Doja Cat’s first breakthrough into the mainstream music scene wasn’t the result of some sensational, game-changing track crafted through years of dedicated artistry, but with a goofy song called “Mooo!” born out of an Instagram live session. The music video featured Doja Cat wearing cow print, eating cheeseburgers with french fries up her nose, and rapping “Bitch I’m a cow,” in front of an 8-bit green screen. Listeners gravitated toward the humor, the lack of pop-star smoke and mirrors, and the ability to be all too obviously herself. Despite that comedic start, she soon proved herself as an innovative and versatile (and yes, not too serious) rapper, quickly becoming one of the front runners in the current women’s rap renaissance alongside Megan Thee Stallion, Rico Nasty, Tierra Whack, Flo Milli, and more. With the release of her sophomore album, Hot Pink, she kept fans on their toes with a series of ever-transforming live performances, while essentially writing the playbook for how to capitalize on having a song blow up on TikTok.
Thus, the excitement around Planet Her grew from what we already knew about Doja: her ability to traverse genres, avoid tradition, and keep things interesting. Hot Pink standouts “Rules” and “Cyber Sex” showcased her wit and creativity when it comes to rap, with hard-hitting flow and one-liners that spurred chuckles. She brought this playful style into even the poppiest tracks on Hot Pink, which built upon the skills she first laid out in debut album Amala. Unfortunately, on Planet Her, Doja Cat throws what she knows to the wayside, opting to dive into the crystalline pool of predictable pop sounds. The problem with such clear waters is that you can see straight to the bottom—and Doja Cat is wading in the shallow end.
In the opening track, “Woman,” she plays into the divine feminine trope, with a very hollow look into women’s abilities to lead with intellect as well as blow minds in the bedroom. Unfortunately, it doesn’t improve much from there: Many of the sexually charged lyrics throughout the album continue to float on the surface like pool toys, fun and perfect for the summer, but unfit for reaching any depths. Also returning are her sultry singing abilities, previously showcased on “Streets,” one of the standouts from Hot Pink. And while she’s sung numerous times before (her smash hit “Say So” being the obvious example), she always stuck to her roots as a Soundcloud rapper. Here, Doja Cat loses her individuality in an obvious effort to make more commercial TikTok bops, already achieved on early single “Kiss Me More.” Most of these tracks sound drearily one-note, playing into overwrought current pop trends and following a repetitive format. This play for of-the-minute pop royalty also follows suit in her choice of guest stars, with The Weeknd and Ariana Grade featured in tracks “You Right” and “I Don’t Do Drugs.” So while the pleasant-enough arrangements may make for an effective summer record, Planet Her lacks the originality Doja made her name on, and no amount of stunning and spacey visuals (as in the music video for “Need To Know”) can make the songs better than they are.
Planet Her is built upon the quintessential bop: a song that’s easy on the ears, something you can dance to, and non-controversial through and through. Much of it sounds no different than what’s landed on the top of the charts in recent years: The beats in Planet Her mirror those found in music by artists like Bad Bunny, who helped popularize Latin American rhythms in pop music, or Rosalía, whose Spanish roots and Flamenco influences introduced audiences to a new genre of danceable pop. And many of the tracks on Planet Her recall Ariana Grande—primarily her thank u, next or Positions eras, where her and her high ponytail dominated the charts with hip-hop-infused, horny-as-hell pop grooves. As successful these influences are, it presents problems for Doja Cat, because she didn’t pioneer these now-popularized sounds, just copy and pasted them. These influences are salient, just as Nicki Minaj and Kendrick Lamar’s were on Hot Pink, but Doja now is beginning to disappear in the pop music void, instead of remaking it in her image. Rather than playing into her strengths, she showcases her weaknesses. One of the many differences between Doja Cat and Ariana Grande is vocal caliber, and on “I Don’t Do Drugs” Grande’s voice outshines Doja Cat’s with ease. Even when she unleashes a bit of her signature rap tone in “Payday,” the uber-online weirdo is out-weirded by featured artist Young Thug.
One of the highlights of the record is “Ain’t Shit,” the long-anticipated track Doja Cat first teased on Instagram live last year. In it, she revives some of the humor that’s been absent, with flow switch-ups and one-liners that cut through the fog of the ten previous songs. And throughout Planet Her, she teases the funky delivery that brought her attention three years ago—especially in tracks such as “Options” and the Nicki- inspired “Get Into It (Yuh)”—but in “Ain’t Shit,” she offers it up with her whole chest. It creates a yearning for more of this Doja Cat, the one with guts and oomph, the Doja Cat who, with her risky delivery of emasculating lines, created something new. With “Ain’t Shit” casting light on what’s missing, Planet Her leaves something to be desired, an album with one too many songs that blend into the existing pop noise.