Don’t Dismiss Doja Cat for Her Sexuality
by Willem Frankenfort
With her sophomore album, Hot Pink, Amala Zandile Dlamini is poised to be the next big name in hip hop. You may know her better by her stage name, Doja Cat. She came to the attention of the public at large in 2018 with her viral video, Mooo!, a touching homage to the life of a cow.
Her freshman album, Amala was a modest hit with tracks such as Go to Town and So High. If you’re a fan, you might also be aware of her debut 2014 EP, Purrr! It seems that after five years, the industry is finally taking notice! Despite briefly being “canceled” for some homophobic Twitter comments in 2018 (later apologizing and coming out as bisexual, getting uncanceled), Doja Cat is now transitioning from internet stardom to full industry stardom.
Of course, she has been a source of ire for those who believe that her hypersexual lyrics and diminutive costumes create a problematic image of women. Others believe she’s an icon of sex positive feminism and body image awareness. I tend to side with the latter. Of course, being a heterosexual cisgendered male, I’m exposing myself to criticism by even commenting on these issues. I welcome any dialogue on this.
Doja Cat hails from Tarzana, California. Her father is actor, art director, choreographer Dumisani Dlamini, best known for his work in Sarafina!(1992). Though he was absent much of her life, I can feel his influence in her music with its complex harmonies reminiscent of her South African heritage. Her mother is a painter, Deborah Elizabeth Sawyer.
From an early age, young Amala had a steady exposure to the arts. From humble beginnings rapping over beats she made with discount music software, she developed a beautiful and unique production style.
I think what really makes this woman stand out is that she did it all herself. She made the beats, which are fire. Listen to the instrumental from Moo by itself. It takes you away to green pastures. She wrote the rhymes. She perfectly delivered the rhymes. She sang the hooks. She put the songs together.
Doja Cat is a multitalented amalgamation of all the ingredients necessary for pop stardom. If I were asked if she had an analog in a previous era of rap culture, I would say Doja Cat is like Missy Elliot with more sex appeal. Both Missy Elliot and Doja Cat address sexuality in their music, but because Doja Cat looks the way she does, they are categorized differently. Where Missy Elliot is heralded for her talent, Doja Cat can be dismissed and accused of catering to the male gaze.
I could point out that Doja Cat (in the milieu of Lil Kim, Nicki Minaj, and Cardi B) has more female fans than male fans. I could point out that she makes no attempt to hide her curvaceous physique and probably inspires confidence in many a zaftig teenage girl. I could point out that she chooses to put on those outfits in her videos and twerk at stage shows. Her choice. However, I would like to focus on the music.
Though her lyrics tend to focus on her sexuality and physical beauty, she always approaches it from a position of power. In Go to Town, she encourages the implementation of cunnilingus. In Cybersex, she explores the phenomenon of sex from a distance and the empowerment it provides. Themes of feminine sexual empowerment are recurrent in her catalog. Yes, she wore an assortment of provocative fruit-inspired outfits for her Juicy video. That doesn’t make her a passive object for male consumption. She’s an active player. The seducer as opposed to the seduced.
You have to look past the BDSM latex cat outfit and the twerking. Listen to the instrumentals on their own, then the full songs in audio only, and then watch the videos. She is a quadruple threat: singer, songwriter, rapper, producer. She is way more than bounce and jiggle, and her talent should be respected even if you find her image problematic.
She’s still in her early twenties! There is no telling what new and interesting musical directions she might take as she matures.