Scarlet, the fourth studio album from Doja Cat, has seen the California artist disregard her pop princess status and embrace the rap devil on her shoulder.

Initially gaining blog virality almost a decade ago from SoundCloud releases like ‘So High’, Doja Cat’s rise to superstardom has been years in the making. Although, after a creative hiatus from releasing until 2018, her journey to the top skyrocketed with her debut studio album Amala

From the laundry list of hits across her subsequent projects Hot Pink and Planet Her, and the viral memes and TikTok dances that followed, Doja Cat has had the internet in the palm of her hand and the music industry in the other ever since. From a Grammy Award, to five Billboard Music Awards and five AMAs, the Los Angeles based artist was also named in this year’s edition of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world. 

2023 has been one of Doja Cat’s more eventful years to say the least. She criticised her previous releases as “cash grabs” and “digestible pop hits”, and was met with a tirade of fan controversy and accusations of Satanism. While many were quick to claim this year would witness her fall from success, it couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Doja Cat ignited her start to the year on the remix of ‘Kill Bill’, marking her second collaboration with SZA since their Grammy award-winning 2021 hit ‘Kiss Me More’. Continuing the narrative of the original, with a similar approach to ‘Stan’ by Eminem, her verse arrived only a week after she tweeted: “No more pop.” 

On Scarlet’s lead single ‘Attention’, released in June, Doja cemented this return to her rapping ways and addressed the recent backlash: “Talk your shit about me, I can easily disprove it, it’s stupid. You follow me, but you don’t really care about the music.”

While she’s been building her cult following since as early as 2014, the rapid TikTok takeover of the zeitgeist undeniably helped catapult herself into super stardom. As a result, the hyperfixation from fan cultures has led to people becoming too involved in Doja Cat as a person and beginning to feel an undeserving sense of responsibility behind her success as an artist. 

Reclaiming ownership of her artistry, and proving her career is a testament to her talents alone, Scarlet’s second single, ‘Paint The Town Red’, became rap’s first Hot 100 No.1 of 2023 and the fastest solo female rap song to reach 100 million streams in Spotify history. In contrast to her last number one single, the lighthearted and disco-inspired ‘Say So’ remix with Nicki Minaj, ‘PTTR’ capitalises on the same demonic imagery used by Lil Nas X on ‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)’. The two artists are known for being online meme lords and sometimes trolls, yet both have delivered record-breaking songs against all odds. 

While Scarlet is treated to the monumental start of ‘PTTR’, one of the best tracks on the album, the rest of the first half feels like a step backwards in quality. Almost like the rollout of the project, listening from ‘Demons’ through till ‘Ouchies’ feels like Doja is vehemently trying to scare away any fake fans. From the harder hitting production and cut-throat, though oftentimes lacklustre, lyricism, it’s clear she had some steam to let off. 

Scarlet truly begins to find its groove with the empowering cut ‘Go Off’ and the melting pot of her R&B, rap and pop talents that are best showcased on ‘Agora Hills’ and the neo-soul, Lauryn Hill reminiscent track ‘Can’t Wait’. It’s also dope to hear Doja Cat go in over boom-bap production like on ‘Balut’ and ‘Attention’, and if this is really the death of pop Doja, it’s a promising tease of what’s to come. 

Across the latest project, she enlists the production help of Rogét Chahayed, Kurtis McKenzie, London on da Track, Earl on the Beat, Jay Versace, and more. While her pop sensibilities are still sprinkled throughout, the rap-heavy nature of Scarlet creates a less manufactured feel than her past work. Leading to a more authentic approach to her songwriting and overall creative direction, Doja has once again achieved a matching soundscape to her aesthetic, this time trading glitter for blood and sci-fi for horror. 

The 17 self-written tracks are a mixed bag of her hardest raps in recent times and her most forgettable moments. Much like her last 12 months, Scarlet is an album of highs and lows. With zero features and seemingly the whole world against her, it’s been a bumpy release road but Doja Cat has seemingly ended up on top. 

Funnily enough, it’s where she was the whole time anyway.

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