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18 Dec

Doja Cat’s bald ambition: rap’s rebel gets real

Taken from the winter 2022 issue of Dazed. You possibly can buy a duplicate of our latest issue here

What initially strikes me is her punctual arrival on the studios on the peripheries of Paris. On this business, questionable notions of time run amok in talented circles. Yet today, Doja Cat is a welcome anomaly – a notably bald breath of fresh air, despite the 8am call time. I had spent the morning remarking on the state of calm with the opposite crew members. The mood feels void of that individual foreboding that comes with the everyday demands of celebrities. Though perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise, provided that Doja has been riding a wave of success just recently that has seen her debut on the Coachella most important stage, win her first Grammy and rack up multi-platinum records, all while perched on the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 200 for six months along with her third album, Planet Hera primary for any female rapper. Still, Doja Cat, whose name is an amalgamation of her favourite strain of weed (before relinquishing the habit) and her favourite animal (she has two oriental short-hairs called Ray and Alex), has spent the past yr grappling with the media, whose headlines often solid a heavy shadow of doubt over her wellbeing.

In March this yr, her performance at Asunciónico festival in Paraguay was cancelled on account of stormy weather, and fans took to Twitter to voice their displeasure when Doja allegedly failed to point out as much as greet people camped outside her hotel. Her response to the furore marked the more sobering reality of the cult of celebrity and its demands: “i fuckin quit i can’t wait to fucking disappear, and that i don’t need you to consider in me anymore,” she wrote. “Every part is dead to me, music is dead, and I’m a fucking idiot for ever considering i used to be made for this it is a fucking nightmare unfollow me.”

A self-reflective apology soon followed, expressing gratitude and chatting with Doja’s desire to learn from her fans, but eyebrows were raised nonetheless. Then, in August, she decided to shave her hair off. So when, an hour before our conversation, Doja’s stylist and inventive director Brett Alan Nelson evenly taps me on the shoulder with a warning to anticipate her potential reluctance to speak, I’m hesitant. There was once a time when she had spent years confined to her room, making beats and trolling strangers online with a face filled with acrylic paint because the ‘war paint girl’. Bouncing between virtual spaces reminiscent of Funnyjunk, Tinychat and Periscope as an odd face online was the norm, so how was our homebody cover star handling being front-facing on the world’s stage?

Truthfully, when the moment arrives, Doja is kind of forthcoming, her bare-faced expressions at times vulnerable, confused, quizzical, but mostly matter-of-fact. She possesses a curious, childlike quality that competes with a mature air of certainty. “After I was home, I’d just have a good time on the web,” she says of her early adventures online. “I’d take pictures in my room all day, do crazy make-up, put paint on my face and flaunt it on the web. I loved getting those reactions; it was just my favourite thing, looking like a freak. I actually enjoyed that.”

Sitting before me in one in all those awkward-but-comfortable positions, Doja seems relaxed. As she stares contentedly within the mirror on the Play-Doh-pink dye being applied to her buzzcut, she glosses over the media frenzy surrounding her every move and her impulsive reactions. “They’re like, ‘Oh, this could’t possibly be her simply having fun. She needs to be out of her mind. She needs to be cuckoo,’” she says with a whiff of dissatisfaction. “Also, I actually have a very bad impulse control; I wish to react to things really quick. If I’m in the proper mood, or the fallacious mood, I’ll snap back and I’ll have a good time doing it. It makes me feel higher or it doesn’t, because then the response I get back is tenfold and I’m like, ‘Uh-oh, I made a mistake.’”

The air of calm on set can also be different from the pandemonium she describes as par for the course during photoshoots. “That’s often the way it is. Today has been great because normally once I’m on set, it’s pretty wild but tolerable. I don’t think we’re ever all completely wired. It’s often Brett; it’s very personal to him.” Nearby, Brett is lying flat across the ground on his back and lets out a brief laugh in agreement as he briefly pulls his face away from his phone, before disappearing behind the screen again. JStayReady, Doja’s hairstylist, appears to be just as relaxed. “When there have been plenty of wig changes, it could be [stressful], but she has no hair [now],” he says, while touching up the dye he’s been applying. “Truthfully, I’m chilling. It’s great. We’re dying her hair on set, and that’s it; we’ve never done that before.”

“I actually have never felt more beautiful in my entire life, which may be very strange” – Doja Cat

After an impromptu kickback at her house last yr, Doja removed her wig, undid two months’ price of regrowth since being braided for her Coachella set, and revealed partings that had left tan lines down her scalp. Her ex-boyfriend gave her a buzzcut that she debuted on one in all her infamously interactive and troll-littered Instagram Lives. It shocked the web, family and friends who had frolicked attempting to talk her out of the bald latest look. Pretty girls have long hair, in any case, or so that they say. Her realisation that she was stressing an excessive amount of about things – and that it didn’t help to continuously be switching wigs and styles – was sudden but inevitable. She couldn’t quite understand why people were so against it but went ahead regardless, in typical Doja fashion. At first, she looked like a “wrinkly penis – I looked like I had an exposed brain”, but she was completely happy with the form of her head. Along with her characteristically raspy eagerness, she asserts, “I actually have never felt more beautiful in my entire life, which may be very strange. I felt beautiful once I had long hair. I definitely felt like a hot girl then, but I at all times do. There’s something so exhilarating about change; (it) showed me a distinct side of myself. I feel so latest, fresh and sexy. I also feel higher without make-up: having this bare head and so little make-up is a fun experience. It’s latest, and I like it.”

Newness is familiar territory for Doja, who had spent the previous week debuting a series of experimental looks at Paris Fashion Week. The last time I saw her was on the Thom Browne show, front row alongside Janet Jackson and Anna Wintour. I’d heard she’d also had a ball at Beyoncé’s secret Renaissance party with Tiffany in Paris just a few days prior. Earlier within the week, at A.W.A.K.E. Mode, she’d gone full Shirley Eaton with a golden paint job, Incredible Planet meets RuPaul’s Drag Race for Monot, after which took the thought of a ‘beat face’ fairly literally along with her bruised and lacerated make-up on the Balenciaga show. The latter was something she had dreamed up weeks prior, mentioning the initial idea in a call we had scheduled along with her team to debate creativeone which she personally joined, a selection out of whack with celebrities who are likely to hide behind a wall of management. She often falls victim to claims of being fake-edgy, but can understand why. The reality is, she’s just an explorative person on an everlasting quest for newness. It’s a part of the allure of this industry, the constant moving, changing and shifting of trendsstagnancy drives her crazy.

Does she feel like she is on top of things, or is there a silent demand placed on her as a girl in an industry that demands latest eras with each EP release? Recent styles, latest cuts, latest colors? “Recently, I’ve been feeling like I’m more on top of things, but I believe that I actually have at all times been on top of things,” says Doja. “I might be very permissive once I work with people. I’ll allow them to put a lampshade on my head, and I won’t say anything.” Brett, never too distant from his client-turned-bestie, is quick to attest that, although true, this only happened once. “I’ll do it because I wish to explore, but sometimes I’ll look back at it and ask, ‘Why the fuck did I do this?’” Doja continues. “I’m glad I do this because you’ve got to seem like an idiot to learn how to not be one. You have got to know how one can be a idiot with a purpose to know the way to not be a idiot. That’s all I’ve been learning.”

Celebrities can lean on fashion as armour or a way to shroud their true selves in outlandish suits. Doja uses it as one other medium to traverse and produce imagined worlds to life. Though often circling her chronically unserious nature, which finds its roots within the more flippant corners of the net, there isn’t a singular look or motif. There may be a consistent inconsistency that sees her jump across styles. This has been the case since she mooed her way into the zeitgeist in 2018. Part web kitsch, part troll, severely silly and definitely strange, “MOOO!” was a viral YouTube hit offering an early glimpse into Doja’s characteristic fusion of meme-y humour, lo-fi bedroom production and irreverence towards ideas of what constitutes a contemporary pop star. Released just before the TikTok algorithm began dictating the tempo of pop, the track marked the tip of 1 viral era and the start of one other, which she equally conquered along with her funk-infused hit, “Say So”. It’s what seems like a lightning-speed ascent, and like several young woman within the throes of growth and development, she defines and redefines who she is or who she might need to be, even when meaning falling victim to speculative headlines.

“Now, to me, beauty goes against it. I really like while you take something that’s perhaps classically beautiful and twist it and make it your personal” – Doja Cat

When Doja arrives on set, camera-ready, the music starts up, and he or she moves her 5ft 2in frame without thought. There’s a natural ease in her movement from her years of dance training, little question (search hard enough, and you would possibly discover a viral clip of her impressive pop-and-locking skills). She will be able to strike poses without prompt and knows how best to border and contort herself for the camera. She’s removed from camera-shy, running across the set on the balls of her feet to peek at shots in between takes. Her confidence in her style may also be present in her comfort round her body, though it is usually a playground for the world to overanalyse. The proudly posted topless selfies taken at her Masquerade-themed twenty seventh celebration debuted on Twitter a few weeks after our conversation to attest to this. Nevertheless, it could be misleading to suggest that this was at all times the case, as she’d spent years craving for perfection. This distorted, idealised vision of beauty was tainted by the toxic demands of our popular cultureno cellulite, breasts as much as here and what waist?! Her hectic touring schedule laid potential plans for surgery to rest. “Now, to me, beauty goes against it. I really like while you take something that’s perhaps classically beautiful and twist it and make it your personal,” she says. “For me, it’s more of an ‘are you completely happy?’ form of thing. I need my fans to learn they don’t must be like anyone else and the thing they need is already there. They only haven’t found it yet, and once they do they’ll be like, ‘How the fuck did I not see it? How did I miss this?’”

Doja Cat, born Amala Dlamini in Tarzana, California, spent her first five years living along with her maternal grandmother in Recent York City. She keenly recounts moving back to California and bouncing between the artistic influences of the ladies in her life. Her grandmother drew heavy-set women in bikinis on the beach or with beautiful backdrops. Meanwhile, her mother’s love for space and nature manifested in additional ethereal and galactic paintings:“I believe I take from each of them,” she says. She recently built a studio in her Beverly Hills home, where she has taken up painting herself. “I really like to color monsters; that’s my favourite thing. So I’ll doodle a monster after which put it on a giant canvas. It’s been an interesting process.”

Across the age of eight, she lived in Sai Anantam ashram, a serene 48 acres of land within the Santa Monica mountains. Founded in 1983 and run by Turiyasangitananda, higher known to cosmic jazz fans as Alice Coltrane, Doja would work the land and join Coltrane on her legendary Sunday services. “That had an enormous conscious and subconscious influence on me,” she reflects with a wishful, distant gaze. “Every Sunday, we’d go to the temple and sing bhajans [chants] with Alice and all of the people on the land. I’m completely happy to have come from such a special a part of the culture; I loved all of the musical influences around me. It was amazing to have Alice in my presence as a child.”

Suddenly, Doja interrupts her rose-tinted memories to set one other record straight, this time regarding her Blackness, or perceived lack thereof. Born to a white Jewish mother and a Black South African father, her biracial identity is a degree of contention for a lot of. “I read something the opposite day where someone said I used to be never surrounded by Black people, and I haven’t any Black influence in my life, which is so unbelievably crazy to me,” she says. “Growing up on the land, it was all Black energy. My family was Black. My mum was the one real white influence in my life. It’s easy to make assumptions about people you don’t know. I don’t think individuals are attempting to destroy my light or make me unhappy; I believe it’s just that they don’t know.”

When she isn’t addressing the headlines and righting public wrongs, Doja Cat spends whatever time she will gaming. Though a more subtle influence on her as an individual and an artist, she teases that we must always expect its sway on her upcoming creative, with cult-classic titles reminiscent of Fusion Frenzy, Oddworld, Abe’s Odyssey, Earthworm Jim and SSX Tricky all influential on her visual style specifically. There’s something in that nostalgia that she is searching for to embrace. “I keep it buried down deep in me. But I feel that is the time for me to bring it out. It’s easier for me to specific myself now, so that you’re going to see loads more of that in the long run. But I did have a very hard time attacking that feeling inside me and letting it blossom. There have been some sexy elements to that [gaming] era that I loved. And I feel just like the gaming world has form of gone off the deep end; I don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks. I miss the crop tops in video games;
I miss when things were sexy. I do, I do.” She groans begrudgingly. “I wish my character could possibly be an attractive girl, and also you don’t have that any more. You don’t have that appeal. And I get it; it’s a game, and whatever. And I do know I grew up at a different time, and I’m an old lady. I’m ready to just accept that. Suck my cock!”

The bubbly synths she often uses are lifted straight from gaming culture, lending a futuristic energy on one hand and a 16-bit throwback vibe on the opposite. Though it’s not essentially the most substantial influence on the bald ambitions of Doja Cat’s next move. In February, she released a single that hinted towards the direction of her latest sound and elegance, a canopy of Hole’s “Celebrity Skin”. The 2020 EMAs offered one other clue, when she crawled out of a TV screen to perform a metal rendition of “Say So”. After I quiz her on her most up-to-date musical inspirations, her answer is somewhat unexpected: Machine Girl, Deli Girls, Orbital, The Chemical Brothers, Death Grips and plenty of Beastie Boys. “Opus III is a large inspo for me immediately,” she says. “When you wanted a teaser into what I’ve been serious about, that’s what I’ve been on loads. And simply to make it clear, Beastie Boys is a huge inspiration to me. Beastie Boys will hit you with hard, loud and crazy rap, but they’ll also hit you with real raw 90s punk, which I really like, or smooth techno that feels sexy and sleek. And also you’ll be like, ‘Where the fuck did this come from?’” To this point, Doja has fused mostly pop, R&B and rap to create her sound and there are some reservations around sliding right into a more punk realm. She doesn’t want things to feel like a mockery and says that it won’t be on the nose, but inspired. “I need to take among the beautiful elements of vocal distortion and play those into the music. I don’t know if what I’m doing goes to be pop, but I need to maintain that in mind for when I am going into the studio.”

By her own admission, the loose parameters Doja draws round her music sometimes make for less cohesive results than she would love. At once, she is exploring whether this current mood of punk-fuelled catharsis will take her right into a latest era of consistency. But without the mess, wouldn’t it even be Doja? Feeling her way around the topic, she hits on the proper phrase for her ability to pinball wildly between moods and genres. “I believe what I’ve fallen into is controlled chaos,” she explains. “I’m crazy about putting different genres into the identical album and even into the identical song.” Up next, she tells me is “a bouquet of things. There’s songs from a yr and a half ago that I made and I’m like, ‘These need to come back out.’ I actually have a project that’s going to be quite consistent, hopefully, which is coming up next and is the actual album, the actual project. But before that, I would love to place out some singles that don’t really hook up with it in any way. They’re just fun things that I would love to place out.” So the album is coming? “The album will come and it’ll be its own moment on Earth.” Regardless of the sound she chooses to inhabit next, the through-line will at all times be Doja: brash, daring, and brilliantly chaotic.

Hair JARED HENDERSON, make-up LAUREL CHARLESTON, set design SAMUEL OVERS, lighting NOAH BEYENE, photographic assistants EGON DETTHOFF, DANI BASTIDAS, PAUL JEDWAB, styling assistants GLEN MBAN, ANDRA-AMELIA BUHAI, CARI LIMA, MANAVI DANG, ZOE MINARD-LIÉVAIN, LIZA HRACHOVA, KATIE DULIEU, set design assistant MITCHELL FENN, digital operator MAGNUS BERGQVIST, production DAY INTERNATIONAL

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