Music

Doja Cat Is Always Ready For The Moment

It’s rare for an artist to double back and shoot a video for a newly popular song from a year-and-a-half-old album, especially when the song in question wasn’t originally planned as a single or have a video in the first place. Yet, that’s exactly what Doja Cat did with the release of her video for “Streets,” the Hot Pink song from 2019 that became the basis for the red-hot Silhouette Challenge on TikTok. Capitalizing on the sudden viral success of the non-single in the middle of the rollout for her third album, Planet Her, Doja Cat has just made a case for a new paradigm for how artists should maneuver in this post-TikTok era.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Doja Cat can handle fame so well, or that she always seems perfectly equipped to ride the changing tides in the wake of a song’s breakout popularity. When she released her debut album Amala in 2018, it seemingly came and went without making much of an impact — and then she made “Mooo!” for fun in her bedroom with a sheet for a green screen and a silly rap about being a cow. Overnight, she became a sensation — then, rather than letting the buzz fade away or announcing a new project, she tapped into the colorful sights and sounds it turned out her newfound fanbase couldn’t get enough of.

Within a year of the breakthrough represented by “Mooo!”, Doja Cat had put out the videos for “Tia Tamera” with Rico Nasty and “Juicy,” adding all three new songs to the deluxe version of Amala nearly a year after its release, boosting it onto the Billboard 200 just as her second album, Hot Pink, was about to drop. Where any number of artists might have expected these successful viral hits to turn up on Hot Pink‘s tracklist, Doja instead used them to bolster sales of her debut, keeping the rollout for the new album wide open(-ish). A remix of “Juicy” featuring Tyga helped lift Hot Pink to No. 9 in its first week, despite the relatively lukewarm reception for its other singles, “Bottom Bitch,” “Rules,” and “Cyber Sex.”

But then, six months after the release of the album, TikTok user Haley Sharpe used “Say So,” a song that wasn’t planned as a single, as the backing track for a choreographed dance that caught fire on the app — and caught Doja Cat’s attention. With the dance lifting “Say So” to bonafide hit status on the app, Doja pivoted, turning the song into a single and fast-tracking the music video for it, employing Sharpe’s dance steps and giving the viral video star a cameo in the disco-esque clip. While constituting part of the trend of artists releasing singles and pushing TikTok engagement as a way to drive streams, the truly innovative aspect was Doja Cat’s willingness to not just “let the fans pick the single,” but to completely change her gameplan to incorporate the fans’ eager involvement.

With the release of the “Streets” video, she’s doubling down on that bet, against shifting gears in the middle of an album rollout to take advantage of the surprise boost in popularity of a track from her last album, rather than focusing adamantly on the future. This time, the song in question was even older — nearly 18 months past the release date of Hot Pink, past any album’s usual promotion cycle. However, this time, the Silhouette Challenge had caught flame, its popularity becoming so great that Doja herself was pulled into the fervor to contribute a TikTok video embracing the trend.

She also embraces the trend in the official music video, employing the same sultry crimson backlighting and poses as a nod to the challenge that prompted the video’s creation. Meanwhile, the video also incorporates high-concept visuals of Doja as a black widow spider, lending the video the air of months of planning, when in reality, it was created as a reaction to a sudden pop of interest and attention, not as part of a detailed plan to stimulate engagement in a past or upcoming project. But Doja’s previous experience with “Mooo!” reigniting interest in Amala likely informed her willingness to backtrack despite having a new album on the way.

The benefits are obvious; Doja directs the new fans discovering her through her viral moments back to her old projects, where they can begin to build rapport with her previous work, converting casuals into hardcore supporters. It also builds rapport with existing hardcore supporters, making them feel acknowledged, which they’ll in-turn reciprocate when the time comes to release her new project. And finally — and possibly most importantly in today’s fast-paced, saturated attention economy — it keeps all eyes on Doja to see what she’s going to do next, increasing her public profile, and generating more streams, never a bad thing at a time when touring is still effectively out of the question.

For proof of these benefits, look no further than Doja’s nearly tyrannical stranglehold over award shows and late-night television in 2020. She performed “Say So,” the song that wasn’t meant to be a single until fans made it one, no less than five times on high-profile shows like the MTV EMAs and VMAs, The Tonight Show, and the Billboard Music Awards — making her an inescapable, unavoidable household name. She also won Best New Artist at the Billboard Music Awards, just two years after her debut album failed to make an impact on the magazine’s charts. Her successes are duplicable — she herself has repeated the feat three times in as many years — and should be considered an example for all kinds of artists looking to maximize their media footprint.

With the advent of streaming and social media, the rules have changed seemingly every day, but one rule has remained absolute all this time: Content is king. To paraphrase the poet, the best-laid plans of mice, men, MCs, and media moguls often go awry, but being able to adjust on the fly might be the one skill that ensures that they all get lucky anyway. Doja Cat’s method of letting the tide take her to her next port of call would not only have been impossible before these new technologies came along, but the lukewarm success of her planned singles might have also ensured that she became known forever as a flop, relegating each new album to whatever shelf countless other underperforming projects have ended up sitting on.

Instead, by being open, creative, and willing to use her unprecedented access to fans’ whims, Doja Cat has demonstrated how an artist can not only serve their established fanbase but also weaponize them against industry expectations and the apathy of casual listeners. The positive feedback loop she created by refusing to get stuck to one idea of the perfect rollout has ensured that all of her rollouts end up being perfect — eventually. Wise artists and execs will take note, using the greater wealth of tools at their disposal to maximize their projects’ potential for success instead of writing them off and leaving money on the table. Meanwhile, Doja’s fans, old and new, will continue to eagerly await Planet Her to see what songs they can convince her to turn into hits next.

×