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The case of Doja Cat proves cancel culture isn’t real

The artist’s new single Paint The Town Red has hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100, proving that cancel culture isn’t real despite a huge portion of Doja Cat’s fanbase saying they would stop supporting her.

Did you hear? Doja Cat is cancelled.

After numerous years of not being taken seriously as a rap artist by RCA Records, Doja Cat captured her label’s attention in 2019 with a project that leant heavily into the genre of pop.

Several tracks released during this stint in her career blew up on TikTok, shooting her to global fame and into the category of a mainstream artist – or rather, a self-described cash cow – for her label.

Now, Doja Cat is doing all she can to shed her ‘made-for-TikTok’ image in anticipation of her third album. Demanding to finally be taken seriously as a rap artist, she tweeted that her previous pop-heavy records Hot Pink and Planet Her ‘were cash-grabs and ya’ll fell for it’.

Then, mere weeks before putting out a new trio of singles, Doja told her fanbase where they could stick their adoration for her. In numerous Instagram Lives and Twitter rants, she seemed to intentionally cull the fanbase she garnered by producing music she branded as ‘mediocre’.

Immediately, the internet cancelled her.

Doja lost half a million followers who vowed to stop supporting her and her music. But the recent release of her latest single, Paint The Town Red, has hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has amassed almost 200 million streams on Spotify in under a month.

This begs the question: is cancel culture as cutthroat as many like to believe it is?

What exactly is cancel culture?

Being ‘cancelled’ has a number of loose definitions and interpretations.

Across the last ten years, though, it has been used to describe a growing culture in which ‘those who are deemed to have acted or spoken in an unacceptable manner are ostracized, boycotted, or shunned’ on a wide scale.

While it may alter people’s perceptions of a person temporarily or eternally, it’s becoming evident that a pervasive digital smear campaign to banish celebrities from relevance or future opportunities doesn’t always stick.

Oftentimes, being cancelled forces high-profile individuals to innovate. Many will leave the platform where they’ve been rejected by current audiences, taking with them remaining supporters and harvesting a new calibre of fans through the cultivation of a different medium.

For example, Twitter famously ousted Donald Trump from the platform after he was accused of using the platform to incite and stoke the flames of the January 6 riots. He ended up taking his thoughts, opinions, and unwavering devotees to a new network of his own creation, Truth Social.

Similar situations have unfolded for popular YouTube creators. James Charles and Jeffree Star both migrated to TikTok to escape the disapproving audiences on the long-form video platform after being accused of predatory and abusive behaviour.

Other stars will choose to disappear from social media altogether – at least until people find someone else to cancel. Chrissy Teigen did so when she was deemed cancelled after evidence of cyberbullying surfaced, Will Smith was apparently cancelled after The Award Show Slap, and the list goes on and on.

But what is ‘cancel culture’ really trying to achieve, if all of these individuals have continued to have future success?

Accountability tactic or public shaming?

It’s worth making the distinction between cancel culture and calls for accountability – which are often used interchangeably but really shouldn’t be.

Demanding accountability involves exposing and punishing someone for their moral wrongdoings. An example would be the steps taken by participants of the #MeToo Movement who called out Harvey Weinstein, which ultimately led to him being fired and imprisoned.

Although it has seen many of them simultaneously labelled ‘cancelled,’ what is really taking place is a long overdue social justice movement with real world repercussions.

According to The New York Times, 201 men ended up losing their jobs and were heavily investigated thanks to the #MeToo movement. It also led to stronger protection measures for vulnerable groups and other forced policy changes.

But cancel culture is different to this. For the most part it seem like the internet’s reactionary attempt at ‘cancelling’ and ending someone’s career isn’t always warranted – nor does it always achieve its desired effect.

Instead, it has primarily succeeded in instilling fear in people whose jobs are public facing.

Many people, including public speakers, journalists, influencers, and celebrities have expressed a fear of being publicly rejected for something they say or do.

Having a strong opinion or emotional reaction (and I don’t mean a racist or sexist one) in today’s society can often lead to a tidal wave of public scrutiny. For many, this possibility can be paralysing.

In 2019, former US President Barack Obama weighed in on the rise of cancel culture. He warned against the judgemental and puritanical nature of those driving the movement by saying, ‘People who do really good stuff have flaws.’

In the case of Doja Cat’s fans, many couldn’t bear when she delivered a dose of truth – we don’t know celebrities, they are not our friends, we can only attempt to better understand them through what they reveal on social media and through their art.

Really, Doja was likely responding to criticism about her starkly different look – a shaved head, tattoos, and a darker-themed aesthetic. You only have to scroll through her Instagram comments to see hundreds of people claiming she has ‘sold her soul’ and ‘joined the Illuminati’.

As a result of this, she made a move that would oust members of her fanbase who weren’t on board with the new and incoming era of her creative journey.

Looking at it that way, her fans are now made up of people who support her artistry, rather than idolising her as an individual.

And like most other celebrities whose careers weren’t completely obliterated by falling victims to the cancel culture police, Doja hasn’t lost her record deal or other existing brand partnerships.

Evidently, it hasn’t stopped her from hitting #1 on the music charts and the first rap artist to do so since August of last year.

Observing all of this, it’s clear that the material realities of cancel culture don’t weigh up to the imagined consequences of being cancelled for a trivial statement or act.

Rather, it seems to be a collective slap on the wrist that fanbases deploy on their once-loved celebrities whenever they momentarily stumble or do something off-brand – if not a myth altogether.