2021 was the year of Doja Cat


The year the world embraced Doja Cat in all her eclectic glory.

The groundwork for Doja Cat’s knockout 2021 was laid in the dying days of 2019, when the chorus to her song ‘Say So’ was at the centre of a TikTok dance challenge. Another ‘Say So’ dance challenge emerged not long afterwards, this one revolving around the song’s rapped second verse. 

Soon, tens of millions of users had posted clips of themselves dancing to ‘Say So’. Buoyed by this viral trend, the song climbed into the ARIA and Billboard top tens in March 2020. A remix of ‘Say So’, featuring Nicki Minaj, later went to number one in the US – the first time either Doja or Nicki had claimed top spot.

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Doja Cat, born Amala Dlamini, shares many stylistic attributes with Nicki Minaj, not least her ability to fire off a round of hot and sweaty bars with almost-arrogant insouciance. But Doja Cat can also write and sing pop vocal melodies strong enough to earn ‘Say So’ a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Solo Performance.

She was nominated for a total of three awards at the 2021 Grammys, and although she went home empty-handed, the televised performance of ‘Say So’ made one thing clear: Doja Cat is here to stay. 

“I haven’t been waiting for this my whole life; I’ve been preparing,” Doja said in voiceover at the start of the cinematically-proportioned performance. “Grammys, welcome to Planet Her.”

A couple of weeks later, in early April, Doja Cat shared the single ‘Kiss Me More’, a ’90s disco-pop throwback with a hip-hop heart. The track, which features a stunning guest verse from SZA, was the first taste of Doja’s third LP, Planet Her, which landed in June.

According to Spotify data, Planet Her was the fifth most-streamed album of 2021. As we speak, Doja Cat remains one of the streaming service’s top ten most played artists globally. Meanwhile, the video for ‘Woman’, Planet Her’s fourth and most recent single, racked up more than 20 million views within a week of its release on YouTube. 

But Doja Cat’s 2021 reign isn’t limited to the 14 tracks on Planet Her and the four extras on the album’s deluxe edition (including cuts featuring Eve and Gunna). By virtue of her remarkable versatility – she can switch from a spot-on Kendrick Lamar impersonation to an uncanny PC Music-esque vocal trill with the ease of an Olympic gymnast – Doja Cat has been this year’s most sought after feature vocalist.

Her appearances on Saweetie’s ‘Best Friend’, StarBoi3’s ‘Dick’, Ariana Grande’s ‘34+35 Remix’ (with Megan Thee Stallion) and Lil Nas X’s ‘Scoop’ helped each song become a hit in its own right. On the other hand, Doja’s team-ups with the likes of French Montana (‘Handstand’) and Young Thug (‘Icy Hot’) allowed her to flaunt her rap abilities and fondness for esoteric sounds.

And it’s not just pop and hip-hop audiences who’ve fallen under the spell of the multi-faceted Los Angeles performer. Both Planet Her and ‘Kiss Me More’ are dominating music publications’ best of 2021 lists. Pitchfork called ‘Kiss Me More’ “one of this summer’s funnest pop songs,” while also listing Doja’s ‘Get Into It (Yuh)’ and the Saweetie collab, ‘Best Friend’, in its list of the top songs of the year

Complex named Planet Her the fourth-best album of the year, saying it showcases Doja Cat’s “genre-fluidity and innate talent, solidifying her current and future place in music”. The staff at Billboard concurred, commending Doja’s “shape-shifting vocals and moods, playful sense of [humour] and sixth sense for choosing guest features”.

Doja Cat is up for eight awards at next year’s Grammys, including Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album, as well as Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, Best Melodic Rap Performance and Best Rap Song. It’s telling that the Grammy board doesn’t know whether to class her work as pop or rap. From a technical and musicological perspective, it fits in both categories simultaneously. But, when paired with Doja’s cavalier, edgelord personality, her music rises above genre boundaries. 

It’s now two years on from the viral ubiquity of ‘Say So’, and Doja Cat’s spell over audiences and critics hasn’t begun to wear off.

Doja Cat’s ‘Planet Her Deluxe Edition‘ CD is available now at all leading retailers.

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