Doja Cat, a Los Angeles-based recording artist and songwriter, lived out what some could call a millennial nightmare this past week.
The 22-year-old found herself catapulted to the spotlight earlier this month, after her is-this-serious-yes-this-is-serious track "Mooo!" went viral and won over the hearts of those sitting proudly in the meme'd out court of public opinion. Particularly in the wake of Nicki Minaj's turbulent, unpredictable and high-stake album roll-out for her new album Queen, hip-hop fans gravitated towards the lighthearted nature of an out-of-left-field cow-themed anthem with a curiously infectious and albeit absurd chorus that goes "Bitch, I'm a cow." Doja herself admitted that she created the song and its accompanying video—during which she wears an outfit fitting to the theme and casually eats a burger—in a day and did not think the song was going to blow up.
With nearly 11 million streams and counting, the oddly infectious song got everyone talking, as Doja, who released her debut album Amala in March of this year and is gearing up to go on a national tour, experienced her first taste of viral fame, for better and for worse.
After a couple weeks visiting various media outlets and overall enjoying the moment from her newfound position as a meme sensation and subsequent mainstream name, Doja found herself—Law & Order *dun-dun*—canceled. In the time it takes to refresh Twitter in between subway stops in Brooklyn, the fast-rising vocalist was trending again, but this time for all the wrong reasons. A resurfaced tweet found Doja freely using a homophobic slur years back, and once the problematic words were brought to light, Doja chose the wrong response from the internet's playbook. She embraced the phrasing, crafting what appeared to be intended as an apology but instead simply and brashly reinforced that her relationship with the word "f—t" was not grounds for a fireable offense.
"I called a couple people f—ts when I was in high school in 2015 does this mean I don't deserve support?" she tweeted. "I've said f—t roughly like 15 thousand times in my life. Does saying f—t mean you hate gay people? Do I hate gay people? I don't think I hate gay people. Gay is ok."
The tweet resulted in a collective jaw drop from fans online, with many letting out a deep sigh in unison and then going on to participate in the next act of internet reactionary behavior, something more commonly being referred to as "cancel culture." As tweets emerged publicly denouncing Doja's past and present actions, I saw everything from "RIP Doja Cat, 2018-2018" to "it was nice while it lasted" flooding my timelines, as well as appropriate criticisms that arrive in tandem with the phenomenon of canceling an artist upon getting wind of their problematic past.
We've seen it time and time again, and we will continue to see this cycle happen in every phase. Sometimes an artist is celebrated and canceled before its time to replace the milk in my fridge. Sometimes an artist has been inexplicably dodging being canceled for the past two decades (yup, this is my R. Kelly sub). Someone could make an online generator where you type in a random celebrity's name to see what unfortunate things they've done in their past that warrant "being canceled" and not run into any shortage of material. The problem is, when everyone is canceled, no one is.
There is no cultural barometer for holding artists accountable, just like there is no concrete guidebook to classify what is enough to face serious consequences from one's actions. In 2018, anything can be enough. Some of the same people criticizing Doja and taking back their professed fandom are pressing 'play' on 6ix9ine's latest song, while being intrigued that Kodak Black is in the studio with Bruno Mars and wondering if there's any unreleased XXXTentacion deep cuts that are coming out any time soon.
From sexual assault allegations to domestic violence allegations to using inexcusable language, there are certainly plenty of valid reasons to withdraw your support, unsubscribe on Spotify, and smash that unfollow button. But how much time do you have and how do you compare one person's troubled misdeeds to another? Where do you cross that line? If fandom for someone like Tupac is still deemed as socially acceptable, then who am I to say [insert rapper being accused of something awful] isn't?
This week alone, Yung Miami of City Girls, Asian Doll, and Megan Thee Stallion have all gone under fire for similar reasons as Doja Cat, and these are women many want to support, will continue to support and arguably deserve to be supported. They are young and entitled to growing pains, just like the other young male rappers who have had fans reexamining their own moral compasses. With the nature of cancel culture, there is a performative requirement where one must be an internet detective, read past the headlines, act as judge and jury, and let everyone know the verdict online, particularly when it comes to making sure one is following the crowd. Before condemning one celebrity publicly for their actions (while putting a pin in every other previously canceled artist or celebrity slowly making their way back in), perhaps one should examine their own circle and apply that same energy to their Trump-supporting uncle or friend who emotionally abuses their girlfriend while you're all out getting a drink.
Instead, what we're seeing is the "what's next?" aspect after calling out someone as "canceled," and therefore "cancelling" them is extremely fickle. Chris Brown, Cardi B, Offset, Kanye West, Youngboy Never Broke Again, Azealia Banks, Fabolous, Nas and Trippie Redd, as well as the aforementioned 6ix9ine, Kodak Black and R. Kelly, are among those who have been "canceled" to various degrees. They're all still doing fine.
When it comes to cancel culture as a broad concept, the act of performing or denouncing support doesn't always equate with actually stopping support or that someone's career is over. The work is just now beginning, whether it is in how to hold others accountable and achieve restorative justice, or in how the person being "canceled" chooses to move next.
Since the audience en mass is addressing what is and what is not going to be accepted or tolerated in 2018 and beyond, it's going to be up to the audience to figure out how to evolve past merely tweeting about it; something that feels increasingly complicated and difficult to quantify as tangible change.
Since I don't have all the answers, I'll leave with a word of caution to new artists: the very least you can do is scrape your Twitter clean of controversy and obscenity. The internet is always watching and screenshots are forever, even if cancel culture isn't. But hey, what do I know? I'm probably "canceled" too.