Last year, after taking the Grammys stage for a futuristic, dance-heavy performance of her Hot 100-topping hit “Say So,” Doja Cat broke down in tears. “That one moment set me off in a different way,” she says. For an artist who has been toiling in the industry since 2013, making the rare jump from viral breakout to bona fide pop star in the process, “it was just the buildup and all the hard work and seeing the vision come to life,” she explains.
As it turns out, she was just getting started. Three months later, in June, Doja released her acclaimed third album, Planet Her, which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and launched two more Hot 100 top 10s with “Kiss Me More” featuring SZA and “Need To Know.” Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Billboard‘s 2022 Women in Music Powerhouse recipient has become one of the era’s biggest success stories, whether she’s showcasing her range by dominating multiple radio formats or putting her classic showmanship front and center at awards shows. “I love making music, but performing has blossomed into something that makes me just as happy,” she says. “I feel most powerful when I am fully in character onstage.”
What performers did you look to growing up?
It’s pretty obvious that I’m in love with everything Nicki Minaj has put out into the world. You have your Janets and your Beyoncés. I look at [other artists’] projects and performances and go, “Wow, I hope one day I get to that point.”
“Say So” topped the Hot 100 once Nicki Minaj hopped on its remix. Who is still on your dream list to work with?
I only want to work with people I believe in and who inspire me and make me feel good. I really want to meet Tracee Ellis Ross — and at the same time, I’m terrified because, to me, she’s the boss at the end of the game of life that I’m living. Her and Maya Rudolph.
You’ve long showcased your own humor online and brought it to life while hosting the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards. Would you want to host Saturday Night Live?
I like the idea of doing that because I love, obviously, to tell jokes. But it’s a little nerve-racking because it’s something friends have suggested to me, [doing] stand-up or comedy. That would kind of be my first gig. Just the thought of that terrifies me a little bit.
You’re up for eight awards at this year’s Grammys, including three in the Big Four categories, and you’ll perform at Coachella in April. What else are you looking forward to in 2022?
I’m most excited to just get out there and do it. It’s not this show or that show, it’s just [performing] in general. I hang out at home and I do jack s–t, right? I cook and I play video games and I go on [Instagram] Live and I make an ass of myself. There’s only so much of that that you can do.
Now that more eyes are on it, how do you use social media differently?
People are always like, “What’s your Finsta?” [a secret Instagram account], and I don’t want one. I don’t like the idea of having to juggle social media, which already sucks as it is. Not to say it hasn’t helped me so f–king much, but the way I feel about Instagram is: I go on, look at pictures of makeup and fashion and cats, and that’s pretty much it. I’ve unfollowed everyone who is a person that I know.
How do you process the success you’ve had in the past year?
When I’m reflecting on YouTube videos, watching all the stuff I did from another perspective. I had a friend who was like, “Oh, yeah? You watching videos of yourself? You enjoying your own stuff right now?” It was lighthearted, but it did hurt a little bit, and now I feel a little bit like a narcissist when I watch my own things. I feel a little bit guilty. But whatever — you’re observing your existence.
What song helps you tap into feeling powerful?
“Ponyboy” by SOPHIE.
This story originally appeared in Billboard’s 2022 Women in Music issue, dated Feb. 26, 2022.