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The Rapid Rise and Fall of Doja Cat in the Era of “Cancel” Culture

The singer’s “Mooo” became a viral hit out of nowhere. Then, problematic tweets from her past resurfaced, making her neither the first nor last sudden celebrity to suffer a social media reckoning. Are we building them up too quickly or are we too quick to tear them down?

Doja Cat YouTube/Ringer illustration

It’s none of my business how much time you spend looking at your phone, but if you have at all in recent weeks, and if you like music, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about Doja Cat. She’s originally from Tarzana, California, but for all intents and purposes, she’s from the internet. Or at least, until very recently, she was so good at cultivating fame online that it seemed that way.

Should we start with “Mooo”? Let’s start with “Mooo.” If you haven’t been acquainted with the song yet, I’m surprised at least one of your friends hasn’t recommended it to you. I’m personally sick to death of talking about what the Song of the Summer is or was or wasn’t, but as a point of reference, if “In My Feelings” were the glossy official issue, this one — “Mooo” — isn’t accessible without the jailbreak. You may have guessed already that it is a song about cows; specifically being one, though you can plainly see that Doja Cat is a human. With its lethargic, chill study beats–core production, and absurd, low-rent videography that pairs nicely with its equally absurd lyrics (Bitch, I’m a cow / Bitch, I’m a cow / I’m not a cat, I don’t say ‘Meow’), “Mooo” has more than 11 million views on YouTube.

In the video there are bouncing anime boobs, bouncing real boobs, and one precious still of Doja Cat in her cropped and splotchy bovine top — the impetus for the song — with matching ear headband, fries lodged stupidly up her nose. It’s allusive, self-referential, ridiculous, and exactly the sort of thing that the internet eats up, regurgitates, and eats again. Everything here is memeable. Please meme it.

“Moo” is less of a traditional “song” than a troll single meant to signal you toward the fact that Doja Cat’s major-label debut, Amala (her given name is Amala Zandile Dlamini), arrived in March. She’s been milly rocking in Luigi hats, piecing together dream pop in her bedroom, and uploading to her Instagram genuinely hilarious reminders to buy her album; the album rollout is, in effect, happening in reverse.

It’s been deliriously fun, but if you’re just now showing up, I regret to inform you that the fun may already be over. If anyone was clocking it, Doja Cat has been Milkshake Ducked in record time.

This is the way it goes with internet obsessions. We scrape together something close to world peace as you, me, and hundreds of thousands of strangers fawn over the thick congeniality of Ken Bone’s red sweater, or the dark, brainy comedy of Rick and Morty, or Guardians of the Galaxy Vols 1 & 2. Then we come to find that the people we’re doting upon were different before we got to know them. Or rather, we’re left to wonder whether they’ve actually changed: Their old tweets or Reddit posts are resurfaced, and we’re forced to contend with what they mean relative to an overabundance of things. How much does intent matter? Age? Gender? Sexual preference? Race?

Surely The New York Times’ Sarah Jeong saying “white men are bullshit” doesn’t equate to Milwaukee Brewers reliever Josh Hader tweeting that “gay people freak me out.” Much how Eminem hurling “faggot” as an insult at the age of 45 is quite different from tweeting the epithet when you’re a teenager. All things considered, it might be best that this occurred before Doja Cat reached mainstream popularity. The amount of trust and goodwill built up over the course of 14 or so business days might be easier to rebuild than that which was built up over a decade. (*Cough* Kanye Omari West *cough*.) Nevertheless, there is no hard-and-fast rule for accountability, no easy guide through the swaying thicket of grievance politics.

So far, we’re only sure of the wrong ways to go about making amends, which are pretty clear:

Doja Cat deleted the slur-ridden tweet, and then issued a Notes app apology, then deleted that, too, along with all the rest of her tweets, save for one announcing her tour. She wasn’t the only rapper to be Milkshake Ducked just last Wednesday — Asian Doll and Yung Miami of City Girls were also forced into damage control over anti-gay tweets. Yung Miami, who tweeted in 2013 that she would beat the homosexuality out of her future son, half-apologized, noting the comment was “insensitive” but that she still “personally I wouldn’t want my son to be gay.” Asian Doll tweeted all the way through it and landed in a pretty promising place:

Each of these teenagers would have been of high school age when the offending tweets were sent, when neither I, nor them, nor you were perfectly politically correct. Let me be very clear: I absolutely condemn the language used and the thoughts presented within them, but I’m less interested in how and why those specific tweets are popping up now, than in what our response to them should be.

Is there a perfect amount of nuance that we should display? A way for us to strike the right balance between contempt and empathy? If there is historical precedent, there can’t be any that’s survived into this era of increasingly packaged pop culture, when celebrities emphasize certain parts of their character and remove certain barriers between themselves and their fans. We are constantly connected despite being worlds apart, and discourse is muddied with all the voyeurism and impenetrable narrowness of experience that implies. Your options are still the same. You can either (a) embrace that behind these brands are people who are flawed and changeable, neither all good nor all bad with a few notable exceptions, or (b) “cancel” them altogether.

For now let’s just say the moral of the story is: If you are set down the yellow-brick path to fame — and if you’re really lucky, fortune — the very first thing you should do is delete your tweets. And if you’re confronted with those tweets that should have been deleted, my only advice to you is: Do whatever you’ll regret the least. Amala is a fun listen, by the way.