The musician tells Dazed about how she made the viral home video that ignited her career
“Mooo!” is one of the catchiest, most ridiculous records of 2018. Quickly climbing towards the 8.5 million view mark on YouTube, and with tens of thousands of retweets, the dreamy track by 22-year-old Doja Cat – real name Amalaratna Zandile Dlamini – is also a certified bovine bop. Yesterday (August 27), she revealed on Twitter that she will be sharing a new, legit version soon on Spotify and iTunes.
Staying true to her animal-loving personal brand, Doja Cat’s name originated from her love of cats “in every aspect” – and weed. “I was heavily addicted to weed and weed culture, so when I began rapping I thought of the word ‘doja’ and how it sounds like a girl’s name,” she tells Dazed over email. No matter how unconventional her subject matter, Doja’s slick bars, puns, and moves can hold your attention. In fact, “Mooo!” was written in about five hours, when the singer became inspired by the new cow costume she sports in the video.
“It was a joke between me and my fans,” she reflects on the song’s surprise success. “We started it on Instagram Live, just me and 60 other people, and we all had fun coming up with puns and metaphors.” With a background in battle raps, she’s gained a fan base that religiously tune into IG live to listen to her live remixes, freestyles and previews of upcoming songs.
Like most viral crazes, Doja has hit controversy. In the latest example of a trial-by-timeline cancellation, it appears evidence of her saying a homophobic slur has been unearthed, and her clumsy apology contained yet more slurs (“I’ve said f*ggot roughly like 15 thousand times in my life”, she posted). Doja has yet to respond to Dazed’s request for comment on the issue; before the controversy, she spoke to us about her influences, the industry, and how she made a fun home movie that has the potency of a carefully constructed pop release.
Finish the following sentence, truthfully, without using the word cow. “Bitch I’m a …”
Doja Cat: Creator.
Does it feel weird to have people discover you through being a cow, rather than through Amala, which was a great body of work?
Doja Cat: What’s great is through this song, more people than my initial fanbase are discovering my catalogue. All of my hidden gems on Soundcloud are receiving love. Songs on my album that we didn’t put out as singles are receiving a lot of positivity, and it’s just beautiful to watch.
In “Cookie Jar” on Amala you say that people have been sleeping on you; how do you compare the attention to “Mooo!” to the release of your album?
Doja Cat: “Mooo!” gained all of this traction right after my album release and right before my first headlining tour, which begins in September. It’s such a blessing and such a fun thing, watching everything roll out nicely with the support of this song which was essentially a joke. Nobody cared about me this way two weeks ago.
Do you think it’s hard getting seen as a new artist right now?
Doja Cat: If your only intent is to be seen, you’ll never be seen. If your intent is to be happy, comfortable, genuine, and true in craft, you’re destined to be noticed. People can smell when things aren’t genuine.
“If your only intent is to be seen, you’ll never be seen. People can smell when things aren’t genuine” – Doja Cat
Tell me a bit about you and your background – did you come from a musical family?
Doja Cat: My mom was a painter and loves to sing behind closed doors. My father is a South African actor who danced in broadway musicals for Lion King. I took a little bit of everything from both of them. I was born in Tarzana, California, and moved immediately to the Bronx, New York for five years and moved back to Oak Park, where I was taking ballet, tap, and jazz. I stayed a lot in Malibu, and surfed in a surf camp for years around that time. After moving from Oak Park around the age of 11 and a half, I started to take up break dancing. I danced in a crew and competed around Los Angeles in organised underground cypher/battles.
In 11th grade, I dropped out and stopped dancing as much, and took up music to see if it would stick. Some friends in high school would tell me I should sing. I started teaching myself to sing in my room, and would make songs on GarageBand with my desktop computer on the floor on a mattress.
Who was involved in the making of the “Mooo!” video? Tell me how the concept came together.
Doja Cat: It’s all DIY. I opened up Photo Booth in my laptop and used the green screen feature with a green sheet that I hadn’t used since I was 12 that was buried in the depths of my closet. I tacked it to a wall with a hammer, right over my mirror and used some LED christmas lights to light everything. It wasn’t as bright as I wanted but that’s the best I could do. Before hitting record to film it, I made sure I ordered a cheeseburger and a shake to use for props. A lot of people want to know where I ordered it from, but that’ll remain my little secret.
It has a glitchy gamer aesthetic – are you into gaming?
Doja Cat: I’m very much into gaming, but I don’t game competitively. I just love unearthing games from my childhood and playing GTA 5 a lot. I had a GameCube, Wii, Nintendo DS light, N64, GB Advanced, GB color, SEGA – the list really goes on. I like to pull a lot of my inspiration from games I played as a kid. The clothes they wore in the games. The music. Everything really ties into my overall style. I have a song called “Nintendhoe” that I made a few weeks ago about all of this.
Do you think cows are represented enough in mainstream media?
Doja Cat: I think they’re represented enough in my mouth.
Do you feel like you need an animal-themed EP now?
Doja Cat: I wasn’t thinking about the plight of cows. I’m not trying to be an activist or some kind of farm rapper.
Where could you go next… why not cats?
Doja Cat: Oh the cats are absolutely on their way. I hint at this in my music video for “Go to Town”.
What have some of the most bizarre reactions been to the song?
Doja Cat: People get really upset about it, and some guy was vomiting milk all over his kitchen to the song as a #moochallenge. (That was) pretty fucking intense.
Where do you think you will go from here artistically?
Doja Cat: I picked up producing about three years ago, and I’ve been making beats and writing songs in my room since then. I think I should take piano lessons and delve a little deeper into the more complex areas of producing. I just want to excel.