Doja Cat had a packed audience at the United Center on Wednesday that saw red. Literally and figuratively. Performing the final day of her Scarlet Tour, the rapper-vocalist coordinated most of the visual aspects of her show around the primary color. Emotionally, he conveyed this with his overflowing anger and fiery passion, leaving little room for anything in between.
Blending essential elements of choreography, theatre, television and burlesque with imaginative fantasy, explosive flare and thematic lighting, the extremely comprehensive concert production benefited from lively pacing and plenty of energy. Similar to Doja Cat, a flexible dance troupe appeared to be in motion almost all the time. A backing band and backing vocalists located in separate pit areas gave the songs body and dynamics often lacking in backing-based shows.
Despite a few flaws and inconsistencies, these decisions (and others) have helped Doja Cat come across not as someone embarking on her first arena tour, but as a veteran who is aware of what works and what stalls momentum. Case in point: She left the expected costume changes to her peers and performed in the same red outfit for 95 minutes, except for her full-length fur, which she quickly shed. Specifically, a cropped bustier with leather straps and strategically placed devil horns; arm sleeves; a riff on knee-high leg warmers; and, ahem, a thong. This woman is not shy.
Doja Cat, who added four albums to her career that sparked in the summer of 2018, maintains a deep-rooted and continuous popular culture presence. Her resume includes award nominations from nearly every major music organization, a Top 10 hit, and the record of being the first female rap duo to hit No. 1 (“Say So” with Nicki Minaj). His collaborations with big names of his contemporaries like The Weeknd, SZA, Ariana Grande, Post Malone and Lil Nas X are his main currency. So does the California native’s role in a 2022 Super Bowl commercial and recording the lead single from the “Elvis” soundtrack.
Her rise and ability to remain at the forefront of pop’s here today, gone tomorrow landscape reinforces the power of online platforms for artists of a certain generation. For better or worse, the rapper born Amala Ratna Zandile Dlamini continues to use social media for promotion and provocation.
Fittingly, Doja Cat’s debut is marked by her new song “Mooo!” It stems from the do-it-yourself video he prepared for. It became a viral meme and established a pattern in which the singer turned to the internet to map out many of his moves. TikTok and its associated dance challenges are central to its chart success. Instagram and X (formerly Twitter) promote his eccentric personality.
They also spark controversy. This summer, Doja Cat lost half a million Instagram followers after arguing with fans about her life choices and their role in her work. Previous backlash over his use of offensive language, his alleged involvement in racist chat rooms, his COVID denials and his claim to have quit the industry further underscore the risks associated with stars maintaining a highly public profile in the 2020s.
To her credit, Doja Cat has transitioned from the online universe to leading lady status with the kind of outgoing charm, confidence, and zaniness that informs her posts. At the United Center, two tall video boards, left and right, crammed a narrow stage with its triangular point jutting into the floor. The screens broadcast vivid images, boosting Doja Cat to IMAX proportions. During the disco journey of “Kiss Me More,” they transformed into the equivalent of phone screens animated with TikTok-like graphics and kiss-cam interactions.
The images played a key role in the five-act event, bolstered by the dance team’s synchronized routines and coordinated outfits. Props ranging from slender arachnids to a walking eyeball to a cord that doubles as an optic nerve completed a steady array of fireworks, fireballs and fog. In addition to the monochrome saturation of red, Doja Cat expressed eerie vibes and at times hinted at more sinister trappings by keeping things relatively dark. Much better to fight with words.
Feisty, mean and confident, Doja Cat strutted, teased, jumped and challenged. The all-out bravado he proclaimed in the opener of “WYM Freestyle” always seemed to be close to the surface—even when he opted for softness, calmed down, and let love or lust happen to ease his frustrations (“Agora Hills,” “Often”). If someone needed a reminder of his mood or intentions, his body language communicated as confidently and clearly as his words.
Especially since the lyrics tend to be drowned out by the low-end noise of bass-heavy material like “Demons” and “Go Off.” Doja Cat’s squatting low to the ground, leaning forward, finger wagging, subtle clothing adjustments, and militant stances expressed intended messages. The rapper, who draws attention not only with his narratives but also with his hypersexuality, crawled on all fours during “Need to Know” and sang “Can’t Wait” in the middle of a pile of human flesh, before lying down and being straddled by members of his community.
Seductive Doja Cat took second place behind her intense warrior personality. While rapping, he spit out verses with a smooth flow and a slight swish to match the roughness of the content. Punctual grunts, syllabic exclamations, and rapid clips reflected a keen command of rhythm and phonetics. He attacked strikers like the scolding “Shutcho” and the seething “Attention” with the aggression of a boxer pushing his opponent against the ropes. Her crossed-arms determination extended to the top-down, glass-shaking joy ride of “97” and the deceptively casual feel of “Paint the Town Red,” an assertive statement of purpose inspired by the Dionne Warwick classic “Walk.” by.”
It would be wise for him to delegate his emotional pursuits to others. Doja Cat’s balladic delivery and falsetto stretches have faced rough patches. Whether due to venue acoustics or other reasons, her voice sounded weak and high-pitched while pursuing R&B and pop guises. On a related note, Hiatus’ attempt at soft, laid-back jazz in a cover of Kaiyote’s “Red Room” failed, finding her pushing for a higher range. Although her repressed desire to prove herself has served her well, Doja Cat’s clever name-checking of cultural references fails to deliver on some of her cruder insults and rhymes. Equally rude? Shortly after opener Ice Spice finished her set, commercials for apps, video games, concert merchandise and other products began appearing on the screens.
Doja Cat, by contrast, had a composure that could last beyond her second and third LPs; He notes that May called it a “cash grab” that fans “fell in love with.” The main focus was on “Scarlet” and delving deeper into hip-hop.
“I’m here because I can rap really well,” he said after having fun with a semi-improvised freestyle. Yes, but also the ability to know how to turn the risks of routines and repeated online exposure into rewards.
Bob Gendron is a freelance critic.
United Center’s set list for December 13:
“Red Room” (Hiatus Kaiyote cover)
“Isn’t it [Expletive]”
“So you mean”
“Get Into It (Yuh)”
“I need to know”
“Kiss Me More”
“Paint the town red”
“(Expletive) Girls (FTG)”
“I don’t wait”