Doja Cat Tells Missy Elliott How She Charted Her Own Path to Pop Stardom
Doja Cat was forged on the internet. Like any self-respecting member of the Oversharing Generation, the wildly imaginative pop provocateur has left a sometimes messy, always intriguing digital footprint so deep that you can trace her origin story through chat rooms, SoundCloud pages, deleted tweets, viral videos, Instagram Live apologies, and a TikTok presence that doubles as a master class in the art of trolling. But all of it takes a backseat to her artistry, which, as demonstrated on her blockbuster album Planet Her, is at once eclectic, versatile, and undeniable. Here, another generational shape-shifter gets to know the woman behind the persona.
MISSY ELLIOTT: What up, Miss Doja Cat? What part of the world you at?
DOJA CAT: I’m in L.A. I’m freaking out. I woke up early and did my makeup really, really crazy like an alien, because I thought it was going to be a Zoom video call, and wow, did I miss that.
ELLIOTT: What? You should have told me! I would’ve put on my “Sock It to Me” outfit. Let me know if my phone gets to crackling up, because the signal in my house be crazy sometimes. You remind me of myself when it comes to writing and producing, so I was wondering if, because we walk around with our phones, and get to see what everybody else is doing—what the hot songs are, and what everybody else is wearing—does it make you second-guess things, when you’re thinking so far-left?
DOJA CAT: In regards to you, you make the same hard-hitting, crazy shit that I’ve been hearing since day one. I hope I’m like that in the future. There are people I used to listen to who don’t sound the same, and switched their thing up; maybe they needed to change their entire brand. But you’re one of the few who were able to keep their sound, and I love that about you. I definitely see a lot of new artists, but it doesn’t make me feel like I need to change my sound. Even though I was born in 1995, I’m stuck in 2010, or 2004. I feel like I need to revamp my sound, but I’m also having a lot of fun, so fuck it, who cares?
ELLIOTT: For my first album, I didn’t listen to the radio. I didn’t watch videos. I didn’t do any of those things, and I didn’t realize how much that helped me at the time. But it helped, because me and Timb, we didn’t mimic. So if we did something far-left, we weren’t afraid, because we didn’t know what was hot anyway. But now, when I got my phone and I’m seeing things, I can think of something really far-left and then I’ll be like, “They’re going to think I’m crazy. Let me reel it back.”
DOJA CAT: I feel that.
ELLIOTT: It gets tricky sometimes, so here’s some advice. Whatever you’re doing, if you feel like you’re in this place, and it seems to be working, stay there. Don’t allow other things to make you second-guess yourself, as long as it feels good to you. Is there anything you haven’t done that is on your to do list?
DOJA CAT: When it comes to rap I could be better. I think everybody feels that way with their own art, in all kinds of ways. But I see all these incredibly talented rappers around me, and I’m like, “Yeah, I’m doing pop, but I should focus on my pen now more than ever.” I’m good, and I can be funny and charming, and I can do little punchlines here and there, but I need to talk about my life more, and about what’s going on.
ELLIOTT: That’s growth, because of course you don’t want to change so much, but then you do have to start tapping into other subjects. “I’m still going to be Doja Cat, but I want to show that there are layers.” Because you do a lot of Instagram Lives, and you seem super comfortable, but you have a personal side that nobody really knows.
DOJA CAT: Yeah, there’s personal stuff that happens in my life that I don’t talk about in my music. I also kind of don’t care. I always felt like you cared about dancers, and you cared about sounds, and you’re not boring people to death with your personal life, or whatever is going on in your mind. Sometimes rappers can do that. They rap about how they’re sick and tired, and how they’re this and that. It gets boring after a while.
ELLIOTT: I feel the same way. I spent so much of my career making music that’s just fun, and around my fourth album I started talking about what I went through in my childhood, but I also didn’t have a whole album devoted to it, because that’s not me. Do you ever feel like your ideas are so far-left that maybe they don’t fit into the mainstream pop world?
DOJA CAT: Absolutely. I have some songs that I so want to put out that are probably six years old. They are crazy. I sampled something that I’d probably never get the rights to. [Doja Cat begins singing “We Are Siamese” by Peggy Lee.] That shit knocked. I made a whole song about, “Look what the cat dragged in,” and it was really funky and weird, but I didn’t know if anybody would care.
ELLIOTT: Sometimes you gotta take a chance. I never felt like I fit in, period. I don’t think there was a lane for the music that we did. The only reason they found a lane is because I was rapping over the tracks. But at first, I don’t think people understood the music. You’re starting to create your own lane. It probably won’t ever fit, but people will love it. I know you got your album Planet Her, and I was wondering what it represents to you?
DOJA CAT: Planet Her is similar to the last album in the sense that it is a collage of sounds that I thought sounded cool, and that’s it. I didn’t have the patience to try and make every song sound similar. But for Planet Her, I worked with the same producer on most of the songs, so it sounds consistent compared to Hot Pink. I’m proud of it, because it has that consistency, but it still has ups and downs and twists. It was going to sound way weirder, but I took some stuff out.
ELLIOTT: Do you like rapping more than you like singing? Or both equally?
DOJA CAT: It’s harder for me to rap. Sometimes I get writer’s block, because I don’t want to write something stupid. Sometimes I’ll write something and be like, “Why would I say that?” Then I’ll restart, and eventually just give up. But when I do it right, I’m really, really happy about it.
ELLIOTT: I definitely like rhyming better, but only because I don’t think I’m great at singing. But I like doing melodies.
DOJA CAT: You understand all angles of music. There’s people who can only rap, and then there’s people who can only sing. But if you can do both, you absolutely should.
ELLIOTT: Well you’re great at both, so make sure you give them both love, because that’s a gift. Listen, everybody is not a bar rapper. When I’m hearing people, and they got mad bars, I love it. But I’m not that girl. I will say this, and I’m sure you probably feel this way too. If we sat down, we could do it. As a writer, you can sit and create those bars.
DOJA CAT: But my ass would hurt if I was sitting that long. I would be sitting for a while. I would be hurting myself.
ELLIOTT: [Laughs] The more famous you get and the more records you sell, does it feel hard to be your authentic self? Are you more cautious now in what you say and what you do and how you respond on social media than when you first started?
DOJA CAT: Oh my god, absolutely. I used to be on Periscope a lot. I’d be live for 10 or 12 hours at a time. I’d be making beats, and they weren’t any good, but it was fun. I would just be yelling at and roasting people, and they would be like, “Damn, why are you so mad?” But then some people would think it was funny and go along with it. That was me back then, and I love going in on people, but I stopped because with a big platform, you don’t want to hurt anybody. You have power and you’re looked at a certain way, and if you go in on people and shit, it doesn’t help you or them, and they can tear you down more than you can tear them down.
ELLIOTT: People don’t realize that artists are sensitive or that they have feelings. When I was coming up we didn’t have social media, so we could turn off the artistry when we finished our interviews and went home. Now you have to be in artist mode at all times, because you gotta watch what you post. If somebody seems crazy to you, you can’t lash out at them. The bigger you get, the more you have to be aware.
DOJA CAT: Yeah, you have to be smart.
ELLIOTT: Now, with so many women dominating hip-hop, has it settled in your mind yet that you’re a major figure at this moment? Or do you feel like, “I’m still just Doja Cat.” I ask you that because somebody asked me in an interview not too long ago, “When did you feel like you made it?” And I said, “Just this year I felt like I’m somebody.”
DOJA CAT: I still feel normal. It’s because I’m not really going out. I guess I had a huge break when I did that goofy “Mooo!” song.
ELLIOTT: I thought it was so clever. I was like, “Yo, who is this?” That’s the first wind I caught of you.
DOJA CAT: And the thing is, I haven’t been out in the world yet and seen people screaming and going crazy. I’ve had fans at shows that were going crazy, and one who chased me, but I still feel normal. Also, COVID didn’t let me understand what Hot Pink did for my fans, because I had to cancel the tour. None of that was able to happen, so I still don’t really know.
ELLIOTT: But when you go to the mall or the nail salon, people don’t come up to you?
DOJA CAT: People do, but it’s not that often. And also, I’m a huge hermit. I don’t want to leave my house.
ELLIOTT: [Laughs] Me too.
DOJA CAT: I’m not getting out of the car. I’m home as much as I can possibly be.
ELLIOTT: That’s crazy. I’m listening and I’m like, “Wait a minute, is that me on the other end?” Because I’m such an introvert. My friends were making a joke the other day. They were like, “Missy will play the Super Bowl, and then she’ll come back home and we want to have a party for her, and she’s like, ‘I’m mopping my floors. I gotta take my dogs out.’” And it’s like, “You just did the Super Bowl!” I just love being inside. So when COVID happened, it helped me.
DOJA CAT: I actually love to party, but sometimes I’m like, “Hell no, I’m not doing it for a week.” Or two weeks, three months, whatever.
ELLIOTT: When you’re creating music, do you think about the charts or streaming? Or do you say, “I’m doing records that feel good to me, and if they like it, that’s great.”
DOJA CAT: About 98 percent of the time I’m just trying to have fun. But sometimes there’s people in the studio who are like, “This would be a great TikTok song.” I’m not really trying to fight them and I get it, so I try to be open-minded.
ELLIOTT: When we were first coming out, we didn’t even think about the charts. I thought that maybe “Work It” had gone to number one, but I didn’t find out until this year that it never did. We just wanted to have our records playing in the club.
DOJA CAT: A lot of your shit was huge for me. When I was little, I was in front of my TV every single day dancing to your videos. I was like, “This is my Beyoncé.”
ELLIOTT: [Laughs] Beyoncé was in a whole other category.
DOJA CAT: But that’s how I saw you. Your videos were everywhere. I’m shocked knowing that “Work It” never went to number one.
ELLIOTT: I have plenty of number twos. No number ones. One thing I always say to people is, coming into this industry, we’re just doing what we love to do, and nobody tells us about the ups and downs. We think we’re about to be famous, we’re about to get mad bread, and that’s it. It’s a whole lot that comes with this, and a lot of people don’t come in prepared, and that’s why they go through anxiety and depression. What’s the one lesson you learned early on that you would like to pass to upcoming artists?
DOJA CAT: On the lighthearted side, you have to have people around you who love you, and sometimes it’s not always like that for me. I didn’t always have people around me who loved me, but I was still making music. But they didn’t believe in me. Just keep doing what you want to do and enjoy it. It’s a big question that you asked, but if there’s a simple answer, and maybe it’s underwhelm – ing: Do what you feel in your heart is the best thing to do. If you love music, embrace that, and don’t let anybody ever tear you away from how passionately you feel about music. Also, believe in your fans. Show them that you appreciate them. The dark side of it is, don’t trust everybody.
ELLIOTT: Most definitely. You’d rather be able to sleep at night just being yourself, as opposed to doing what others want you to do, and having to kick yourself in the ass every day because you went and did records that didn’t feel like you.
DOJA CAT: I did that three or four times. I will never do it again.
ELLIOTT: We all have a story like that. But even if what you’re doing was too far ahead of its time, or people didn’t get it, at least it’s something that you believed in. I wish you much more success and peace and happiness.
DOJA CAT: I’m trying not to cry now. I have on eyeliner that’s water-activated, and it will absolutely destroy my entire face.
ELLIOTT: [Laughs] One day you will go on to be the interviewer, and someone will be on the receiving end saying how much you have inspired them. That’s the greatest feeling of all. No matter how much music I’ve done, the best feeling is when you talk to another artist, and you realize that something you’ve done has left an impact on them. That means more to me than anything. So I thank you, and I look forward to hearing more and more, and may you be blessed to have many, many more successful albums, records, videos, everything.
DOJA CAT: Thank you so much, and knowing that we’re both hermits, I appreciate you doing this interview, and being incredible at interviewing too.
ELLIOTT: I so appreciate you. I’ll let you get back to being a hermit. Much love.
DOJA CAT: God bless.
Hair Stylist: JStayReady at Chris Aaron Management
Makeup Artist: Ernesto Casillas
Nails: Saccia Livingston at Chris Aaron Management
Set Designer: Nicholas Des Jardins at Streeters
Photo Assistants: Dakota Caulfield, Elaine Clinton
Photo Producer: Monika Martinez
Fashion Assistants: Lucy Gaston, Juan Zenon
Set Design Assistant: Zack Aadams
Production: Perris Cavalier at The Morrison Group
Production Coordinator: Sheridan Telford
Production Assistants: Starr Sanford and Jade Mathis