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Doja Cat has surprisingly little to say on The Scarlet Tour, but a lot to show

15 June 2024, 12:00
Words by Thomas Turner
Original Photography by Raphael Pour-Hashemi

With the renowned contrarian on her first ever UK arena tour, Thomas Turner explores the dichotomies that lie deep beneath the caricatured shield of Doja Cat.

The gravitational pull of Doja Cat has historically been studded with tensions. Whether it's her intrinsically online persona contrasted with her distaste for the personal turning into tabloid; her self-titled debut album Amala being released under her real name – a direct contrast to artists who release albums titled by their alter egos (think I AM… SASHA FIERCE, Electra Heart or Madame X); or her jarring retroactive claims that the pop-veneered R&B records Hot Pink and Planet Her were “cash-grabs and y’all fell for it,” Doja Cat is a star with a complicated relationship to her stardom. She’s also a contrarian who seems to take joy in walking the path less traveled.

“What’s inside of me now but my soul?” she muses on “Skull And Bones,” the fourteenth track of her fourth studio album, Scarlet, and the delicately chosen opening number to the 20,000 strong London crowd packed into the O2 Arena. Formally known as Hellmouth before its title and album cover were erratically changed, her latest record has soundtracked one of the most fascinating and publicly exhibited breakdowns of the typical artist-to-fan food chains. “You follow me, but you don’t really care about the music,” she sings in the album’s lead single, “Attention.” “Said pop make money, now you try, bitch / you could use a revamp with a new vibe, sis,” she continues on its follow up “Paint The Town Red.”

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Dropping the pop lustre of her previous outings for an inkier, more braggadocious hip-hop sound on Scarlet, Doja shed her glossy status as a rising artist to stand as an unapologetic giant in the genre. Reclaiming a little of her own autonomy after fearing her fans were unfairly staking a claim in her identity, she shaved her hair and began to carefully craft her public appearances to be fewer, but more garish. Caricaturing herself as a cat limited to meowing at the Met Gala in 2023, and then adorned in a statuesque wet T-shirt in its 2024 edition, she has effectively shrugged off the watching eyes and tutting lips of onlookers, and labelled herself as a musician now making art purely for herself – and she’s having fun doing it.

As such, The Scarlet Tour is not just an artifact, but a live play-by-play of this dichotomy central to Doja’s artistry: an icon adored by her fans, but not always the most willing to pander to their affections. Beneath the satanic dress-up and brash online remarks, and even further under the “Doja Cat” alias and Met Gala regalia, however, does there remain a singer excited by their admirers and hopeful to please?

Well, on her first UK arena outing, Doja puts on an overwhelmingly polished and grandiose performance, fizzing with all the character and magnetism you’d expect. And, more importantly, hidden within are knowing smirks to the crowd as she slinks across the stage; embellishments of her affection. Commandeering it alone for the vast majority of the night, there’s not a second where the audience doesn’t seem stirred by her presence, or moved to quite literal screeches as she flaunts her assets in fan favourites “Tia Tamera” and “Get Into It (Yuh).” Completed with an arresting pyrotechnic budget, the hour and a half show rushes by in a blur of gyrating lycra and perpetual lyrics down the mic. What’s more, Doja seems, dare I say it, genuinely impressed as she encourages the Brits in attendance to abandon their usual politeness and match her freak bar for bar.

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There is, yet, a small niggling that this whole affair has only been undertaken on her clear and explicit terms. The set list notably excludes bigger career hits like her 2021 SZA collaboration “Kiss Me More,” popular Hot Pink single “Juicy,” and cult-adored cut from the Birds of Prey soundtrack “Boss Bitch.” Her priorities are clear, and these 'cash-grabs' have all been spurned to ensure she has ample time to whistle through eighteen of the twenty-four tracks of Scarlet and its extended deluxe edition released in April this year.

This also means there’s little time for chatter. Nine (!) songs go by before we hear Doja speak to the audience directly, and what she has to offer is the classic “I say this a lot but you guys are in my top three crowds of all time.” It’s the perfectly apathetic, non-committal praise that fans have come to not just expect, but lap up from their idol - as if being awarded a bronze from Doja equates to the gold. Charading the aspects of being a performer she deems lesser, she goes through the motions but is unable to fully commit to her soapbox.

Performing “Balut” later in the show, Doja has the crowd chanting the chorus, “Uh, wow / Uh, yeah / It’s like taking candy from a baby” back to her in hive-mind, without the need to call them to action with a tacky set-up audience gimmick (“now the left side sing… now the right side” etc.). Indeed, her drawing such a rouse from the crowd seems to be just that easy. We learn little about Doja throughout the gig, and it seems she’d prefer to keep that distance sacred – she is the muse, and the crowd is simply there to gawk.

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The Scarlet Tour, then, does not dissolve, but rather sheds light on Doja’s core artistic conflict. At once she can, and does, enact her animated celebrity persona – prowling across the stage as she performs with a ferocious hunger – but whilst not letting go of that contrarian underbelly. She simultaneously delivers proxy-journalistic bars admitting her fears fans don’t appreciate her music, before performing a slew of those exact songs she’s taking aim at. She takes away the interactivity other artists seem to be increasingly perfecting their concerts with (see: The Eras Tour, Adele Live, Olivia Rodrigo’s GUTS Tour), but doesn’t seem to lose any love in the room. Bearing all in her art, but little in her character, she strikes a well-forged balance.

After all, these tensions are perhaps best left unresolved. They help listeners detach from that classic 'stan' mentality and really engage with the little output we do have from Doja: the indispensable honesty of her lyricism. Perhaps more importantly, they also encourage crowds to revel in the art of just going with it. Why was Doja dressed in all yellow at the self-proclaimed Scarlet Tour? It’s not for you or I to read into.

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The most interesting directive from the whole night, however, may have been the bundles of hair that adorned the stage. Clearly a divisive symbol of Doja’s intra-era rebrand (or, perhaps better described, de-brand?), she introduces microphone stands wrapped in braids of hair, and is joined on-stage by her guitarist wearing trousers made of layered blonde wigs. Such peculiar yet specific attention to detail proves Doja as an artist painstakingly aware of her presence and persona in the limelight. It’s a jesting wink to the crowd: “You cared so much about my hair? Well here’s a whole stage of it.” You can almost hear her laugh.

Regardless of the hair being on her head or covering the stage, Doja Cat’s The Scarlet Tour is emblematic that it simply doesn’t matter, she'll deliver art just the same. Indeed she does want to appeal to the crowds, but this time it's irrevocably on her own terms. Whether the audience is the toy, the competitor, or the teammate, however, she keeps her cards close to her chest.


Skull And Bones
WYM Freestyle
Tia Tamera
Get Into It (Yuh)
Go Off
Say So
Need to Know
Can’t Wait
Agora Hills
Ain’t Shit
Paint the Town Red
Wet Vagina

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