All Doja Cat tweeted before June 2023 is gone. All of his trolling of his 5.6 million followers about the title of his upcoming album, his denunciation of the pop genre and his threats to quit music altogether cancelled. All links to those posts lead to the same error message: Sorry, that tweet has been deleted. It’s common practice for musicians to delete their Instagram feed in anticipation of a new era, but performing a hard reset on Twitter is quintessential Doja. Even before the social media app began its latest descent into chaos under the so-called leadership of Elon Musk, it was a major source of outrage informing his latest single, Attention and it seems like it wanted to get a few things off its chest . for a minute.
Some versions of the bullet hits on the Erykah Badu-inspired rap record have been shot up online at one point or another. But, through a screen, it can be hard to tell the difference between when Doja is serious or just embarking on another tangent tweet like when she referenced her multi-platinum albums. Hot pink AND Planet She as money grabbers and chastised her fans for liking mediocre pop songs about them, including her viral singles Say So and Kiss Me More. Here, she more succinctly addresses pop stardom about her and how there’s no rulebook for navigating it. She also acknowledges the comments expressing concern for her mental health and contempt for her shaved head. He even nods to Twitter’s new paid verification policy, which he previously joked in a tweet about people desperate for celebrity endorsements.
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But in a more important and revealing moment, he put the jokes aside, remarking matter-of-factly: You follow me, but you don’t really care about music. In some ways, this notion has loomed over the 27-year-old’s career since Mooo! it first went viral in 2018. Everyone knew who he was but not necessarily what he could do. On Attention, he shuts down everyone who ever questioned his skills as a rapper, but he also reaches a point of clarity. He doesn’t just trade shitty posts on the timeline for shitty talk in the booth; he is also actively setting new parameters around his artistic identity.
Like many artists who really hit their stride during or around the pandemic, going viral was instrumental in solidifying Doja as a bona fide hitmaker. Often times, the virality suggests an interest in a particular thing or style—sometimes it’s not even the music itself, but rather the perceived personality of the people behind it. In a fickle pop landscape that is only truly sustainable when near-instant popularity aligns with repeatedly demonstrated prowess, that same viral presence can stunt their growth and threaten their artistic credibility. It then becomes a battle to escape that cycle, and quickly. And while they still get the internet’s attention, some artists are trying to balance the balance between being known and being respected to procure longevity.
Attention is not really a song. It’s more of a song, it’s a message, Doja explained on Instagram Live of her new song. It really shouldn’t be played. I thought this would be a nice way to start the whole launch. But the album is fun. I have many different sounds in this album. And if someone somehow missed the message, they won’t find her explaining it to them again on Twitter. Even Lil Nas X, who has similarly earned a reputation for being deeply unserious, rarely tweets anymore.
Now, when he’s online, the 24-year-old clearly distinguishes between when he trolls and when he opens up a broader dialogue about his career. His antics are so seemingly absurd that they can’t be mistaken for anything serious. Fans have seen this through her meme-filled viral run with Old Town Road and her battle with conservatives over her choice to ride a stripper pole in hell in Montero (Call Me By Your Name), both of which have sparked larger conversations about his position as a black, queer musician resting at the intersection of pop and rap. Best of all, his 8 million followers get little more than retweets of his live performances and stats about his latest streaming accomplishments.
It only took three viral hits, those two songs plus Industry Baby assisted by Jack Harlow to realize that, at this point in his career, social media functions more like a minefield than a playground. I’m a joked motherfucker, you know, I always make jokes online, he explained in a Genius interview in 2021. I heard this because a lot of people, when they see me having fun with them live, online, like laughing and stuff, they don’t think I take what I do seriously, but I really do.
Ice Spice, the 23-year-old rapper who’s already on her fourth viral single of the year with Barbie World, learned this lesson early. Sometimes I wake up and I’m going to tweet shit or post and then I’m like, Nah, I’m disturbing. It’s like a million people are going to see it, she said recently Teen Vogue. Is it worth saying? I don’t want my words to be misunderstood. Like Lil Nas X, her Twitter feed is her showcase of her hottest outfits, her biggest hits, and her best performances, including a recent BET Awards medley that demonstrates the ability to resistance of her. She has big plans and she’ll be damned if a few tweets derail them.
I want to evolve as a person and as an artist, he added. But I’m just trying to live now and not focus so much on 10 years from now because I’m still going to have to focus on those 10 years from now. I’d rather just have fun and be enlightened. I’m putting in more work, more hours. practicing, rehearsing, recording, working on my craft. Later this year, she will join Doja Cat on a dozen arena tour dates. It’s a chance to further prove that she can command a crowd outside of an app as she tramples any lingering opinions from lackluster performance videos that circulated on Twitter at the start of her still very new career.
An underdog narrative has historically produced lucrative material in hip-hop and even pop, so much so that Drake and Taylor Swift still go after it despite their greatness. People like to have someone to root for after they’ve been counted out. But in this viral landscape, this comes with the caveat that the public feels control and ownership over the careers they’ve helped build online. With that, there’s actually more of a threat that they’ll be swept away or replaced by the next artist, hit, or viral moment if they stray too far from what they’re known for. And once an artist is locked into a certain Internet identity, it can be difficult to change it.
Viral moments tend to have the same staying power as an embarrassing middle school memory that takes until high school graduation to fully shake off. When Jack Harlow’s First Class went viral with his nostalgic-pop sample of the Fergies’ 2006 hit Glamorous, it became pretty clear that it was going to be a major turning point for the rapper, a solo summer hit not unlike the ones the his mentor Drake used to offer. I want to be the face of my shit, like the face of my generation, for these next 10 years, the 25-year-old said Rolling stone last year before his second album Come home, the kids miss you. We need more people in my generation who are trying to be the best, and you can’t do that with just some ear candy, vibrating records. You have to come out swinging sometimes. My new shit is much more serious.
As it turned out, there wasn’t a single song on the album, ear candy or otherwise, that had the power to outshine First Class. The rap songs on his tracklist, which boasted features from Drake and Lil Wayne, barely managed to overwhelm the viral interview clips of the Kentucky rapper flirting his way to heartthrob status. His previous career defining moments, the simple rap on What’s Poppin’ and his swashbuckling Industry Baby verse, had been replaced by a song containing the lyrics: Pineapple juice, I give her sweet, sweet, sweet seed. This, apparently, was not part of his grand plan.
In the year between Come home, the kids miss you and its sequel Jackman, which came out in April, Harlow was also little online. I’ve seen enough of me on this little screen/I’ve gotten so vain and insecure about everything/I feel all this pressure to live up to what they tell me I’ll be, raps about Denver. While Doja Cat delivered her comeback message in a four-and-a-half-minute song, Harlow similarly hammered hers with a 24-minute album.
As a white rapper, he evidently knows it won’t take long to get a pop audience to embrace him, especially in a post-pandemic industry where concert-goers will buy a ticket to hear a viral song in the set list. With Jackman, he lobbies for the validation he seems to really crave from people who genuinely know and respect the art of hip-hop. Across the 10-song album, Harlow backtracks on the pop front. His Bars address white suburbia’s relationship to black culture and attempt to back up his claim that he’s the greatest white rapper since Eminem. And while it doesn’t feel like a denunciation of the most successful year of his career, it does feel like a clarification that this is a marathon, not a sprint.
After Jackmans release, Lil Nas X tweeted: Y’all streaming my baby daddy album we got the rent just like y’all. Seriously, the pop rapper inadvertently touches on the truth of the matter: Tweets don’t sell tickets, and virality is too unpredictable to rely on. In what seems like a good start, Doja Cat and Lil Nas X, the last children of the internet, aren’t even on Threads, Mark Zuckerbeg’s version of Twitter connected to Instagram, while an early post from Harlow begged everyone not to destroy the integrity of this new ecosystem. Ice Spice, meanwhile, is using the app to promote what is sure to be his fifth viral hit of the year. Especially as hip-hop’s chart dominance continues to slip, more artists hoping to build a fruitful legacy will need to speak through music to prove they’re more than just an online moment.
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