There’s a popular adage floating around the social media site formerly known as Twitter: “I miss the old Doja.”
With the release of her album Scarlet this fall, pop star Doja Cat debuted a new look. She dropped her colorful lacefronts for a shaved head. She eschewed skin-baring costumes for brutalist demon-inspired imagery. Oh, and she told her fans — repeatedly, aggressively — to fuck off.
The Planet Her singer built her career on being a pop star who enjoyed the finest things the internet had to offer, just like regular people. She shitposted constantly, going on comedic Instagram Lives and gaining her first bout of genuine fame in the music industry for a green-screened video of her singing a song with the lyrics “Bitch I’m a cow.” She was knowledgeable enough to enjoy internet comedy but not feel like she was selling something, taking a playful approach to promoting her music, which most fans appreciated.
But in the lead-up to Doja’s new album — and with it, the sudden appearance of a Doja fully immersed in a darker side of the internet — users have redoubled their discussions surrounding her online interactions, homophobic comments, and past ties to nebulous chat rooms. On Friday, the singer posted a selfie on Instagram, revealing that, in addition to her bejeweled eyebrows and rhinestone crown, she was wearing a T-shirt with a photo of Sam Hyde. (Hyde is an infamous comic best known for his Adult Swim show Million Dollar Extreme Presents: World Peace, which was canceled over allegations of racist, sexist, and alt-right content. Whenever a school shooting occurs, fans of 4chan spread the rumor that Hyde is the shooter, a misinformation hoax so common that it once tricked U.S. Congressman Vicente Gonzalez.) After heavy backlash from fans, Doja deleted and re-uploaded the photo, this time cropped to remove Hyde’s face, but not without also changing the caption to include a plethora of eye-roll emojis — 39 to be exact. The prevailing critique seems to be that this is an era that Doja needs to leave, that there’s a past version of the singer that would give fans the same quality of music, without any of the seeming neo-Nazi sympathies or links. There’s only one problem: The old Doja isn’t dead. This version has been here the whole time — people just haven’t been paying attention.
In fact, most of Doja’s past controversies all center around her being too online for her own good. During the height of her initial fame in 2020, a video leaked of Doja in a Tinychat room, rolling around on a bed while saying the n-word. The video chat room was associated online with alt-right and white supremacist movements, and fans decried Doja’s presence in such a space. (Or, as rapper N.O.R.E called it, Doja was “in racial chat rooms showing feet.”) In a 2020 statement, she denied being associated with any racial conversations, but said that calling her friends white supremacists was “fucking stupid.” There’s also past (and now-deleted) social media posts from 2015 of Doja using homophobic slurs to describe Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler, the Creator, and her staunch defense of her long-rumored boyfriend J. Cyrus. Cyrus, a streamer and comedian, has been accused of manipulating and emotionally abusing members of his Twitch team and community. (On Dec. 20, 2020, Cyrus issued a now-deleted apology, acknowledging that he had caused many of his moderators harm, but was working on himself. ) Put succinctly, Doja Cat has long been associated with her extreme views online. The difference is that as she becomes more famous, she seems less inclined to hide it.
On Sept. 22, Doja Cat released Scarlet, a 15-track LP that took aim at all of the star’s biggest critiques of fame and virality. Rolling Stone writer Larisha Paul described the album as Doja “brawling in the trenches of the IDGAF war,” failing to solidify her status as an internet troll by showing cracks in her bravado. “Seventy percent of the nearly hour-long Scarlet tries to convince you that Doja is unbothered,” Paul writes. “Even as she fired off hyper-specific breakdowns of exactly what it is she isn’t bothered about.” But as her controversies continue far past her album rollout, Doja is emerging as a pop star seemingly determined to misrepresent valid criticisms people are throwing her way.
A small — and male — contingent of the “I miss the old Doja” crowd seems to be fixated on the singer’s past looks, commentary that’s allowed the vocalist to wrap up valid concerns over her edgy obsessions and alt-right past connections into a nebulous clapback against fans with parasocial relationships. “I don’t even know y’all,” she wrote to a fan on Threads in July. “Seeing all these people unfollow makes me feel like I’ve defeated a large beast that’s been holding me down for so long,” she commented on Instagram after seeing a dip in followers. “I don’t give a fuck what you think about my personal life I never have and never will. Goodbye and good riddance miserable hoes.”
In Doja Cat’s 2021 Rolling Stone cover story, her team and managers cited her past controversies online as an example of a child of the internet growing into her newfound fame. “When you’re dealing with a real artist, everyone makes mistakes. Everyone says things. I would be lying to you if I said there wasn’t nervousness [about her being online],” her manager Gordan Dillard said. “But Doja’s growing into an adult. She’s maturing. She’s a human being. And I can never be mad at her for being herself. She is who she is.”
But at 27 years old, Doja Cat isn’t a kid accidentally going too far on Facebook while her parents aren’t home. She’s an adult with a large platform, who apparently thinks wearing a T-shirt of a neo-Nazi sympathizer is just edgy, and everyone is too sensitive. And as she continues in her career, Doja Cat’s actions feel less like the stumblings of a child and more like those of a grown pop star who has no desire to learn in the first place. She’s been screaming for people to pay attention to her. Maybe it’s time we did.