While Doja Cat‘s blockbuster 2021 LP Planet Her never topped the Billboard 200 albums chart, there were understandable reasons why — it was blocked at No. 1 in its first week by another A-lister’s acclaimed new set in Tyler, the Creator’s Call Me If You Get Lost, and its massive success from there was more of an extended slow burn than a one-week supernova. Now, however, her new set Scarlet has also debuted short of the top spot, and the reasons why are less immediately obvious.
Despite coming off the momentum of Planet Her‘s year-long top 40 dominance, and despite boasting a Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit of its own — something her last set never even managed — in lead single “Paint the Town Red,” Scarlet debuts at No. 4, with an underwhelming 72,000 first-week units. And it’s not blocked by a spate of big-name new releases, either: The three albums above it are all prior No. 1s on the chart, and none that post units in the six digits this week.
Why does Doja Cat’s album success not seem to match her success in other key pop areas? And will the album still be able to grow from here? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.
1. After Planet Her debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 with 109,000 first-week units, Scarlet bows at No. 4 with 72,000. On a scale from 1-10, how surprised are you by the album’s first-week performance?
Stephen Daw: I’m at a 7. While I understand why some fans might have been turned off to new music from an artist who was openly dissing them, I’m still a little shocked that Scarlet didn’t chart better. The hype leading into the album was amply stoked, with a series of well-selected singles and a blockbuster performance at the VMAs — while a No. 4 debut is certainly not bad, it’s much lower than I’d anticipated.
Kyle Denis: Probably around a 4. This is pretty much what I expected given the shaky rollout and her contentious relationship with her fans. Planet Her had two pre-release songs that legitimately connected with audiences – and one of them ended up being one of the biggest all-female collaborations in Billboard chart history. Comparatively, only “Paint the Town Red” landed with audiences of the advance Scarlet cuts, and that came after weeks of controversy regarding how Doja spoke about her fans and her previous two albums. The numbers for this album were never going to truly hold a candle to Planet Her’s — at least in terms of their respective first weeks.
Rylee Johnston: I’d rate my surprise level at a 7 – while Doja Cat continues to dominate the rap music sphere, I think her controversial statements (especially about her own fans) works against her. She’s undeniably talented and uses social media to her advantage when it comes to marketing her singles and upcoming projects, but that’s also where things come back to bite her. This time headlines about her as a person seemed to dominate the news, which ultimately could have overshadowed the release of her new album.
Jason Lipshutz: An 8. Doja Cat is clearly an A-list artist, she’s collected plenty of new hits and listeners since her last album, and Scarlet was preceded by a legitimate smash in “Paint the Town Red”; the fact that this album debuted lower than Planet Her, and with a smaller equivalent album units total, is a bit mystifying. Yet I don’t think this debut is disappointing, exactly, considering just how well “Paint the Town Red” is performing — misfires simply do not include hits as big as this one. So while a No. 4 bow is somewhat startling, I’d still be pretty thrilled with this era so far if I were Doja.
Andrew Unterberger: Like a 7.5 maybe? I definitely thought it was possible it would fall a little short of No. 1, but a first-week number in the low 70s — not even high enough to beat out Morgan Wallen’s One Thing at a Time in what feels like its 327th week on the 200 — is pretty stark. I get some of the reasons why it might be the case, but none of them feel totally satisfying to me yet.
2. While Scarlet comes short of the top spot on the Billboard 200, “Paint the Town Red” returns for a second week at No. 1 on the Hot 100. Why do you think Doja has found more success with the lead single of this era of hers than with its parent album?
Stephen Daw: Simply, you can’t keep a good song down! “Paint the Town Red” is a perfect bridge between the pop-leaning sensibilities of Planet Her and the darker, hip-hop focused stylings of Scarlet, allowing Doja to flex her skills as a singer, a rapper and a provocateur. For all the big swings she takes on her album, “Paint the Town Red” is a surefire win-win for old and new fans alike.
Kyle Denis: With an evolved fashion sense that featured a shaved head accompanied by horrorcore and punk aesthetics, the Doja of Scarlet is very far removed from the way she presented herself during the Planet Her era. Given that Doja went out of her way to lambast her previous two records – the most successful ones in her catalog – as “cash grabs,” it makes sense that audiences would gravitate to the Scarlet song that most closely recalls the Doja they fell in love with in 2020. “Paint the Town Red” isn’t a carbon copy of any of the songs on Amala or Hot Pink, but it’s certainly closer to that sound than Scarlet cuts like “Demons” or “WYM Freestyle.”
Rylee Johnston: She knows how to market her work on social media, and you can see the positive effects, especially with “Paint the Town Red.” Her skill and proficiency on TikTok ultimately helped skyrocket the single to a top performing position — but it’s a lot harder to do the same with an entire album.
Jason Lipshutz: Within the compelling hip-hop potpourri of Scarlet, “Paint the Town Red” stands out as the most immediate pop-crossover entry point. I don’t believe that the rap slant of Scarlet is less accessible than the pop overtures of Planet Her (which still had a ton of rap DNA in there, to be honest), but it’s also not shocking that “Paint the Town Red” has stood out from the pack, and made define the entire Scarlet era. Doja Cat has turned into one of top 40’s most consistent hit-makers, and as she continues patiently establishing her reputation as an albums artist, she’s still scoring smashes in the meantime.
Andrew Unterberger: I think we’re seeing more and more that hit singles in the TikTok era do not necessarily correlate to hit albums — it helps, sure, but the things that make one song go viral and the things that inspire a fanbase to stream an album millions and millions of times over don’t really seem to be the same. (For the record, this used to be a much more common phenomenon — artists like Pitbull and Flo Rida who scored pop smashes regularly without ever seriously threatening the top of the 200 — but they feel rarer in a streaming-dominated landscape, where the biggest albums artists and the biggest pop stars are generally one and the same.)
3. While the album has not really been streamed in bulk — only one song from it debuts on the Hot 100 this week — that one song, new focus track “Agora Hills,” is off to a pretty good start on the chart, debuting at No. 18. Do you think the song will have legs as another long-lasting hit of Doja’s?
Stephen Daw: I think so, but with a few caveats. “Agora Hills” is an immediate standout from Scarlet, and fans unanimously chose it as one of their favorites of the collection. But with the music video already out, and a bonafide streaming and radio hit already guaranteed in “Paint the Town Red,” I’m not quite sure if “Agora” will ascend that much further into the chart’s upper echelons. But I think it’s definitely in for a good, long stay in the 10’s and 20’s.
Kyle Denis: I hope so! “Agora Hills” is easily one of the strongest songs on Scarlet, and it’s definitely well on its way to replicating – or even expanding on – the success of “Need to Know,” a similarly sultry R&B-rap hybrid from Planet Her. The song has tons of meme potential, is ridiculously catchy, and has genuine multi-format appeal. Whether or not it can reach higher than No. 18 depends on timing more than anything else.
Rylee Johnston: It has the potential to, but she would need to continue keeping everyone talking about her album. Especially with more artists releasing new music, the less people are listening to her album and talking about the focus track, then the easier it is for the song to continue descending on the chart. Her album is still fresh on people’s minds and she needs to use that to her advantage.
Jason Lipshutz: Any track from Scarlet that has longevity as a single will have to wait a few weeks (or more likely, months) for “Paint the Town Red” to slow down a bit, but Doja Cat has demonstrated an ability to effortlessly spin multiple hits off of a project dating back to her Hot Pink days. The vibe of “Agora Hills” is radically different than that of “Paint the Town Red” — one is a sensual rumination on private romance, the other is a galactic chest-thump — and I think that will work in its favor as radio programmers move on from her current smash, onto something a bit softer from a proven brand. I foresee a slow-growing top 10 hit here.
Andrew Unterberger: I don’t know if it’ll threaten the top spot, but it certainly feels on pace to mirror some of the long-tail hits from the Planet Her era. It might not be the radio catnip that “Woman” or “Need to Know” proved to be, but it’s such a vibe that it seems likely to be regular fodder for playlists and TikTok videos for months to come still. And just generally speaking, when a Doja Cat song debuts well, that means it’s going to be around for a long time.
4. Planet Her had a very good first week, but was far more impressive in terms of its endurance, continuing to spawn new hit singles nearly a year into its release. Do you think Scarlet will ultimately follow a similar trajectory?
Stephen Daw: I don’t think so, and I think that’s perfectly fine. The ethos behind Scarlet, from what I can tell, was for Doja to re-establish herself as a hip-hop superstar while also dabbling in some darker, horror-fueled imagery. She did that with ease, and the album stands out as a singular artistic statement in her discography. Barring some high-profile features on A-list remixes, I don’t see Scarlet becoming the enduring smash that Planet Her was — but it doesn’t really need to be that, either.
Kyle Denis: I think Scarlet has the potential to follow a similar trajectory. There’s definitely a scenario where songs like “Gun,” “Agora Hills,” “Go Off,” and “Can’t Wait” build Scarlet into a years-long behemoth. Nonetheless, because the album campaign has been so rocky — and there aren’t any songs as immediately accessible as those that have already been named radio singles or focus tracks — I think it’s more likely that the Scarlet era ends up being a bit briefer than the Planet Her era.
Rylee Johnston: It very well could especially if Doja Cat uses the horror element to her advantage. Listeners seem to have positive reactions to her new album and if she enters October, which is also spooky season, with the same amount of drive that she had while promoting her singles, then it could definitely hit more singles. Whether it’s bringing back the demon memes she made while promoting that single, she should really lean into the scary, horror vibes while everyone’s thinking about it.
Jason Lipshutz: Yeah, I think that this might just be Doja Cat’s singular lane, as a cerebral pop star whose songs take a few minutes for the rest of the world to catch up to them. A good example is “Vegas” from the Elvis soundtrack last year, which started slow but gained momentum before eventually reaching the top 10 and radio ubiquity; a similar fate may await Scarlet, which strikes a lot of bold poses, chart performance be damned. “Paint the Town Red” is already enormous, and I think there will be two or three more hits from the project (let’s hope “F–k the Girls (FTG)” is one of them!)
Andrew Unterberger: I wouldn’t necessarily bet on it, but it absolutely could happen. Each of Doja’s last two albums spawned multiple smashes well after their initial release — due to a combination of her being a promotional savant and her having a surfeit of great songs whose charms take a while to fully reveal themselves. If eight months from now we looked foolish for this discussion prematurely framing Scarlet as a commercial disappointment, I couldn’t say I’d be shocked.
5. Doja Cat has been one of the decade’s biggest and best-performing commercial artists — our staff named her one of the top 10 pop stars of each of the last two calendar years, and she’ll have a pretty good case for a third straight spot this year. But unlike most of the other artists at her level, she has yet to score a No. 1 album, and she seems to be moving in the wrong direction. How much do you think that matters in gauging her pop star resumé?
Stephen Daw: Not much at all. You can’t seriously look at artists like Dua Lipa, Lizzo and Megan Thee Stallion and say that they haven’t achieved superstar status because their albums haven’t hit No. 1, so you shouldn’t do so with Doja either.
Kyle Denis: I don’t think it matters much that Doja has yet to score a No. 1 album. Rihanna didn’t reach the summit of the Billboard 200 until her seventh try, and by that point, no one was genuinely doubting her place at the top of the pop ecosystem. I think what’s most important for Doja’s — and what she’s already proving – is consistency. Doja’s true mainstream breakthrough arrived in 2020 during the pandemic, and a number of artists who also broke through during that time have struggled to maintain that momentum. With a third consecutive top 10 album, her first unaccompanied No. 1 single (also her first to spend multiple weeks at the top), and a headlining arena tour kicking off at the end of the month – Doja is in a really good place right now. By the year’s end she’ll have filled in a couple blanks on her pop star resumé that are probably more important than a No. 1 album right now.
I don’t doubt her ability to reach No. 1 – it’s likely that Planet Her would’ve gotten there in a slightly less crowded week – but the lack of a chart-topping album isn’t make or break for her right now. For an artist as chameleonic as she is, it’s far more important and impressive that she continues to carry swaths of fans through each iteration of her artistry – no matter how different each one may be from the last.
Rylee Johnston: Doja Cat continues to be talked about — and since she has such a strong presence on social media, I don’t think it matters. Most artists have had at least one album that’s not as successful as the rest and I don’t think it discounts the success she has received, so far. What could come to hurt her in the future, is the rift between her and her fans. If that continues, then the downward descend will most likely continue.
Jason Lipshutz: My take is that this specific achievement doesn’t hinder Doja Cat as a modern pop star, but that if and when she does score a No. 1 album, it will represent a new level of her stardom. Although Doja has plenty of hit singles and a one-of-a-kind persona — a combination that is driving arena ticket sales as we speak — once she becomes the type of artist that put out an album and automatically earn blockbuster numbers, she’ll be even more unstoppable as a cultural force. It’s been a whirlwind few years for Doja, and there’s nothing lacking in her arsenal right now — but often, checking every single box of superstardom takes time, and this specific one might have to wait a few more years.
Andrew Unterberger: Depends what you’re trying to gauge, I guess. If you’re comparing her to the Taylor Swift/Drake/Adele commercial level of star — maybe you could throw Bad Bunny, Morgan Wallen and SZA in there too at this point — then yeah, it for sure matters that Doja can’t do first-week numbers the way they do. But if you’re just talking about pop stars whose songs and personas best capture and define and era, it’s pretty hard to leave her out of that discussion. It’d be tough to name three artists of any kind who feel more like the 2020s so far than Doja Cat.
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