New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Review: Doja Cat’s ‘Scarlet’ fires back at the doubters

Doja Cat spent months hyping up her next album as a departure from her signature sound. While “Scarlet” shows some originality, it’s not what she promised.
Doja Cat’s new album “Scarlet” features tracks like “Paint the Town Red” and “Love Life.” (Courtesy of Grizz Lee)

Doja Cat’s latest album is determined, bold and empowering in a way that makes for a fun listen. She’s celebrating small joys — friendships, her mom’s mac ‘n’ cheese — and demonstrating her lyrical skills. Yet while “Scarlet” solidifies Doja’s skills as a rapper, the substance sometimes falls flat.

“Scarlet,” released on Sept. 22, is threaded with her trademarks: intriguing ad-libs, playful lyrics and moments of softness that make it clear how happy Doja is now. The first track, “Paint the Town Red,” sets the tone with playful, devilish imagery and a Dionne Warwick sample. The song prepares the listener for a kind of resurrection — “I’m going to glow up one more time / Trust me, I have magical foresight” — Doja’s ready to play by her own rules and show the world what she can do with her rapping.

Several other songs on the album also echo this message, such as “Fuck the Girls (FTG)” and “Skull and Bones.” Even the final song, “WYM Freestyle,” ends the album on this same note, one that is amplified by her shifting vocal inflections and rich beats.

While I enjoyed the smoother vibe of the second half of “Scarlet,” some of the songs came across as unnecessary. Of the album’s back half, only “Agora Hills” and “Can’t Wait” memorably ground the album’s aggression in something softer. “Agora Hills” speaks to her romantic, vulnerable side: “Baby, can you call me back? I miss you / It’s so lonely in my mansion.” The second half of the album might be a refuge for those who enjoy Doja’s more affectionate side, especially if the first half was too harsh for them. While the album was meant to be a display of the rapper’s range, a few of the tracks fall short of this promise.

As a fan of Doja, I was interested in the premise of “Scarlet,” but a bit let down by its execution. The album could have struck a balance between frustration, being in love and personal reinvention, but the tracks’ delivery of these messages often faltered. It didn’t sound nearly as different as Doja Cat had promised. Several songs, including “Agora Hills,” sound like they could have been from her 2021 release “Planet Her.” 

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — “Planet Her” melded pop and rap features from vastly different artists without losing its ethereal sound. However, considering the amount of hype and controversy she generated around completely changing her style, the similarity of the tracks on “Scarlet” shredded her credibility.

I first encountered Doja Cat’s music in 2018, the year she dropped her first studio album “Amala.” With its seductive and fun lyricism, I quickly became a fan. Tracks like “Go to Town” and “Body Language” heralded her arrival to the R&B scene as an artist with cheeky verses and a playfully sexualized attitude. She was quirky, confident and unapologetically herself, and it came across in the music.

It came as a complete shock to fans when Doja Cat recently dismissed her past discography as a cash grab. Following years of criticism of her rapping skills and the TikTok-ification of songs like “Kiss Me More” and “Say So,” the artist insisted that her next drop would be completely different. Doja vowed to unleash the demons she claimed had been dampened by the expectations of mainstream music.

Doja Cat is, of course, incredibly talented, and I still enjoyed the album overall — I wouldn’t be surprised if “Gun” and “WYM Freestyle” appear on my next Spotify Wrapped. With that being said, I hope her future releases truly deliver on the promise of exploring the depth of her demonic side and shock us all. 

Although Doja has made her reputation on being outspoken, badmouthing past projects and the audience that supported them was a step too far for some fans. On one hand, she wouldn’t be where she is now if it hadn’t been for fans of her previous albums. On the other hand, feeling trapped beneath expectations is understandable.

Doja Cat has the right to explore new styles in her music regardless of whatever backlash she might face. “Scarlet,” however, wasn’t the departure from pop that she promised.

Contact Sophia Anderson at [email protected].

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