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Lithium Reptiles, rebellion, and rules: Doja Cat’s “Hot Pink”

Dec. 23, 2019
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It’s been over a month since Doja Cat released Hot Pink, and I’m still thinking about it. 

From her laconic interview responses to an outrageous wardrobe (yes, she was dressed as a watermelon on Late Night With Seth Meyers), Doja presents herself as excessively performative. But there’s no doubt she poured herself into her second studio album. From well-crafted rhymes to a seamless blurring of genres, it’s clear that Doja is breaking from the “meme star” aesthetic that previously defined her; “MOOO!” is old news, and besides, in “Rules” she declares herself a reptilian, not a cow. 

In Hot Pink, we hear rock, the ‘80s, and styles that can’t quite be pinned down. The album is an idiosyncratic concoction in a sleek pink capsule. So get comfy, put on your headphones, and let’s dive into my track-by-track rundown.

1. Cyber Sex

Soft, synthetic beats are joined by smooth R&B vocals. She almost declares the post-chorus with a choir of ad-libs, asking: “Is you into that? (Into that, is you into that? Uh-uh) / Let’s break the internet.” In this one, her rhymes evoke Nicki Minaj’s often eccentric rapping style as she details her risqué relationship with a stranger on an online chatroom.

2. Won’t Bite (feat. Smino) 

When I first heard this, “the motherland” immediately came to mind. More specifically, the rhythmic guitar and background chanting evoke Doja’s South African heritage. In her first lines, dissonant harmonies give the feeling of stepping into a time and place outside of Western pop. A place framed with piña coladas and palm trees. Then Smino, a Missouri-raised creative, joins the track with similarly witty bars. “Natural hair poppin’, don’t ever get it twisted” is a personal favorite. 

3. Rules 

Think rebellious cowgirl. It starts with a modal guitar riff before a synthetic drum kit joins in. Soon Doja, evoking American Southern culture, says, “Break some bread up... that butter my biscuit.” Despite the country sound, she raps over the beat, driving it into the terrain of trap music. Oh, and Doja Cat is finally taking her name to heart and embracing her feline side. In the music video, she laps up a glass of milk and gazes at a box full of mice. Directly quoting a witty YouTube comment, “Doja is the whole package: singer, dancer, director, a cat, a cow, and a reptilian.”

4. Bottom Bitch 

All I can say is that Spotify named this my #1 song of 2019 for a reason. There’s another guitar riff here, but it feels different. This one is dauntless and spirited. It’s also noticeably more blended in genre—it’s trap meets pop meets punk (she samples Blink 182's "What's My Age Again?"). I could turn up and fall asleep to this song at the same time.

I’m not a skater, but to me, this sounds like a skater song. The music video (which features Rico Nasty, BTW), seconds this: Doja and her gang of color-clad friends dance around in a skate park. 

5. Say So 

There’s a distinct shift here. This is dance music with a bouncy hook. It’s a bop. Backed by groovy beats and an electric guitar, Doja demands urgency from a love interest, stating “You got to keep me focused, you want it, say so.” We get vocals in Doja’s head voice, and in the second half, the rap style from her previous songs resurfaces as she demands, “Why you beating 'round the bush? Knowing you want all this woman?” Good question.

6. Like That (feat. Gucci Mane) 

Gucci Mane is one of my favorite rappers, but Doja’s the star of this one. With lines like “Do it like that and I'll repay it (Huh?)” and “Just like that, come my way,” she’s clearly feeling herself. There’s heavy bass typical of pop rap, and we even hear a cowbell a few times. Gucci and Doja’s collab works because they share a dauntless confidence, as manifested in Gucci’s clever and comical lines, “I'm not cheap, baby, and I'm sure not selfish (No) / Shakin' like Elvis, damn near broke my pelvis (sheesh).” And when he finishes, I’m pleasantly greeted by Doja’s catchy chorus. 

7. Talk Dirty 

Pure romantic R&B. This one sounds like steam and glitter. In terms of genre, this is more familiar territory for Doja, though she’s been comfortable the whole time. As she instructs a beau on how to talk to her, the chorus reveals her duality. She’s a delicate kingpin. She raps the lines “Now when you talk like that, I be in my bag” with attitude while her ethereal background vocals whisper “when you talk to me,” unveiling her sensitive side.

8. Addiction 

This is dulcet dance music—the type that plays under dimmed multicolored lights. I couldn’t name the genre of this one if I tried, though I do get underground R&B vibes. Doja wrote her entire first album while high, and Hot Pink was a clean slate. Yet in this song, she references being “under the influence a little” and being addicted to something or someone. Not the most remarkable track on the album, TBH. Doja’s kind of playing it safe here. 

9. Streets 

In the first few seconds, the swung rhythm and muffled audio sound like the intro of an old-school track my mom might blast in the car. In the best way. A few more seconds, though and I’ve changed my mind. A pulsating bass is introduced, as is a drum kit. Here Doja is trying to reconcile with a love interest, lamenting, “I can't be without you / Why can't I find no one like you?” The song is predictable, and again, nothing stands out here.  

10. Shine

It immediately sounds familiar, and we get a memorable hook. The first verse starts tentatively, but with a crescendo arises heavy autotune which persists through both verses. I’m going to take a wild guess and say she’s rapping about a girl—potentially herself—shining. This glare might be from her rings, since she recounts that her haters “slipped on some [of her] ice.” 

11. Better Than Me

This one’s slooooower. She drops the tempo and takes her time, serving pure R&B. While brazen, her lyrics are a little pitiful. She’s comparing herself to an ex’s new girl, telling herself one day he “gon' figure out [he] lost one and that's me.”  Either way, this mellow track seems cathartic, which is always useful.

12. Juicy (feat. Tyga) 

The colorful beat instantly whisks you into another dimension, and can only be described as “fruity” (which the music video can corroborate). This is a body positivity anthem, as Doja praises cellulite, natural beauty, and bodies of all sizes, regardless of whether they can fit into True Religion denim. I’ve never been the biggest fan of the song, but “Juicy” is undoubtedly the standout track of the album, with the original and remix racking up 86 million streams and counting on Spotify. Tyga’s feature doesn’t feel quite necessary, but it gets the job done, I guess.

Final Thoughts

The second half of Hot Pink definitely pales in comparison to the first, as the songs take on a more generic feel. For me, the first six tracks were impressive. Each was unconventional and well-crafted—and may have set my expectations unrealistically high for the rest of the project. 

By and large, Doja Cat is proving herself to be a formidable force as she steps into the new decade. In an interview with Paper Magazine, she asserted that her music isn’t meant to stand for anything, saying “I never think about what I write. I just write whatever the first thing that comes to my mind is." Still, I can’t help but hope that as Doja takes off, rather than aimlessly navigate the industry, she’s able to channel her passion into a worthwhile cause, wherever it may lie.