After the success of the critically acclaimed albums Hot Pink and Planet Her, Doja Cat ushers herself into a new era. Amidst a visual landscape saturated with demons, spiders, and the striking hues of red, Doja embarks on a journey to leave the vibrant days of her hit singles "Say So" and "Need To Know" behind. Her latest creation, Scarlet, drowns itself in edginess and hardness. Hard beats, hard lyrics, and even harder clapbacks to her haters and critics who say she can’t rap. With the album heading for a top-ten debut on the Billboard 200 in the first week, Doja’s new album might have her painting the future of the music industry red.
The album's production boasts a wide spectrum of beats, ranging from mellow and soft vibes reminiscent of her song "Balut" to the gritty, bass-heavy sounds found in "Demons." However, despite Doja's desire to reinvent herself as an artist and distance herself from the perceived "cash grabs" and "mediocre pop" of her previous two albums, the overall production across the 17 tracks falls short of the monumental anticipation surrounding Doja's comeback. While certain tracks like lead single "Paint The Town Red," "Attention," and the seductive "Agora Hills" harken back to the classic "Old Doja" sound—a direction she aims to evolve from—it's undeniable that these three tracks have already become some of the most streamed on the album, embodying the age-old saying of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" in a whole new light.
Tracks like “Can’t Wait” have drums take center stage in the production while introducing a subtle yet funky groove. Other songs like “F*** The Girls (FTG)” mix ‘90s hip-hop sounds with the trap beats of the 2010s. When it comes to her vocal prowess, Doja Cat masterfully keeps things intriguing. In songs like "97," she seamlessly combines rap and falsetto vocals to complement the hard-hitting beats. In tracks like "Agora Hills," her sultry, smoky voice oozes sensuality, drawing the listener into a seductive sonic world. This contrastingly stands out against the intense and captivating presence she exudes in songs like "Demons," where her vocals become a razor-sharp weapon to slice up the heavy bass track. Although Doja Cat made a valiant effort to explore fresh sounds and productions, aiming to diverge from her established musical identity, the frequent repetition that permeates the album ultimately fails to do justice to its production quality.
Anyone who has listened to Doja Cat can agree that she knows how to make a hitmaker. Her talent has placed her prominently among female artists in both rap and pop, and in doing so, she contributes to paving the way for a new generation of creatives. The lyrics in this album embody Doja's unapologetic and self-assured attitude, fostering a sense of confidence and a "No F***s Given" mentality she aims to convey to her audience. "Paint the Town Red," with its sample of Dionne Warwick's "Walk on By" and a finger-snapping beat, became a global chart-topper. Doja sets the tone by establishing her Scarlet persona's fearless attitude, flipping her usual song structure to prioritize rapping through the chorus lyrics being, “B****, I said what I said// I'd rather be famous instead// I let all that get to my head//I don't care, I paint the town red.” Along a similar vein, “Shutcho” directly calls out the haters, and as the title suggests, Doja bluntly tells them to shut their mouths.
Amidst the tracks laden with clapbacks, there are moments, such as in "Love Life," where Doja unveils her appreciation and gratitude for aspects of her life that have remained concealed in previous songs. Lyrics that reflect her positive sentiments towards her friends, family, love life, and body introduce a softer dimension to an album primarily characterized by its edginess. One surprising highlight of the album emerges in its closing track, "WYM Freestyle," where Doja showcases her freestyle skills by delivering an entire song off the cuff. Across the album, Doja consistently embraces the theme of self-assured defiance, responding to critics and reaffirming her unwavering determination to stand her ground, both for herself and in the eyes of others. While she keeps elevating the album's theatrical elements, the lyrics do tend to repeat themselves, failing to unveil a previously unexplored facet of Doja's songwriting.
ART BEHIND THE ALBUM
With Scarlet being Doja’s fourth album, this album is the first to not feature herself on the album cover. The album cover consists of two pearlescent spiders (designed by artist Dusty Ray) intertwined, playing a part in the change of Doja’s aesthetics. Initially, the cover was intended to showcase a colossal dark pink spider. However, due to backlash and copyright claims against Doja, the two collaborators opted for a redesign of the album cover.
Controversy takes center stage in this new chapter of Doja's career. She's faced numerous conflicts with her fanbase, resulting in a significant loss of 400,000 followers on Instagram. Alongside noticeable shifts in her fashion style and public criticisms made by her of her prior successful albums, this new era has undeniably brought its fair share of challenges for the artist. But one admirable quality about Doja and her musical style is her unwavering authenticity. She creates on her own terms, free from the need for external approval or validation.
Doja Cat has already released four music videos for tracks including "Attention," "Paint The Town Red," "Demons," and "Agora Hills." These visuals seamlessly capture the album's aesthetics and mood, effectively bringing its essence to life. In addition, Doja Cat announced “The Scarlet Tour,” scheduled to begin on Halloween of this year, with supporting acts Doechii and Ice Spice at select shows.
Despite the creative image rebrand and Doja's impressive rap skills, Scarlet fell short of the lofty expectations it generated, leaving many listeners with a lingering sense of "Is this all there is?"– and for that Doja’s fourth album gets a 6.5/10 on the Intersect Rating scale.
Stream the album below.