'Scarlet' Review

I LOVE Doja Cat. I absolutely love Doja Cat. I go to her music when I want to feel pretty, when I want to do a fun little dance in my head, when I want to hear something beautifully and creatively crafted. Going all the way back to her original song "MOOO!" in which she compares herself to a cow in the most poetic, non-self-deprecating way possible ("these heifers got nothing on me"), Doja Cat has been making songs that are incredibly unique in their genre for a very long time, though she hasn’t released many full albums.

Her previous album, "Planet Her," was much different than her first two, "Amala" and "Hot Pink." Some might have called it a maturation of Doja’s sound; she went into more detail in her lyrics, and the songs overall seemed more polished. From this change, I was really curious to hear what her newest release, "Scarlet" would sound like. I wondered if "Planet Her" would be her new baseline, or if I’d get to see a new side of her in "Scarlet."

As a promotion for "Scarlet," Doja released three singles, and from listening to them I could immediately tell that this album would represent a brand new era. During the promotional period, she changed the covers of her previously released albums on Spotify and Apple Music to be red-cast, not-so-subtly referencing her single, "Paint The Town Red." The lead-up — and it was a big one — to the release of "Scarlet" was so focused on the message that Doja is different now than she used to be that when I brought it up around my fellow Tartan editors, one of them said, "Isn’t Doja Cat weird now?" The answer to this question, I think, is that she’s always been weird, but now she’s famous too.

"Scarlet" is infused with themes of love, fame, independence, and confidence. I hate to make this comparison, but the messaging in and timing of "Scarlet" feel so akin to Taylor Swift’s "reputation." There are two really consistent themes running through both albums that I’ll talk about here.

First, both Swift and Doja made these albums while clearly feeling the pressures of popularity and the constraints of the public eye on their own personal identities. In tracks like "Paint The Town Red," "Attention," "Shutcho," and "Fuck The Girls (FTG)," Doja cultivates the idea that she’s been thinking about what people think of her and she’s decided that she doesn’t care (‘ain’t the bad press good?’). She evidently went through an era in which she tailored her work and her image to the expectations of others, and she’s over it. This is actually the thesis of "reputation" (but I could write an entire other article about that).

Second, many tracks in both "Scarlet" and "reputation" indicate a new relationship in their respective artists' lives, one that’s unlike any they’ve ever sung about before. In Swift’s case, tracks like "King Of My Heart" and "Don’t Blame Me" referenced her now-ex Joe Alwyn who, as many Swifties know, was the other half of one of Swift’s most significant public relationships. It appears that Doja Cat’s new beau is Jeffrey Cyrus, a comedian who most Doja fans don’t seem to like that much. That aside, I loved some of the intense moments that their relationship seems to be creating in "Scarlet." It’s a sharp turn from some of the toxic stuff she talked about in "Planet Her" (see "Alone"), and aside from her classic "Streets," we’ve never really heard this side of Doja. In "Agora Hills" especially, as well as "Can’t Wait" and "Often," there are so many really gorgeous lines about being in love that feel as real and true as "Streets," but more mature (see, 'if you were to become a middle American farmer, I’d read up on every vegetable and harvest them around you').

In "Scarlet" we see Doja falling in love, growing as a celebrity, as well as growing as an artist and a person. There is some new experimentation with sound, like the sampling of "I’m Not In Love" by 10cc (a great song that I’m sure will be all over TikTok very soon) in "Shutcho," which is much different from her sampling of "Put Your Head On My Shoulder" in "Freak." She puts out some harder rap sound (and absolutely rocks it) in tracks like "WYM Freestyle," "Demons," and "Wet Vagina." There are still traces of her older, soft-rap, sex-heavy style, like in "Gun," but that’s pretty much where it ends. There’s so much more depth on this record than in her past ones; she’s letting us in. Tracks like "Go Off," "Balut," and "Love Life" are unabashed celebrations of the self and the good in life. "Love Life" in particular feels so joyful. She says, "I love hearin’ the roar when I go on the stage on tour / They love when I embrace my flaws / I love it when they doin’ the same / I love it when my fans love change, that's how we change the game," and then talks about how grateful she is for her mom’s cooking and her co-workers and her boyfriend and her friends. I feel like I could be as big as her, I could embrace my flaws, I am being freed and permitted.

This is the effect I think Doja Cat has always had on me, but "Scarlet" achieves it in a brand new way. The nuance and vulnerability in the songs and the diversity of life experiences represented by them is something that I can appreciate now, in some of the same ways that I appreciated "Rules" when I was younger. I feel like I have a better understanding of Doja Cat’s eclecticism, and have realized that it’s no different from that of any indie artist — it's just happening in a different context, making it all the more lovely in my opinion. In short, I love this album, I love the way it makes me feel, and I love knowing more about how Doja Cat sees herself, her fans, and the world around her.