Watching an artist grow into an undeniable pop sensation is always exciting. Steadily building from the comedic virality of “Mooo!” to the inescapable disco-tinged sweetness of “Say So,” Doja Cat has morphed into Pop Star. Capital P; capital S. At every awards show, Doja delivers powerhouse performances that breathe new life into her singles. She survived her first major scandal, picked up a handful of Grammy nominations, and scored a Nicki Minaj cosign which happened to coincide with her first #1 single. As the Hot Pink era came to a close, the excitement for Planet Her began to creep to a fever pitch. There wasn’t a more anticipated pop album in 2021, at least for the first half of the year. Doja’s commitment to album eras and the obvious effort she puts into performances, music videos, and concepts meant that all eyes were on her. The hype for what Doja would bring in her next era began to bleed into the hype for what she would bring to the table musically. Given the excellence and versatility of Hot Pink, this was to be expected. Ultimately, Planet Her plays it safe. Nonetheless, for Doja Cat, “safe” is still ahead of most of her peers. Planet Her is the sweet spot between the left-field unpredictability of Doja’s earlier work and the more compact pop melodies of her recent radio singles. There are hints of bedroom pop in guitar-laced ballads, entrancing Afrobeats production, and rapid-fire verses that recall the mania of Doja’s biggest influences. Planet Her is sexy, reflective, and contemplative. Above all, the album is a layered examination of lust, loyalty, and relationships that hang in the balance. This all begs the question, is Planet Her actually just a metaphor for Doja’s psyche?
Doja launches into Planet Her with “Woman.” An entrancing Afrobeats-inflected song, think of “Woman” as the national anthem of Planet Her. Assisted by some ad-libs courtesy of Jidenna, Doja sings of the mystique, power, and wonder of the Divine Feminine. “They wanna pit us against each other when we succeed/And for no reasons they wanna see us end up like we Regina on Mean Girls,” she raps, touching on the needless and damaging comparisons that plague women, specifically those that exist in the world of popular music. There’s a seductive undertone that pulsates just beneath the surface of “Woman,” an undertone that will soon become the dominant mood throughout the album. Planet Her is a tug-of-war between the fleeting yet passionate moments of lust and the taxing unreliability of a relationship’s stability and lifespan. On tracks like “Naked” and “Need To Know,” Doja dives headfirst into the throes of temptation and lust. Doja minces no words on “Naked” with the direct repeated question: “Can we take this off and get naked?” As for “Need To Know,” which served as the album’s sole promotional single, Doja succumbs to her desire to “know what it’s like” and makes it a point to remind her prospective lay that she doesn’t “give a fuck ’bout what your wifey’s sayin’.” Sex, and the demand to openly claim wants and desires, are a central tenet of Planet Her, both the album and the concept. Between frantic gasps and theatrical flows, Doja captures every moment of greed, vulnerability, ardor, and passion. The first third or so of Planet Her is comparatively less focused, but it houses great moments, nonetheless. The Young Thug-featuring “Payday” is a gleeful victory lap, and “Get Into It (Yuh)” is one of the most immediately addictive and arresting songs of the year so far. Packed with a reference to Ariana Grande and a thankful postscript addressed to Nicki Minaj, “Get Into It” piles all of Doja’s comedic and charismatic tendencies into one hell of a banger.
The stretch from “I Don’t Do Drugs” to “Ain’t Shit” is the most focused section of Planet Her; each track finds Doja toeing the line between lust and loyalty with complete honesty. Ariana Grande joins Doja for the pair’s third collaboration (they previously united on Positions‘ “motive” and the “34+35” remix), a surprisingly somber ballad that shifts between pop, R&B, and rap. The two superstars sing “Had to give in, couldn’t give up/I just want you, but I don’t do drugs” over an understated atmospheric soundscape courtesy of Sully and Y2K. Ariana and Doja have impeccable chemistry here, and the song is the perfect encapsulation of the struggle that Planet Her is exploring. The rush of giving in to lust is intoxicating but temporary. Nevertheless, the alternative isn’t much better since it’s a relationship that simply isn’t reliable. On tracks like “Alone,” “Been Like This,” and “Love To Dream,” Doja unpacks how both her and her partner’s shortcomings led to the slow deterioration of their romance. “Love To Dream” transports Doja to the world of bedroom pop with a guitar-laced instrumental that soundtracks her reflections of her own unavailability. “Been Like This,” one of the best songs on the album, is the emotional apex of the Planet Her. Doja builds an impassioned rap verse, her signature vocal fry, swelling strings, and some “been”/”be in” wordplay into an absolute stunner. Sandwiched in between the two aforementioned songs is Doja’s new radio single: The Weeknd-assisted “You Right.” Herein lies the genius of this section of Planet Her: every emotional reflection on a rocky relationship is followed by an anthem of giving in to sexual temptation. It’s a balancing act that Doja pulls off wonderfully. The Weeknd delivers a red-hot verse (“But this sex will cloud your memory/A couple strokes to put it in, then you’ll belong to me”) while Doja wrestles with the inevitability of the affair. In the same vein, “Options,” an excellent collaboration with JID, follows “Been Like This.” JID just may be the only male rapper to truly match Doja’s energy and her theatrical approach to rapping. The pair trade verses about how they are both one of the other’s many options of people to fool around with. Despite all of her options, Doja comes to the (correct) conclusion that these men “Ain’t Shit.” A direct descendant of Destiny’s Child’s “Bills, Bills, Bills” and TLC’s “No Scrubs,” Doja expertly blends R&B and rap to deliver a biting anthem that details “Niggas ain’t shit, come up in your crib/All up in your fridge, can’t pay rent.” The song would have benefited from more punching production, but Doja is ultimately able to sell the track based solely on her vocal performance and delivery. The standard edition of the album unfortunately ends on an unfulfilling note. “Kiss Me More,” the album’s sugary sweet lead single, is still a great listen. However, the album’s narrative makes more sense with “Alone” as the closer; the SZA duet would have fit better in the beginning of the album.
Planet Her, its music videos, and performances all adhere to the lore Doja outlined on Twitter a few weeks ago. Nevertheless, the album reveals that Planet Her may actually be a metaphor through which Doja is able to compartmentalize and rationalize her feelings and emotions in the face of relationships that are anything but simple. It’s a remarkably consistent effort that smartly blends all shades of Doja’s musicality and personality. There’s no doubt that she’ll be able to milk this for multiple years just as she did with Hot Pink.
Key Tracks: “Ain’t Shit” | “Alone” | “Been Like This” | “I Don’t Do Drugs” | “Woman” | “Options”