Doja Cat Gets Provocative at Coachella With Mud Dancing, Dinosaurs, Yetis, 21 Savage and a Determination to Avoid the Oldies

Doja Cat has rarely turned in an uninteresting or unprovocative performance, and her headlining set Sunday night at Coachella offered a plethora of looks and concepts designed to prompt dazzlement and debate among the viewing audience. Dinosaur skeletons? Mudbath choreography? Twerking Yetis? Her hour-and-a-half set just about had it all…

Well, everything except for her biggest pop hits, like “Say So” and “Kiss Me More.” Familiar older songs were notably MIA from a setlist that included 12 songs from her 2023 “Scarlet” album, with its determined focus on her rapping side, and four more from the deluxe edition, “Scarlet 2: Claude,” that just popped. Not much room left for “Woman” after all that, then. Only “Paint the Town Red” and “Agora Hills,” top 10 singles from the most recent album, and “Need to Know,” one of two songs performed from “Planet Her,” were there to satiate the part of the audience that hungers for the most recognizable radio smashes.

 

That paucity of pop hits was a minus for many viewers weighing in in the festival’s livestream chat room about not having much to sing along with. But there were just as many fans clamoring to offer accolades for Doja Cat’s riskier, and friskier, vision for the first weekend’s closing performance.

 

The set ended with a big, brown bang, as Doja took to the center platform out in the audience she had begun the show on — no longer clean and gleaming, but filled with mud — for “Wet Vagina.” Soon, her phalanx of dancers joined her there, but this was no mud wrestling exhibition, as the choreography continued just as studiously as it had back on the main stage, albeit with all the woman down on their knees for this last round of literally dirty dancing. Woodstock ’95 had nothing on this show, as far as keeping the audience safely away from an artists-only slimefest.

This was hardly the only memorable setpiece. Not very much earlier, Doja Cat had been sharing the thrust ramp with a giant prehistoric beast, brought to life by a group of puppeteers controlling the skeleton from underneath, walking the dinosaur, as it were.

As the deceased dino lumbered out, to the crowd’s delight, Doja herself was wearing a corset that looked nearly bony, in a soft sort of way. This was one of several costume changes during the show, which started with the singer-rapper in an approximation of a Hazmat suit, which gave way later on to a white, furry bikini, followed by a yellow, broad-shouldered leotard of sorts.

 

Even Doja’s hair changed during the set, as for most of it she bore the extremely close-cropped, blonde look fans have become familiar with. At the outset, though, she was wearing a blonde wig so long that it was if she had taken a look at Ice Spice’s extraordinarily long red wig from the night before and said, “Hold my beer.” Eventually that look led her from the ramp onto the stage, where she was awaited by a team of dancers dressed up as platinum Bigfoots, with long, blonde tresses of their own that just happened to be covering their faces, as well as the rest of their bodies.

Guest Teezo Touchstone had the most potentially dangerous costuming of the night, wearing a vest covered with spikes in both front and back, making it painfully clear that he and Doja would not be embracing at the end of their shared number, the brand new “MASC.” The other two guests who shared the stage with her, 21 Savage (who performed his own “n.h.i.e.”) and ASAP Rocky (who joined the headliner on her new “URRRGE!!!!!!!!!!”), were less thorny in their brief appearances. Rocky’s costuming looked close enough to what he’d worn in also making a guest appearance with the previous night’s headliner, Tyler, the Creator, that some viewers wondered if he’d just slept in his flamboyant clothes.

Although the aforementioned four top 10 hits made their way into the set, as one commenter said in the chat, “She seems to be finished with her pop era.” Nearly every song included emphasized Doja’s well-respected rapping skills over the pop singing heard on some of the absent hits. The general avoidance of “Planet Her” was surprising for anyone who caught her “Scarlet”-based arena tour last year, during which she did perform the relative oldies casual fans might’ve expected to hear, albeit sometimes in refreshed arrangements.

That’s not to say the hip-hop focus of her Coachella set made it feel at all musically monotonous — far from it, as, after a high-energy first half, Doja populated much of the second half with songs that married her rapping to slinky R&B melodies and rhythms. And, as with last year’s tour, the presence of a live band was constantly felt, especially via the electric guitar solos and thunderous drum finishes. Although it was surely meticulously timed, the accentuated power of these players at times made this feel like one of the least canned main-stage sets of the weekend.

Was it polarizing as hell? That much was obvious from even fleeting looks at the chat, where the tenor of the comments ranged from “Now, that’s how to headline,” “That was fiiiiire” and a constant (yes) “Mother is mothering” to “She literally skipped all her hits” and “Stop playing ‘Scarlet’!” (some viewers still being under the impression that a chat is a request line). Forgettable? Not remotely. If the setlist wasn’t necessarily what the usual rules of show business would have dictated, then, to paraphrase the most oft-quoted line from “Paint the Town Red”: Bitch, she segued what she segued.

Updated: —