Doja Cat doesn’t need your love — she just wants attention. Is that too harsh? Maybe, but this is the message Doja picked to begin her Scarlet era, rolling out the proverbial red carpet with the aptly-titled “Attention.” In the months surrounding its release,” Doja trashed her “mediocre pop” image, lashed out at fans on social media, and served up blood-soaked visuals to accompany Scarlet’s first three singles before it dropped Sept. 22.
If attention without love is what she wanted, then she certainly got it, leaving in her wake an endless string of minor controversies. With all this online heat, some were left to wonder: What would the promised scorched-earth Doja Cat album sound like? In the words of another controversial celebrity-turned-provocateur, “I guess we’ll never know.”
That quote is from Kanye West, a man unparalleled when it comes to torching his own reputation. For him, the key to burning it all down was simply a complete and utter lack of shame. However, if Scarlet is any indication, Doja has shame in spades, unsubtly hidden behind paper-thin “I’m not mad, you’re mad” lyrics. On “Agora Hills,” Doja flippantly raps, “Fuck what they heard, I don’t fuck with them birds,” before immediately trying to reframe a years-old Twitter rumor (“Boys be mad that I don’t fuck incels”).
While pop culture messiness certainly has its appeal, Doja’s begins and ends on the dorkiest battleground imaginable: the Internet. On “97,” she raps, “Pull up and they smiley instead/ Like they wasn’t tryna fight me in threads/ In a tweet that I’ma probably still stand by.” While “probably” standing by a tweet is already a weak brag, the line capping off her commentary — “I’m ruthless” — draws a huge disparity between who Doja sees herself as and how she actually comes across. If she were truly unphased by online hate, she wouldn’t feel the need to respond to every asinine criticism of her life and music.
It’s tragic that trolling is Scarlet’s main focus, because Doja can write a killer verse when she changes targets. On the delightly unserious “Wet Vagina,” Doja can freely rap, “Pretty face, plastic, it’s giving Kardashian/ Agent 47, yeah, I’m giving assassin,” and the random “Hitman” reference somehow feels at home. Tracks such as “Wet Vagina” and “Demons” offer a glimpse of the crazy, unhinged Scarlet that was advertised prior to its release but never delivered.
Unfortunately, most of the album is flatly self-serious and repetitive. The longer Scarlet plays, the more it begins to feel like a mirror maze, doubling back over the same territory over and over again.
“Fuck the Girls (FTG)” is a “fuck you, pay me” anthem. The track immediately following it, “Ouchies,” goes a step further by literally including the phrase verbatim: “Fuck you, pay me.” Attentive readers may already recognize a pattern, and they could probably guess the subject matter of songs such as “Shutcho” or “Skull and Bones.” These tracks have the basics down — creative flows, clean production — but the singular focus on haters is mind-numbing.
Scarlet’s myriad relaxed tracks don’t quite sync with the gory visuals delivered during its rollout. The album feels less influenced by Satanism and horror films, and more indebted to Doja’s early music, tracks housed on SoundCloud when she was a teenager.
The dark, synthwave instrumental of the now-deleted “4 Morant” is slightly similar to territory on Scarlet, but that song’s verses go much further, contemplating suicide and adressing Doja’s mental health struggles. Doja raps, “I plaster my ass on the wall for attention,” and, “I can’t handle rejection,” two lines that explain Scarlet better than anything on the album itself.
If “Attention” is Scarlet’s thesis, then most important is its closing line: “You follow me, but you don’t really care about the music.” After sitting through petty song after petty song, one is left to wonder: Does Doja Cat care about the music? Doja clearly has something to prove; whatever it is, Scarlet is not that proof.