Amala Zandile Dlamini has gone from cat, to cow, to duck all in the space of a month, illuminating the dangers of viral success and the limits of so-called “cancel culture” in the process.
The 22-year-old Los Angeles native had spent the last several years making a name for herself as the colorful internet rapper and singer known as Doja Cat, garnering a small, but loyal, following of fans with the quirky, internet culture-influenced tracks found on her 2014 independent EP Purrr! and on her eclectic Soundcloud page. That following was enough to land her a label deal with RCA Records which spawned her debut album Amala earlier this year. Amala came and went without much fanfare, but Doja Cat experienced an explosion in fame when her jokey video for loose track “Mooo!” went viral on social media five months later in the middle of August.
“Mooo!” was almost guaranteed to become a viral sensation from the jump, with its lo-fi aesthetic, created by Doja herself using iMovie, a green blanket, and a few hilarious props to declare, “B*tch, I’m a cow.” In the video, she twerks and primps in front a series of blog and pop culture-culled background images, including the old Windows XP default wallpaper and a bouncing pair of anime boobs, while she rhymes Mother Goose-ish flexes full of subtly clever wordplay and old school hip-hop references that belie the frivolous concept. As a loose goof, the video is a gift; as an introduction to her expansive back catalog of more polished, artistically focused material, it was a savvy bait-and-switch, disarming the dubious doubts of knee-jerk skepticism endemic to internet natives for whom detached snark is a default reaction to practically any new artist who arrives petitioning their serious consideration.
But then, just as the wave of both critical acclaim and social media approval began to crest, it all came crashing down. Doja Cat “milkshake duck-ed” — aka when a suddenly viral entity reveals itself to be racist/homophobic/otherwise problematic after content mills start doing background research on the newly famous meme subject — in world record time. Years-old tweets wherein the young(er) Doja Cat freely used homophobic terms and expressed disgust for the idea of queer sex (as many unworldly teens — especially the ones raised mostly on hip-hop — are wont to do) resurfaced, and nearly instantly, the breakout star was denounced as canceled, the dreaded state of internet-enforced exile whereby mass denizens of social apps like Twitter declare an entity persona non grata. Her feel-good story of overnight celebrity was at its end — or was it?
It certainly didn’t appear that way from my experience at the Los Angeles stop of her Amala Tour last Friday night (September 21) at the Echoplex. From the line extending down the block even further than it usually has at other hip-hop shows I’ve attended there, to the enthusiasm on display from the wide-ranging, diverse crowd of starry-eyed teens and LA hipsters, it didn’t seem like the online backlash had extended to dampen Doja’s fans’ spirits in the least. Energetic but shy preteens crowded into the all-ages venue alongside teens and young adults and even a few middle-aged concertgoers, with their cat ears and cow horns on headbands all to take in the live spectacle that is a Doja Cat show.
Even more intriguing, there were plenty of fans taking in the concert at home as well, courtesy of live streaming app WAV, which gained a slew of new subscribers with its previous partnership with Kanye West for his Wyoming campfire Ye release party. As a sponsor for the show, the app provided yet another avenue for the digital and physical worlds to cross over, even as the concert itself highlighted the ways in which both diverge in practice.