a kid?
I skateboarded and rollerbladed a lot and I did ballet. I took that for like seven years. I danced a lot, I moved from ballet, jazz, and tap to breakdancing and hip-hop, this was all before I did music. Then when I was a teenager I got into some dance crews and I moved to LA and I stopped skateboarding, because it’s much easier to skate in suburban areas than it is in, you know, the city.
Do you skate that much nowadays? I remember seeing some footage of you skating on your Instagram a while back.
I’m getting back into it, yeah.
Pretty sure you’ll be the first female rapper and popstar that skates. We had Avril Lavigne back in the day, now we need someone in the hip-hop and rap sphere to do it.
[Laughs] Yeah! There’s no like, Californian rap—like Cali skater girls in hip-hop.
You should incorporate skateboarding in your next music video, I’d love to see that.
I mean... I can show you later, as long as there’s no cameras. I have an entire skateboarding video, we just filmed it like two weeks ago.
A straight skate video or a music video?
A music video for a new single.
Oh that’s cool. I like that merging of two things you don’t often see together.
Yeah, I love doing that, I love blending like, things that don’t normally go together.
That’s something I’ve always noticed about you—you bring a lot of genres together that normally don’t coexist, it all makes sense when you hear your music though. I’m curious, what were you listening to when you were growing up?
Thank you. I listened to a lot of stuff that my mum was listening to, she listened to like Amy Winehouse. Actually she bought me an Amy Winehouse CD and that was like my first album I ever got.
Was that her first album Frank?
Ahh it was Back to Black... or it’s the one where she’s like sitting on a chair on the cover. I loved it. Then I got the first Rihanna album Music of the Sun—that was everything. But yeah, my mum listened to a lot of Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Jamiroquai, and stuff out of New York. A lot of New York stuff.
I think Jamoriquai is underrated as a musical reference.
Very! And I just found out that it’s not one guy, it's like a band. [Laughs]
I’ve heard this before as well, but it always just seems like one guy.
Yeah, I was blown away when I found that out. [Laughs]
Same, I really wouldn’t have known it from watching their music videos. So, take me back to when you first started making music.
I’m not good with remembering when I started things but I was 16 when I started making music, so like six years ago. So that was on Soundcloud and I would post to Facebook first and then I would trail off it to Soundcloud and friends from Facebook would listen to it and stuff and they’d like it and I’d be shocked that people were listening to it, so I just kept going.
Have you always had a DIY approach to making music?
Yeah, definitely. I’m not like a very collaborative person… I try to be very careful most of the time. Yeah, like usually—I made music videos a lot when I was younger, when I was like 13, and I’d use the built in camera on my desktop and I would record in my mum’s room.
I think that approach was what really caught everyone’s attention with the video for ‘Mooo!’. Just how DIY and off-the-cuff that felt.
Yeah, cause the song is ridiculous, so I wanted to match it with a bad quality video which makes it good.
It wouldn’t work with a high budget video.
Yeah, it would be like, “What the fuck is this industry plant shit!” [Laughs]
Talk me through the day you made ‘Mooo!’. Did you plan to make a video for that song?
I wasn’t planning it until like, I had the costume in a box of costumes that I’d gathered before I had a stylist and I was going on tour for my album, my first album Amala and I just pulled it out of the box and put it on. I got in bed and I got on [Instagram] live, I was with like, 70 or 80 other people watching and we were all just in there joking around and I was trying to write a song, because my friend sent me this sample that was really cute but I couldn’t think of anything else other than “Bitch I’m a cow” so I kept on singing it, and it was like an inside joke and then it turned into that and I was like, “Fine I’ll just do a fucking song called ‘Bitch I’m a cow!’ [Laughs]
What is it about making music on Instagram live that appeals to you?
Yeah it’s like the positive reinforcement for me, because if I’m alone—like I’m social as much as I am a hermit. So I need it. It’s like, so great, because I have people there and I can read it as people are reacting and I’m like, “Cool, great, I’ll keep going”, but it’s not a bunch of people barking in my face as if I’m in like a studio, you know what I mean? It can be really distracting if it’s in person, so with live I really enjoy making music for that reason.
I think it’s cool that you let your fans into that side of your process. Does your DIY approach crossover into the way you dress? Do you self style often? You’ve always had a strong aesthetic, even when you were first starting out.
Thank you. I used to, but I recently just got a stylist. It’s so good, I’m so happy, because honestly, I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t dress myself... To me it’s like I’ll look at my outfit and I’ll dress myself and then I’ll see myself on camera and I’ll see somebody took a picture of me and I’ll be like “Why did I wear that?” It’s always, why did I wear that? [Laughs]
It must be kind of exhausting having to come up with a new look everyday.
Yeah! [Laughs] But stylists, they’re in a different world and that’s their job. I’m not a stylist and I could learn to be one, but I don’t really have the time to do that, so he—he’s so in that world he could pull anything you can think of and make stuff. You can be like, “I want a watermelon latex fucking cat suit with my ass cut out”, and you know, he’ll get it. [Laughs]
So he styled the video for ‘Juicy’?
Yep, he did.
Did you come up with the concept for that video?
Yeah I wrote the treatment originally and then I passed it on to someone and they kind of reworked it and it turned into what it is. Yeah I wanted a fruity thing, and also I just love juice. I drink a lot of juice. [Laughs]
It’s a good drink. [Laughs] The lyrics in the song are very body positive. Was that a focus for you when writing ‘Juicy’ or is it just a natural extension of who you are?
It’s just a natural extension of who I am, I just tend to write about stuff like that. It’s not for any sort of profound—I’m not trying to be profound in anyway, it’s just how I am and I just like to talk about butts. [Laughs]
On a lot of your YouTube videos there’ll be young girls commenting things like, “It’s so refreshing to see and hear this type of content”. I think with ‘Juicy’, just hearing the words cellulite in a song that plays on the radio feels exciting for a lot of people.
Yeah, that’s good to hear! Kendrick did it—or no, he said stretch marks. [Laughs]
Yeah, I think it’s the first time I’ve heard cellulite in a mainstream single’s lyrics! Another artist who’s pushing the envelope lyrically and breaking conventional genre boundaries is Rico Nasty. How did your ‘Tia Tamera’ collaboration come about?
Rico and I knew each other a few years ago and I DM’d her to get on a song about boobs. [Laughs] I don’t know how—like I said, it just naturally, I tend to write about this stuff and I just wrote about it and she didn’t get on it but yeah then I hit her up again for this song ‘Tia Tamera’, and she was like, “Okay, fine!” [Laughs] She did it and yeah.
I was reading the comments on ‘Mooo!’ and lots of people were saying that the song and video made them feel horny, scared, and confused. What feelings do you think your new album will evoke for people?
Horny, scared, and confused. [Laughs]
It's a good trio of feelings. [Laughs]
[Laughs] I don’t really think about how I want to make people feel other than just, you know, joyful. I like to make stuff that makes people want to move. As long as my music makes you want to move then I feel like that means a lot to me.
Do you think you could make a song about anything? Because you’ve made songs about having strep throat, waffles...
Yeah! Waffles, how waffles are gonna be pancakes. [Laughs] I feel like I can make a song about anything. But then, not every single one’s going to be good, you know? [Laughs] Maybe a lot of them would be good but not all of them, I guarantee you that some of them will suck. But yeah, I make songs about everything... Every song I make—because I haven’t made a lot of like, meme songs—every time I make a song I want it to sound good, like I’d never make a song that sounds bad just for the sake of it being bad. I have kind of like a sensitivity to that, I want the drums to be sick and the melodies to be sick, but the lyrics can be bad, I don’t care about the lyrics. I’m actually more of an audio person than like a lyrical and mental sort of person.
How have you seen the treatment of women change in the industry since you started out six years ago? Has there been a noticeable change?
I mean yeah, you can say that throughout the decades it’s definitely changed. Nothing that I—I’ve only been in it for six years, maybe seven years, but nothing that I’ve really noticed, I’ve just noticed that women have been better towards each other lately. There’s conversations about it. It used to be like, “Stay quiet and let them fight”, but now it’s like, “Let’s all be friends, or at least consider the idea.”
What do you want to be doing more of at the moment?
What I really want to do, which is kind of a bigger goal for me at the moment, is I want to start surfing again and skating and I want to get a place by the beach and just like record and surf.
So you’re big on both surfing and skating—maybe we’ll get a beachy surf and skate inspired concept album from you at some point?
[Laughs] Yeah, I might go like full—I might just blend together like trap and like skater and surfer, Beach Boys type of shit. I can’t even imagine what that would sound like, but I think it would be really cool. [Laughs]
I can’t imagine it either, but I think you’d make it work. Last question, if you were a cat, what cat would you be?
Oh fuck! I feel like a Sphynx! Either that or like, an Orient[al]... no Orient’s are short haired. I like them, but I guess a Sphynx. Let’s say a Sphynx.
I like that. The Sphynx is a nice blend of captivating and strange.