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Album Review: ‘Planet Her’ propels Doja Cat to new heights

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Three years after the release of her massively successful project “Hot Pink,” Doja Cat takes listeners on a journey to “Planet Her,” a world dominated by female empowerment, lust and luxury. The highly anticipated project was released on June 25, and the 14-track album packs a punch with infectious melodies and zingy rap verses, albeit Doja’s success in building a dynamic soundscape comes at the expense of lyricism, resulting in disjointed and flat lyrics.

Doja Cat’s rise to fame may have felt sporadic and exponential, but in reality her presence in the music industry has spanned multiple years. Doja’s “memeable” track “MOOO!” first propelled her into the spotlight. Her sophomore album, “Hot Pink, didn’t take off until several of its tracks blew up on TikTok. From “Say So” to “Streets,” it was almost impossible to ignore Doja in 2020. And with its stand-out tracks, “Hot Pink” merely scratched the surface of Doja’s untapped talent.

The singles from “Planet Her,” “Kiss Me More” and “Need to Know” are on two completely different planes of musicality, showcasing Doja’s versatility as an artist. “Kiss Me More” makes for a refreshing summer track, featuring cheeky lyrics and groovy guitar chords accompanied by an unexpected feature from R&B princess SZA. The synths and dream-like vocals are reminiscent of “Hot Pink,” which plays with elements of ’70s-era pop music. “Kiss Me More” serves as the perfect bridge between the two projects, lyrically delving into “Planet Her” while melodically calling back to “Hot Pink.”

“Need To Know,” on the other hand, is a futuristic rap song that feels more modern with pulsating 808s and cosmic instrumentals. Doja leans into her classic rap vocals, adding her signature flair to racy verses and vocalizing throughout the chorus. Her raunchy wordplay is the highlight of the track, reminiscent of her explosive anthem “Cyber Sex” from “Hot Pink.” With lyrics like “Clink with the drink, gimme a sip / Tell me what’s your kink, gimme the dick,” she continues to explore feelings of sexuality and passion in true Doja fashion.

A handful of tracks off “Planet Her” particularly ooze personality and charisma — the same energy that made “Hot Pink” such a hit. If Doja was in the process of developing her style in “Hot Pink,” she found her sound in “Planet Her.” Almost every risk that Doja takes pays off — for instance, in “Get Into It (Yuh),” she channels her inner mumble rapper, and in “Woman,” Doja successfully tackles an Afrobeat-influenced instrumental. These artistic endeavors make “Planet Her” feel more exciting than her previous works. Doja no longer seems confined by the pressure to manufacture number-one hits, now expressing every facet of her imaginative integrity.

After the success of “Say So,” Doja’s team pushed her to develop hits. From multiple remixes of “Say So” (including the number-one hit version featuring Nicki Minaj) to countless performances at award shows, Doja was continually pushing “Say So” in the hopes of repeated successes. The artist even expressed her frustrations with her team on Twitter: “im tired of say so too yall.” With “Planet Her,” however, Doja seems to be in a much better place.

“I think it’s important for me to not put that pressure on myself or that will eat me alive. If I can just be myself, that’s probably the best thing for me,” she said in an interview with Billboard.

Unfortunately, not all of her creative risks pan out, especially with “Imagine.” Doja attempts to paint a picture of the grandiose world in which she lives, where she’s “saucin’ with [her] thousands on an island.” It feels as if Doja doesn’t even have much to say on the topic, other than that she lives an unimaginable life topped with luxuries — “Imagine,” then, unsurprisingly features no lyrical expressiveness. The monotonous chorus, strained autotune use and convoluted verses make for a bombastic song that fails to encapsulate flex culture in the way that her peer Ariana Grande did with smash hit “7 rings.” Despite Doja’s vivid tongue-in-cheek worldplay, lyrics like, “Thick as fuck but all I eat is salad” make it hard to take the song or her sentiment about opulence seriously.

Despite creating cohesion through unique production and instrumental choices, lyrically, “Planet Her” ultimately falls flat when looked at as a complete body of work. Instead of creating an immersive world as the album title suggests, the tracklist feels like a hodgepodge of themes that are pieced together to create “Planet Her.” From top to bottom, Doja struggles to tell a cohesive story. Random moments of somberness are sprinkled near the end of the album, perhaps in an attempt to create depth. For instance,  “Alone” loses all of its weight when followed by “Kiss Me More,” which expresses the complete opposite feeling. Especially in light of how the first two tracks “Woman” and “Naked” work together with similar themes of femininity and sexual empowerment, it’s disappointing to see the album’s consistency slowly fizzle out by its end.

In “Planet Her,” Doja learns to lean into her quirks and strengths, building on top of the foundation she constructed in “Hot Pink.” The natural evolution from her past projects is what makes this new record feel so effortless. In “Planet Her,” Doja finally begins to trust her artistic intuition and takes creative liberties. Hopefully as Doja continues her journey as a musician, she will begin to hone in on her lyricism to accompany her newfound eccentric sounds and idiosyncratic aesthetics.

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Naveed Shakoor is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop. Contact them at workshop 'at' stanforddaily.com.