Review Summary: One gal's mission to populate a planetary wasteland of dull features and tepid beats. She does ok.
Doja Cat uses her voice to make pop/R&B/trap songs about sex - sex! - why do we listen to them? Or, to cut straight to the still-burning sex-posi question, are these songs just shallow thrills or are they part of a meaningful platform directed at people looking for something deeper? Is this face-value smut, or are we privy to a woman’s performative self-realisation in the lewd terms of her choosing? Does it bang? Are bangers ever just bangers? Is sex ever just sex? Wel- err, yes - no - sometimes? To all the above. Planet Her
supports pretty much any reading, no matter how you leer at it; it’s smart at points, silly at others, often musically unremarkable, occasionally pure pop gold and easily listenable without providing significant satisfaction for more than ten to fifteen minutes after the act of consumption. Although the Point is unmistakable at any given moment, the album ends up as a mixed ratio of hits and misses; of the various questions it prompts, some are interesting and many are she wrote that?
Things kick off at their most incisive. In stark contrast to Hot Pink
(2019)’s drench of an opener “Cyber Sex”, song number uno “Woman” sees Doja Cat kick off in reflective form, afrobeats and R&B hooks supporting a keen lyrical focus. The crux is simple enough: she’s a lady trying to live her best life, but, of course, there are issues. Our gal has to contend with internalised double standards ('Cause the world told me, "We ain't got the common sense" / Gotta prove it to myself that I'm on top of shit
) and divisive illusions of sororal competition (They wanna pit us against each other when we succeeding for no reasons / They wanna see us end up like we Regina on Mean Girls
). It turns out that womaning ain’t the easiest of paths, and as Doja relentlessly chews on the title refrain like she’s trying to suss out its flavour, it becomes decreasingly clear exactly what she means by it, like she’s trying to reclaim something she periodically loses sight of. The track references the divine feminine and suggests the titular woman
as an ideal, but rather than define this outright, Doja Cat raises questions and doubts over it, quite smartly opening up a space so that she can follow through on the rest of the album and provide a comprehensive answer.
How does this pan out? Well, uh, it’s clear enough what fills that space. Doja Cat might be starting her albums out in a more thought-provoking fashion, but she has lost none of her proclivity for (sort-of) tongue-in-cheek accounts of smut and sensation, shedding inconvenient layers of prudishness and hesitation. Literally. Second track “Naked” is a rush to the most mundane end of her spectrum, full of derivative hooks, flavourless repetition, and bottom-of-the-barrel lyrics that make a joke at the expense of analysis. You get the sense that Doja and co. wanted to bring “Woman” down to earth with a straightforward banger here, but the result is just too lazy for her blitheness or charisma to carry. The Genius description reads that the song discusses sexuality through the idea of becoming more comfortable getting naked and being intimate with someone else
, and you’d better spare a thought for whatever poor bastard volunteered to step in and summarise that shit.
Unfortunately, “Naked” turns out to be a much more accurate benchmark for Planet Her
than “Woman”; the forgettable cuts come in thick and fast here. Beyond offering a convenient excuse to trade ooh-ooh-ooohs with returning comrade Ariana Grande, “I Don’t Do Drugs” is forgettable R&B fluff pulled gracelessly from one of the most overplayed metaphors for romantic obsession in the game, while the trap ballad “Love To Dream” strains Doja’s top register over the same vaporous algorithmic melodies you’ve heard on a million different albums. “Alone” takes a more interesting stab at similar territory, but its downbeat feel misses the mark and it ends up too lethargic to land right; kinda hard to force what’s natural
purrs Doja, but the track drags heels too heavily for these lines to have any real resonance. The album’s pushier moments tend to fare better, although “Get Into It (Yuh)” reps heavier hip-hop beats as a fresh excuse for grating repetitiousness and the less said about “Ain’t Shit”’s seemingly neverending traipse of a refrain, the better. Very few of these tracks are offensively poor, but most of them find themselves hampered by forgettable motifs or fatigue-inducing backing tracks. As far as hit-or-miss packages go, Planet Her
plays fast and loose, investing far too heavily in its highlight cuts while the bulk of its tracklist flounders.
But phwoar boy, aren’t those highlights something? The album’s no-brainer crown jewel “Kiss Me More” is a perfect follow-up to Hot Pink
’s smash hit “Say So”, irresistible disco backed by weightless hooks and some of her smoothest delivery to date. If Doja Cat ever had a track you could sell a whole album on, it’s this one. While it’s disheartening to see “Kiss Me More”, along with the majority of the album’s worthwhile cuts accredited to Dr. Luke (of Kesha abuse infamy), it’s a much-needed assertion of Doja’s still largely unrealised potential for pop greatness; its placement at the very end of the tracklist puts a positive spin on the whole album. However, there are other, lesser standouts: “Need to Know” is the kind of pop that would disintegrate as derivative nothing-music in the hands of a weaker performer, but Doja turns it into something sensuously urgent and effortlessly infectious. I’m still unconvinced that it’s a particularly ‘good song’, but she sees it off so convincingly that the benefit of the doubt acquires fresh levels of gratification. Her alternations between rap and her high range on “Options” are also breathtaking, while her stab at a R&B downer on “You Right” is so strong that you can practically hear the final chorus booking the Weeknd a cab home after his airwaster of a lategame verse. This doesn’t just go for him: few of these features transcend the whim of wouldn’t it be hype if such-and-such appeared on this track [title]
. Doja’s garrulous style thrives on being able to address a second party, but the majority of her collaborators are useless in and of themselves and, barring JID and potentially Young Thug and Ariana Grande, their placements here are unanimously missed opportunities.
In fact, if there’s just one takeaway to be had, it’s that Doja carries this thing both out of responsibility (it’s her damn album after all) and because no-one is putting in the legwork. Her supporting cast are on weak form, and the arrangements her production team trot out are at once too slick and too underdeveloped to add character of their own. The main question at any given moment is whether the song in question offers engaging enough pop-rap gratification to warrant memorability, let alone closer inspection. On top of that, the album’s prevailing register is so explicit and unsubtle that many of its more nuanced moments go under the radar, but they’re there if you pay close attention: Doja Cat talks about men like men talk about women (“Need to Know”), insinuates that the perceived immaturity of her work is actually a source of creative strength (“Imagine”), captures the lovelessness behind a relationship of sexual convenience in insidious ambivalence (“Options”). These nods and nudges add much needed grit to an often skin-level collection of steamy fantasies, confirming the feeling I’ve always had that Doja Cat has more to say than just smut. We’ll see whether she ever realises this across a set of consistent songs made with a worthwhile team of collaborators, but for the time being she’s still dishing out the bare minimum that proves she has something