In some ways, the space-age concept of Doja Cat’s third album makes total sense. Like an adventurous space traveller hopping between planets, the Californian rapper and singer never lingers too long on a genre or song. Her tracks possess both a gravity-defying airiness and an attractive magnetic pull. And in an era of artists eager to recreate the eighties and nineties, Doja looks ahead to the future: she quickly cottoned on to the TikTok crowd, and harnesses legions of tiny-screen dancers with smash hits including ‘Say So’ ‘and ‘Kiss Me More’.
‘Planet Her’ is a fictional, harmonious planet at the centre of the universe. The centre of the pop universe is a hotly contested position, but with an album guest list that includes The Weeknd, Ariana Grande, and SZA, and features nods to Rihanna, Ed Sheeran, and Nicki Minaj, Doja claims the position for forty-five minutes, at least.
“Thank you Nicki, I love you!” she beams at the end of ‘Get Into It (Yuh)’, adding, “Got that big rocket launcher” – a line from Nicki Minaj’s ‘Massive Attack’ – like she’s accepting the baton of rap-pop. Fair enough: Doja shares Minaj’s nimble, crystalline delivery. She can sing, too, her shape-shifting vocals every bit Ariana Grande’s equal on the duet ‘I Don’t Do Drugs’. But though her musical talent is serious – as demonstrated on 2019’s ‘Hot Pink’ – Doja takes little else seriously, a playful and charismatic figure not immune to controversy and cancellation, yet somehow always able to deflect it.
Rocket launcher aside, any cosmophiles will be disappointed by the lack of space-related content on ‘Planet Her’. Beyond its visuals, the planetary concept is pretty flimsy, but that’s sort of the point. The album’s more like a solar system of genres orbiting rap and pop – dancehall, afrobeat, disco, trap, r&b – hooked together by little more than intergalactic visuals: unless Doja’s actually on Planet Pop 2021, where eclecticism rules. It’s a breezy record, but the breeze has been perfectly calculated to match the conditions of the current pop landscape.
The fourteen tracks boast catchy production that’s watertight enough to trap the ficklest of brains, and weird enough to pause thumbs in a distraction-heavy world. From Doja’s diverse vocal range to the flute on ‘Options’ and the helium harpsichord hyperpop of ‘Pay Day’ with Young Thug, the album almost causes the listener’s equivalent of decision fatigue, with too many hooks to keep hold of.
Doja’s in full, free, often funny flow, too. While opener ‘Woman’ raises an eyebrow at all the roles professional women are expected to play, and how men “wanna pit us against each other when we succeed”, on most of the songs she “just can’t help but be sexual”. The brazen, reggaeton-lite ‘Naked’ nods at her bisexuality (“I like bananas and peaches”) while on ‘Need To Know’, featuring fellow extra-terrestrial Grimes in the music video, Doja “eats it like I need an apron on”.
That flow runs out of steam during the album’s downtempo middle section. In fact, she takes the foot off the gas for so long you almost forget the album’s still playing, and even The Weeknd can’t pick things up. Subdued yearning doesn’t really suit Doja. She’s better off in the thick of the action, tucking into colourful refrains and bold verses, as on ‘Ain’t Shit’ or last song and lead single ‘Kiss Me More’.
Already established as a serious contender for song of the summer, ‘Kiss Me More’ wraps up an album that floats on the track’s balmy breeze. Though it’s hard to listen to ‘Planet Her’ without forecasting all the ensuing dance crazes, discard those qualms about disposable playlist music. The record, much like its creator, is resilient and convincing enough to withstand more than a gentle gust – on Planet Pop 2021, anyway.