Perhaps more than any other pop star, Doja Cat seems to reflect our current, rather fractious era of social media. It’s not just the way she’s conquered TikTok – her glistening disco bop ‘Say So’ topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 2019 after inspiring a viral dance trend – but also her steady stream of online controversies.
These include but aren’t limited to: dismissing coronavirus as “a flu” in early 2020, hanging out in chat rooms that allegedly propagated alt-right sentiments before she was famous and initially trying to defend her past use of a homophobic slur before backtracking with an apology. At this stage, a certain amount of messiness is almost baked into her persona, but she’s alway managed to bat away any real threat of being ‘cancelled’.
Then there’s the perpetual elephant in the room: the 25-year-old’s association with Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald. This previously prolific songwriter-producer became a music industry pariah in 2014 after being accused of emotional abuse and sexual assault by Kesha (he has always denied the allegations and in 2020 won a defamation case against the star). He produced ‘Say So’ under the pseudonym Tyson Trax, and the song’s enormous chart success effectively sealed his comeback last year. So it’s not too surprising that he contributes to three tracks here – including the hit single ‘Kiss Me More’, a funky, sun-kissed collaboration with SZA, and ‘You Right’, a dreamy duet with The Weeknd. Tellingly, he’s now credited as Dr. Luke once more.
Whether you want to listen to Doja Cat bops produced by Dr. Luke is a matter of personal conscience. Less debatable are her obvious skills as a performer. Throughout this intoxicating third album, the artist born Amala Ratna Zandile Dlamini pivots effortlessly between deceptively sweet singing – deceptive because her lyrics are generally anything but – and fierce, filter-free rapping. “Eat it like I need an apron on / Eat it ’til I need to change my thong,” she purrs on the grinding sex jam ‘Need to Know’. Sex and regret are recurring themes here, sometimes coalescing on the same song. She’s said on Twitter the wistful R&B ballad ‘Love to Dream’ deals with “fantasising and reminiscing about an ex”, a relatable jumble of emotions that the song conveys perfectly.
It’s also difficult to argue with her knack for naggingly catchy, TikTok-ready melodies. If ‘Planet Her’ sounds precision-tooled for chilled summer listening, its choruses tend to linger like a Sangria buzz. Musically, it’s a breezy affair – 14 tracks fly by in under 45 minutes – that gives Doja ample opportunity to show off her range. Whether she’s celebrating her feminine power over an afrobeats rhythm on ‘Woman’ – “I could be the CEO, just like a Robyn Fenty,” she brags – or duetting with Ariana Grande on the featherlight R&B glide ‘I Don’t Do Drugs’, she’s an agile and consistently compelling presence. On the spacey breakup song ‘Alone’, she sings and raps so slickly that she almost comes off like a one-woman, Gen-Z TLC.
‘Planet Her’ is also an album that brims with the confidence of an artist embracing her imperial phase. You don’t hire David LaChapelle to create your cover art – as Doja does here with stunning, space-themed results – unless you’re really feeling yourself. On the lascivious sex jam ‘Get Into It (Yuh)’, she’s brazen enough to namecheck Ed Sheeran and thank Nicki Minaj, who co-signed Doja by jumping on a ‘Say So’ remix last year.
Unlike Minaj, Doja’s lyrics don’t always dazzle with wit and wordplay, but they definitely possess a plain-speaking power. “Left on read and can’t give head / Buddy, you ain’t shit, need a laxative,” she tells an inadequate male on ‘Ain’t Shit’. Sometimes, it’s not so much what she says, but the way that she says is. When she adopts a childlike voice for one of the track’s later putdowns – “You should have paid my rent / Go get a fuckin’ job” – it really heightens the sting.
Though she works with a dozen or so producers including Jay-Z associate Al Shux and Drake collaborator Rogét Chahayed, ‘Planet Her’ is almost entirely mid-tempo and defined by a certain lightness of touch. This means that ‘Kiss Me More’ is probably the only track that matches ‘Say So’ for pure, unassailable pop appeal, but also that the downbeat, dirge-like ‘Been Like This’ is the record’s only dull moment. It all adds up to a job well done with more than enough bops to drown out her next social media controversy.
Release date: June 25
Record label: Kemosabe Records, RCA Records