Doja Cat in art class

November 22, 2019

Disclaimer: I would like to admit now that there is much to the following album that I am unable to communicate. I’m a pasty suburbanite that spent the better half of his high school days sulking over Pink Floyd records and video game remixes. I do not possess the cultural backing nor the expertise to properly dissect all the pop, hip hop and R&B references that certainly pervade the following artist’s work. The commentary communicated below is therefore a surface exploration of the album’s sound and composition, and I encourage readers to explore the artist and the genres that inspired her further if this review piques any interest. Without further ado…

Scene: I am in art class rendering a portrait when I decide the sound of my own breathing is getting to be a little much. I don my massive Audio-Technica M50xs (they were really cool in 2015, I swear) and pull up Google Music on my phone. The first album cover to catch my eye is this bright pink square containing a topless lady. The cover features pink hair, pink nails and pink arm-length opera gloves clasped over an exposed chest. The woman has a diamond-shattering jaw-line and enough airbrush highlights to put a polished military drone to shame. I quickly select the album to prevent the person sitting next to me from looking over and thinking I was browsing porn. A song called “Cyber Sex” begins to play, and I continue my drawing.

The album turned out to be Doja Cat’s latest release, “Hot Pink.” For starters, the music served its purpose. The repetitive nature of the pop lyrics and the synthetic beats were rhythmic enough to get me into the state necessary to draw for an hour, and can we really ask much else of music? Of course, my desire to listen did not end with art class. Later that weekend I found myself coming back to the album again and again, and I have been listening to its singles continuously since.

When I saw the album cover, I expected a hypersexual hip hop LP (it is reminiscent of something by Nicki Minaj or Cardi B), but the sound I got was much smoother. I hesitate to call it “more creative” than traditional R&B pop albums, but Doja Cat’s approach is undeniably diverse. Despite its facade, “Hot Pink’s” approach to pop sexuality is not so alien. Most of the songs aren’t the kind of thing you’ll turn to when somebody hands you the aux, but repeated private listens have so far been a delight.

It’s 2019; women singing about sex and drugs is nothing new, but Doja tackles these themes in some pretty wacky ways. The aforementioned first track, “Cyber Sex,” is all about “getting freaky on camera.” We might not like to admit it, but digital sexuality is a thing that you, dear reader, probably participate in quite frequently. Pornhub? Tinder? “Can’t give head, you give me the face time.” Need I remind you about Omegle? There was a reason you and your friends would stay up for hours sifting through other people’s webcam feeds. “Cyber Sex” captures all this unspoken internet junk in one catchy, electronic package. Lines describing dick pics and certain pinks reflected over the webcam are sung over a gamey beat of ambient pulses and snaps. As Doja proudly declares near the end of the song, “What a time to be alive!”

The second song, “Won’t Bite,” begins with Doja singing a catchy series of “La la la la’s” that later comprise the song’s chorus. I assumed that this sound, like the rhythm behind “Cyber Sex,” was just another showcase of Doja’s musical creativity, but the footnotes of the website Genius Lyrics state that this vocalization is actually a form of ululating common in South African cultures. Like any other artist working within an established medium, Doja Cat is creating art in dialogue with history and life. Listeners that can get past their own insecurities about listening to songs about webcam sex and horny cats are rewarded with real substance.

After the first few songs, “Hot Pink” sobers up a little bit, and it achieves this tone shift without sacrificing the sonic dynamism that marks the first two tracks. The third song, “Rules,” drops the whimsical electronic beats for darker, bluesier guitar riffs worthy of its more confrontational chorus: “play with my p*ssy, but don’t play with my emotions.” “Bottom Bitch” comes next with its more heavily synthesized vocals and repetitive lyrics between rap interludes; it’s finally the kind of song that you might expect to hear on a pop radio station. “Say So” brings the tone back to something more akin to rock/soul with jazzy guitar play and a simple electric drum beat backing the entire song. It reminds me of “Daft Punk,” honestly.

The lyrics stand out a lot less by this point in the album, and the songs start to meld together in a kind of vibey plateau. This is the album’s point of immersion; if the first couple of songs haven’t thrown you off, then it’s smooth sailing until “Addiction.” “Hot Pink” isn’t exactly a concept album, but nearly all great LPs have some kind of narrative structure, even if it is only tonal. “Addiction” is when the party starts to wind down. The chorus does this awesome thing where it repeats the line “I’m just a little bit, I’m just a little bit” that at some imperceptible point transforms into “just a little bit more, just a little bit more.” In case you’ve never left your dorm room, the lyrics are refering to drugs, but you also get the sense that Doja is being strung along by sex and the guy that is providing it: “I need you, me, us, addicted, uh.”

The following songs, “Streets” and “Better than Me” are more overtly about loss and relationships, and they drive a sharp contrast between the carefree sex songs that started the album. These tracks are heavier, but they are interesting listens in tandem (“Streets” ends its lines with “you” and “Better Than Me” ends with a lot of “mes”). The song “Shine” sits right between these tracks, and while the chorus is fun, its heavily synthesised lyrics are a bit much. It feels like a random addition, especially as the album is winding down.

“Juicy” is the album’s clincher. It was released as its own single before the release of “Hot Pink,” and it is easy to see why. After all the remorse, regret and jealousy on display in the previous tracks, the inherent body positivity and self-love is welcome. “Juicy” isn’t hype or loud enough to totally erase the downward shift in tone, but it is by no means a downer. The simple beat and fun lyrics make it a good single for solo or playlist listening, which can’t be said for many of the other songs in the album. If you really want to run Doja through the aux, select “Juicy” or “Bottom Bitch.”

“Hot Pink” offers a lot, even if it isn’t a thematically cohesive masterpiece. Doja Cat shoots wide and long, but the tracks are arranged well enough that the album doesn’t just feel like a collection of pop singles. “Hot Pink” marks Doja’s second full release since her debut album, “Amala,” in March of 2018. I look forward to exploring her past work with greater depth, and I will be keeping a close watch on any future releases. Even if you don’t consider yourself a fan of pop, give Doja a chance. The music is loads of fun, and she evidently had a ball writing it.

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