Sunday, June 23, 2024

Is Doja Cat required to love her fans?

Doja Cat attends the Balmain Festival in September as part of Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2022 at La Seine Musicale in Boulogne-Billancourt, France. (Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images For Balmain)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Doja Cat engaged in bizarre exchanges on Threads Sunday in which she verbally attacked her fans. It all seems to have started when she noticed her admirers calling themselves “Kittens” or “Kittenz.”  Not sure what the problem is. Having fans create a collective moniker to identify themselves as ardent loyalists is priceless for superstars. There’s the Beyhive. “Barbz” stan  Nicki Minaj. Meghan the Stallion devotees call themselves the Hotties. Mariah Carey has Lambs and Rihanna her Navy. It’s a great way for fans to bond as a virtual family that stands behind the star. It increases the power of the in-group. Who hasn’t warned or commented, “They do not want the Beyhive coming for them?” But for some reason, Doja didn’t like it.

She wrote, “My fans don’t name themselves sh*t. if you call yourself a ‘kitten’ or… ‘kittenz’ that means you need to get off your phone and get a job and help your parents with the house.” Not sure why it turned into her infantilizing her fans as if they’re unemployed basement-dwelling losers. Someone responded asking Doja if she was willing to say that she loved her fans. She said no. “i don’t though cuz i don’t even know yall.” Ok.

I don’t know. Maybe she’s trying to end her career. Last year she announced a retirement. But she never actually retired. So, let’s deal with a larger point. Do stars need to love their fans?

Serious fans generally feel like their beloved artist is their friend in their head. They feel like they know the star, and they understand the star and the star understands them. It’s called a parasocial relationship, or a one-way connection. The Atlantic recently defined it with this headline: Parasocial Relationships Are Just Imaginary Friends for Adults.

The one-sidedness of our relationships with celebrities doesn’t make them any less real. That’s especially true because when fans can access so many videos, photos and writings by, and about, stars it can feel as if the celebrity is a very real figure in their lives. I can see LeBron all day long – from his IG to commercials to people arguing about him on ESPN – so much so that I see more of him than I do many of my friends. The same is true for Beyonce and Jay-Z. Celebrities can become a very real part of our lives even if we haven’t met. 

The relationships become so deep that fans aren’t just giving stars their money, they’re giving them their heart. They pay thousands to see Beyonce because they love her. They drive hours to a Tyler the Creator show because they love him. Serious fans are worshipful, and most stars are grateful. They should be. Anyone who will give you money and adoration because of art that you love to make deserves your love. 

Stars tend to be clear on the fact that they need their fans to sustain their privileged lives. Talib Kweli once told me, “No one retires from the music business. The fans retire you.” He means that he knows that his career is dependent on the fans, and once they stop paying attention to him, he’s done. Everyone in the industry knows this. 

Artists who don’t express gratitude to their fans don’t tend to last. Sometimes artists get frustrated because fans want something different than what they want to give. Maybe musicians want to make more lyrical hip-hop or more 70s-sounding R&B, but the fans aren’t responding to their pop-sounding records, so they have to make those even though they want to.

Once, I was doing a story on D’Angelo, so I followed his tour for a week. He was promoting his iconic sophomore album “Voodoo.”  That album established him as one of the great soul music creators of his generation. But his video for “Untitled” was one long close-up of his bare torso when his body was incredible. When he hit the stage on tour, instead of being ready to listen to his deep music, fans yelled, “Take your shirt off!” He said that he found that really frustrating. He wanted to be a musician, and they wanted skin. Friends said it created a sort of spiritual crisis inside him. But that didn’t make him hate his fans. 

I’m sure some stars may grow to look down on their fans because stardom can corrupt your perspective on the world. But when someone says, “I love you,” and they mean it, if you have a heart that should ignite something.

I wonder if Doja is struggling with fame for some reason. Her outright hostility toward her fans is shocking and off-putting. It’s no surprise some have returned their concert tickets and several Doja fan accounts have closed. Doja has deleted her Threads account, but the damage is done. I suspect Doja is unhappy with her life in some way – just because you’ve received many blessings doesn’t mean you’re going to be happy. So, she’s lashing out at the people who love her. Like, if I don’t love myself then how can you love me? Or maybe I don’t love being famous so stop loving me. I hope she’s alright. But if she’s asking fans to stop loving her, maybe they should. 


Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the docuseries podcast “Being Black: The ’80s.” He is also the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is the author of eight books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter.

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