Planet Her (released June 25, 2021)
Well, I told y’all so.
Two years ago, when Doja Cat first dropped her sophomore set, Hot Pink, most of the Soul In Stereo faithful were pretty skeptical. And I can’t blame y’all – at that point she best known for cosplaying as a cow and NSFW videos that would get you a call from HR if you peeped during office hours.
Through all that ridiculousness, though, I could tell that there was a very talented artist hidden beneath the gimmicks and trolling.
She’d capitalize on that potential with Hot Pink, a daring sonic kaleidoscope that swung from 90s R&B and hip-hop to disco and dance – earning its place as one of the best albums of 2019. Once “Say So” rampaged its way to the top of the charts, Doja went from bizarre meme lady to bonafide superstar.
It’s Doja’s weird world now, we’re just living in it.
That’s pretty much the theme of Planet Her, a vaguely-defined concept album where all races and genders live in harmony (and a not-so-veiled counter to accusations of Doja fraternizing with Innanet racists in her past).
While Hot Pink‘s biggest strength was its diversity of sound, Planet Her is a much more straightforward modern pop album. It might arguably make it more consistent than her previous set, but certainly not as daring.
But I’m putting the cat before the horse, I’ll get back to that thought in a moment.
The only time Planet Her‘s intergalactic Shangri-La theme sorta comes into play is on the first track, “Woman,” an empowering feminist anthem spread across reggaeton-tinged production: “They wanna pit us against each other when we succeed/And for no reasons they wanna see us end up like we Regina on Mean Girls.”
Although nearly every mainstream hip-hop artist is currently riding the rap-sung wave, keep it a buck – 97 percent of them can only do one of those well and has no business even attempting the other. Doja is one of the scant few exceptions. Her breathless delivery on “Get Into It (Yuh)” is very impressive, maintaining them tempo flawlessly. The Nicki Minaj influence is quite obvious in her flippant, punchline-heavy delivery (she even shouts her out at the end of the track). Meanwhile, she’s just as comfortable sharing a duet with Ariana Grande on “I Don’t Do Drugs” and her falsetto sounds pretty stunning on “Love to Dream,” a gentle track that soars thanks to its soothing atmosphere.
Doja’s trademark weirdness still pops up at times but it’s in much shorter supply this time around. “Options” with JID shines thanks to the absurd production, sounding like a gym filled with those giant bouncy, rubbery balls we used for dodgeball with muted flute notes fluttering in the background. Lead single “Kiss Me More” is a bit of a time capsule, giving the listener flashbacks to 70s disco roller rinks. Otherwise there aren’t many surprises.
“Need to Know” and “Imagine” are built around the usual trap trappings – the latter with the requisite robo-vocals, as per usual. “Been Like This” feels like every Weeknd song in the past five years but, oddly, Weeknd features on a different song, “You Right,” which again is solid but far from spectacular.
That sums up my frustration with Planet Her – it’s a perfectly fine 2021 pop album. The production is strong, the guest stars carry their weight, the run time is satisfying but not overwhelming and Doja is clearly positioned as the star of the show. You can bet many a Tik Tok challenge will be birthed from these tracks this summer. However, the boundless creativity that defined her earlier works is very toned down here.
When your career has been built on listeners expecting the unexpected, an album this safe feels like a slight step back.
Imagine landing on a distant alien world only to find that they’re listening to the same playlists we are. Sure there’s comfort in that familiarity, but if you’re already hanging out in space, why not reach for the stars?
Best tracks: “Love to Dream,” “I Don’t Do Drugs,” “Options”
3.5 stars out of 5