What Doja Cat's "Attention" Lyrics Say About Fame In 2023
To Doja Cat, “Attention” is what it means to be a popstar today: to put yourself up unconditionally for consumption.
It was sometime in the summer of 2022 when Doja Cat shaved her head.
On August 4, 2022, the singer went on Instagram Live to debut the fresh new look to her fans, exclaiming with seemingly huge relief, “I feel like I was never supposed to have hair anyway. I don’t like having hair.” Then she shaved her eyebrows, too. But what was supposed to be a moment of beauty liberation and dazzling transformation quickly turned into one of viciousness.
Online, people responded to the change by calling her ugly, “unf*ckable,” and claimed she was having a mental breakdown. (At this point, you could make a documentary covering the many instances when a woman changing her hair has historically and misogynistically been tied to her sanity.) Doja Cat, being the internet-savvy provocateur she is, of course, clapped back: “You all want me to look f*ckable for you ... Go f*ck yourselves,” she tweeted (and later deleted). Now, the singer is having the final word on that incident with the arrival of her song “Attention,” a scathing response to all who criticized her that also offers a revealing look into what it means to be a celebrity in 2023.
“Attention” is the first single of Doja Cat’s new era, and while the track’s seductive introduction might initially fool you into thinking it’s about relishing in said attention, Doja Cat is offering a more complicated message. Forgoing the conventional pop that’s soundtracked most of her lead singles, “Attention” is Doja in rap mode — and she uses the format to openly and brashly speak her mind with little care for anyone’s feelings but her own.
The track kicks off with a cooing pre-chorus and chorus, with lyrics that almost sound like a description of a timid pet animal:
“Baby, if you like it, just reach out and pet it/ This one doesn't bite, it doesn't get aggressive/ Show you how to touch it, hold it like it's precious/ It don't need your loving, it just needs attention,” she sings. “It needs, it seeks affection (So sweet)/ Hungry, it fiends attention (Hungry)/ It needs, it seeks affection (Baby)/ Hungry, it fiends.”
Is she talking about herself? It isn’t clear, and it isn’t until Doja’s first verse kicks in that one clocks that it might be satire. Doja’s tone switches on her first verse, as she recounts her ascent to stardom, how she’s changed from then until now, and how she’s really still the same, unapologetically herself. She’s far from a trembling kitten begging you to pet it.
She calls out her critics: “I readed all the comments saying, ‘D, I'm really shooketh’/ ‘D, you need to see a therapist, is you looking’/ ‘Yes, the one I got, they really are the best’/ Now I feel like I can see you bitches is depressed/ I am not afraid to finally say shit with my chest.” She addresses the speculation around her weight loss, too: “Lost a lil’ weight, but I ain't never lost a tushy.”
She knows the power that she holds: “She lookin’ good, but now they all sayin' that I'm ugly/ Boo-hoo, my nigga, I ain't sad you won't fuck me/ I'm sad that you really thought your ass was above me/ You're lucky 'cause I just paid your bill with a reply/ I just made your money pile knee-high/ I just made your stats peak, now you got a blue check/ Now you can afford to go and reinstall a new wig/ Now you can afford to not be lousy, go and do shit. Talk your shit about me, I can easily disprove it, it's stupid/ You follow me, but you don't really care about the music.”
It’s an interesting dynamic she describes: the ways so-called fans will interact with her for clout and attention — for the social capital that could come their way when she’s outraged enough to reply, the fake concern they’ll express for her well-being when they really don’t care to understand her at all.
She expounds on this dynamic more on the second verse, highlighting a fraught online environment where fans are giddy to see other women artists fail: “‘Cause we all wanna see them slip and fall right on their faces/ And we all wanna be the one to see the devastation,” she raps.
She namechecks Nicki Minaj, who in recent years has become a lightning rod for fandom beefs and meaningless popstar vs. popstar competitions — but Doja’s words are more directed at the fans who live for and fan these flames of drama, conjuring make-believe beef out of nothing: “‘Why she think she Nicki M? She think she hot shit”/ Huh, I never gave a F, go stir the pot, bitch/ I got y’all head all in the dirt just like an ostrich/ Of course you bitches comparin’ Doja to who the hottest.”
To Doja Cat, “Attention” is what it means to be a popstar in 2023: putting yourself up unconditionally for other people’s consumption, being at the mercy of your fans and haters.
Not long ago, a comedian online posted flyers advertising something called the Taylor Swift Fan Union, which claimed Swifties were unionizing so they could gain “bargaining power in the musical direction or brand identity of the celebrity we collectively created.” It was fake, of course — just a joke that rode that thin line of believeability. But it seems to me yet another instance highlighting the volatile and warped fan-celebrity relationship Doja Cat is rapping about on “Attention.” In 2023, fans believe they are entitled to a stake in their favorite singer’s real life; more dangerously, they have the power to create tangible, reality-impacting narratives, even if they’re fake.
To prove her point even further, less than 24 hours since “Attention” was released, there’s already a narrative swimming online about how the song includes a diss to Cardi B (it doesn’t). The inflamatory headlines are already running rampant. At press time, Doja Cat hasn’t addressed these claims, and for her sake, I hope she never does.