Doja Cat review – bombastic show of strength from pop’s great contrarian

<span>Always in the eye of the storm … Doja Cat.</span><span>Photograph: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Live Nation</span>
Always in the eye of the storm … Doja Cat.Photograph: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Live Nation

‘I’m a puppet, I’m a sheep, I’m a …” Doja Cat pauses, coyly. Her frenzied audience fills in the rest: “Cash cow!” A natural provocateur, the LA rapper and singer has a complex relationship to her pop star status, her megahit discography and the fans who stream it. Demons, a seething, brass-heavy rap single from her latest album Scarlet, posits all-conquering success as a kind of immunity from criticism, yet as she lists her victories (“I just bought a limousine”) she theatrically rolls her eyes.

Doja is a contrarian, but one with an unusually focused vision. She hangs off a rope made out of twisted blond hair, like a freaky Indiana Jones, on a stage which is half UFO, half Yeti: gleaming metal walkways, risers draped in more fake hair, and a ludicrous amount of pyrotechnics. Snaking lines of fire whip left and right, large flames blasting upwards when she cocks a finger during early single Tia Tamera.

Punishing live drums and rugged electric guitar bring much-needed ferocity to Scarlet’s album tracks, transforming petty verses into world ending thrillers. The sheer force of it all drowns out the album’s more nuanced instrumentation and, at times, Doja’s vocals, but she always remains in the eye of the storm – a chameleonic presence who plays it both cute and adversarial, flashing a grin before squaring up to the crowd and demanding they match her bar for bar.

The same push-and-pull energy reshapes the setlist from her US leg: she ditches major singles Woman and the Grammy-winning Kiss Me More (both from an album she recently described as a “cash grab”) and lets the crowd take the lead on breakout pop hit Say So, smile fixed, before blood-red lights signal a return to her Scarlet alter ego. Attention follows, a bratty, furious track which complains: “You follow me, but you don’t really care about the music.” The crowd screams every word.

Related: Doja Cat: Scarlet review | Alexis Petridis’s album of the week

Closing with Paint the Town Red and Wet Vagina, Doja stalks the stage as she turns two cocky, provocative declarations of superstardom into metallic walls of sound. Even if she is genuinely uncertain about fame, this entire show is a brash, bombastic display of strength.