There’s a case to be made that it was during the pandemic that the internet finally subsumed us—which is precisely when Amala Dlamini, a.k.a. Doja Cat, became a global pop star. Dlamini, 27, was born in Los Angeles and spent time as a child with her mother at an ashram led by jazz musician Alice Coltrane. But she is also a member of the connected generation whose creative DNA is defined not by a record collection as much as by a swirling torrent of songs, sounds, clips, and memes. She has been releasing music for more than a decade, but her mainstream breakthrough came in late 2019 with Say So, a masterful mash-up of disco, hip-hop, and funk vibes that became a left-field sensation on the eve of lockdown, inspiring a TikTok dance challenge. Since then, there have been more hits, tours, and a Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for Kiss Me More, a collaboration with SZA off 2021’s Planet Her. In June, she released Attention, the first single from her new album, Scarlet, which will be accompanied by her first arena tour this fall. Dlamini sat down with rap-radio legend and media entrepreneur Angie Martinez to discuss art, fame, and finding your way—on Instagram and IRL.
Angie Martinez: An icon by definition is “a person or a thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration”. Do you see yourself as worthy of veneration?
Doja Cat: I don’t. I think I deserve love and respect from the people that I love and respect back—and I guess respect means different things to some people. I put myself out there on social media and TV. I shoot my image out onto these screens. But I don’t really put myself out there in real life. I don’t go to clubs. I stick to creating.
AM: Do you get inspiration from other people and their energy?
DC: I love positive feedback. I appreciate when people speak up for someone who is getting bullied or attacked by internet trolls...Some of the most moving moments for me have been when my fans have stood up for me or for other people. That’s fighting for something real. I really appreciate that because people like to shit-talk.
AM: I love the new single, Attention. You get in your rap bag.
DC: It’s kind of an intro to what’s to come. This new album is more introspective, but I’m not leaning so hard into that to where it becomes boring. So I want to give stories and bops. It’s a nice mixture of both. I think this project is a really fun canvas for me to play with my rap skills and talk about what’s going on in my life. But I’m not abandoning who I was and what I know about pop and singing and that aspect of music.
AM: You’re a very visual artist too. How big of a role does imagery play in what you do, especially with fashion?
DC: I am taking more control over filming and photography. I’m in this kind of chaotic place right now when it comes to fashion, where I’ve just been going into my closet and picking out the most random, weird, not-fitting thing to mix with another thing that does not really fit. It’s like mashed potatoes. But I’m embracing that. It’s a little punk. It’s experimental for sure. It’s very manic. But I am going in a darker direction when it comes to visuals and fashion. I have a lot of pent-up feelings and anger, and I want to express it with beauty. I’ve been playing with a lot of prosthetics lately.
AM: The cat prosthetics you wore to the Met Gala were great. Was that your idea?
DC: Yes. I said, “I want to be a humanoid cat.”
AM: You definitely push boundaries. Why do you think people go crazy when you do things like shave your head or eyebrows?
DC: My theory is that if someone has never met me in real life, then, subconsciously, I’m not real to them. So when people become engaged with someone they don’t even know on the internet, they kind of take ownership over that person. They think that person belongs to them in some sense. And when that person changes drastically, there is a shock response that is almost uncontrollable...I’ve accepted that that’s what happens. So I put my wigs on and take them off. I shave my head or my eyebrows. I have all the freedom in the world.
AM: What do you imagine is next for you?
DC: There are other kinds of projects I want to branch out into. I want to make clothing, dabble in makeup. I want to explore acting.
AM: Do you envision acting becoming a big part of your career?
DC: I would love to do movies that I believe in. I would have to stop the music for a minute. But I would like to immerse myself in acting for a certain period of time. I love comedies and action films. I want to learn martial arts and be in a film like John Wick.
AM: Is it true that you want to do stand-up?
DC: It’s something I’ve definitely considered. I actually went onstage recently with Craig Robinson. He’ll get on a piano and just play songs, but he’ll do it in his own Craig Robinson, funny-ass way. I went up onstage and sang with him at a comedy club. It was super low-key. I was there with one of my boyfriends.
AM: One of my boyfriends is funny. Do you create room for love in your life?
DC: I love love. I’m possibly a serial dater. I definitely have had that in me a little bit. But right now I’m in a different place in my life where I am very committed and very much in love in a different way than before. I think I’ve evolved. I’m learning to love myself, so the way that I love other people is very different. I don’t feel like a lost little teen. I feel like a woman who is coming into her own.
Image credits: lead photo: Dress, Versace; earrings and Panthère de Cartier Ring, both Cartier; second image: Dress, Diotima; earrings, Cartier; stud earrings, Doja Cat’s own; Panthère de Cartier Rings, Cartier
Photographs by Mario Sorrenti, Styling by Beat Bolliger and Edward Bowleg III, Hair: J Stay Ready; Makeup: Frank B for Loveseen; Manicure: Saccia Trinice; Production: One thirty-eight productions; Set Design: Phillip Haemmerle. Special thanks to Buttercup Venues