If you haven’t already heard of Doja Cat, well, I’ll refrain from commenting on the possibly subterranean condition of your abode and skip right to the introductions. Her real name is Amalaratna Dlamini and after 2.5 albums and a meteoric rise in 2019, it has handily achieved household status. By the looks of it, she’s just getting started.
If you have heard of Doja Cat (and you have), and you don’t watch Empire (which featured her song “So High” back in 2014), then you may have had the same introduction to her that I had: “Mooo!” her aptly titled agricultural anthem, featuring musings about various cow-related activities over a soft beat that makes you say, “what the hell is this?” quickly followed by, “yo turn this up.” “Mooo!” went viral overnight, and hit a million views in less than a week. Doja Cat was already a well-established artist before its release, but “Mooo!” reached well beyond her fanbase, and elevated her from a relatively niche rapper to a nationally recognizable name.
Overnight popularity is one thing- it happens to someone or something just about every day (or night, I guess). But it’s another thing entirely to transmute virality into sustainable stardom. Remember Yodeling Kid? Or Big Shaq? Or whoever wrote the Harlem Shake? They may have filled the lens momentarily, but our attention spans are short, and before long there’s always something newer and more exciting. More often than not, a new sensation means a collective disregard of the last one. But with the success of her most recent album Hot Pink, and her work on the Birds of Prey soundtrack, it’s becoming increasingly evident that Doja Cat will not be disregarded. So how and why did she survive the gauntlet that’s claimed so many viral stars?
For one, she obviously has genuine talent. “Mooo!” may be lighthearted, but those harmonies are no joke. She has a good voice and she knows how to ride a beat. But talent is just the cost of entry. More important is her authenticity. In an age when mostly every viral video is accompanied by a corporate sponsor and the lingering scent of a marketing team, “Mooo!” has a refreshing absence of ulterior motives. It feels silly for the sake of being silly, like something you’d make with your friends at 3 am at a middle school sleepover. If you feel so inclined and ambitious to fact check these ostensibly baseless assumptions, you’ll find that for the most part, Doja Cat herself will corroborate them- the song and video were assembled largely in the wee hours of the morning, and it really was just for fun. But the process isn’t what is being examined- it’s the outcome, and how the outcome functioned in keeping the spotlight on Doja Cat in all the right ways.
The reality is, staying relevant in the digital age is a full time job. No single instance of virality can guarantee a future or any level of security. The most impressive career move Doja Cat made wasn’t her meteoric rise, it’s everything she’s done since to capitalize on it. She simplified the transition from a sensational meme, to genuine pop star by eliminating it entirely. There was no creeping evolution, where the artist gently drops the fun, viral formula that gave them their big break so they can start making more serious music featuring Halsey. She made lots of good music, she made a funny song that happened to blow up, she went right on making good music. In a way, “Mooo!” was emblematic of Doja Cat as an artist: very talented, not so serious, making art for the only good reason we really have to make art- just ‘cause.