There were plenty of narratives swirling around Doja Cat heading into the launch of her Scarlet Tour. Questions surrounded the size of the venues on the tour, her first honest-to-goodness tour since falling into her glittering success era in the middle of a global pandemic; whether she’s been going through some kind of breakdown after shaving her head and seemingly going on a year-long crusade against her most devoted fans; whether or not she’s a “real” rapper.
It’s a shame the people propagating such narratives probably weren’t in attendance at Staples Center in Los Angeles Thursday night (alright, fine… Crypto.com Arena. UGH). Not only did the Los Angeles native handily address each of those narratives but she and her opener Doechii also batted down a few of those that have been bandied about concerning the state of so-called “female rap” (gross) for the past few years (and especially the past few days).
With much of Doja’s success coming during the live music shutdown of 2020 and her opening slot on The Weeknd’s recent stadium tour nixed after surgery, there were observers — loud ones — who thought that Doja wasn’t “ready” for arenas, or that she wouldn’t be able to sell out an arena tour, especially after pissing off “core” fans by insulting “stupid” stan account admins who clung to their parasocial connection like a life raft in a hurricane at sea.
Well, consider that myth busted; it’s fitting that Doja’s hometown show brought all the drama to Tinseltown — and none of the gimmicks that far too many other acts half of her stature have resorted to for attention. Born and bred on the internet, Doja’s well-versed in the online chatter about her, and systematically dismantles every complaint in her Scarlet Tour set, which is presented in five acts and finds her confronting both the haters and the unhinged alter ego her latest album is titled after.
Accusations of Satanism are skewered by a churchy staging of “Shutcho,” while Doja assumes a classic Jesus pose during “Attention” that irreverently takes the piss out of worrywarts who read malintent into something as commonplace as a bat tattoo. She subtly knocks down criticisms of her struggle with her biracial origins (her mom’s white, her dad’s South African) with an African traditional dance to open “Woman.”
Then she adds Brazilian bossa inflections to her biggest hit, “Say So.” This is telling. She’s previously reinterpreted the disco-pop hit as a rollicking rock anthem and alien EDM dance floor bop, saying she got sick of performing the song the same way over and over during the pandemic. By infusing it with diasporic influences, she revels in her heritage, recapturing a part of herself so many seem so eager to snatch away.
She proves her rap chops again and again throughout the night, but also her singing. The Badu impression on “Often” reaches fully-fledged neo-soul vocalist dimensions on her Hiatus Kaiyote cover “Red Room.” And I shouldn’t need to point out that her stagecraft at this point is beyond even some of her predecessors.
On Thursday, the native Angeleno even incorporated a Staples tradition, the in-game kiss cam, imbued with her own meme culture-obsessed humor, and handled an unplanned mic malfunction with her signature humor, pulling a face I really wish I’d gotten a photo of. And you want to talk props? How about a massive robotic spider, like something out of The Matrix, hovering over her head, or being flanked by a giant walking eyeball during “Paint The Town Red,” complete with attached optic nerve?
More than anything else, it looks like the narrative she is most interested in debunking is one she has maybe fed into a bit herself. On stage Thursday night, she looked like she was actually having fun performing… Check that. She looked like she was having the time of her life, like all the effort and time and money she’s put into this thing was actually worth it for the 90 minutes she spent up there captivating and communing with her audience — the “real” fans.
The ones who bought tickets, who overlooked or ignored the narratives, who put the music first, the way she does, the way she always has. She put on a show, not just for them and not just for Doja Cat, but also for Amala, the girl who loved music so much she made it her life against all odds (and sometimes her better judgment). She made Amala proud.
Check out more of our Scarlet Tour coverage here.