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Billboard’s Greatest Pop Stars of 2022: No. 7 — Doja Cat

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For this year’s update of our ongoing Greatest Pop Star by Year project, Billboard is counting down our staff picks for the top 10 pop stars of 2022 all this week. At No. 7, we remember the year in Doja Cat — who dominated pop radio and the charts all year without even releasing a new album.

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Since breaking out with her viral hit “Mooo!” Doja Cat has made it evident that she’s not your average pop star. Armed with a penchant for defying genre confines – in addition to being a jane-of-all-trades vocalist, rapper and performer – the 27-year-old supernova continues to prove she’s in a lane all her own.

Billboard’s Greatest Pop Stars of 2022:
Introduction & Honorable Mentions | Rookie of the Year: Steve Lacy | Comeback of the Year: Sam Smith | No. 10: Nicki Minaj | No. 9: Future | No. 8: Jack Harlow

The Cali native began the year by continuing to ride the wave of her successful third studio album, the double-platinum Planet Her. Months after the LP’s June 2021 release, songs like “Need to Know” and “You Right” still resonated with listeners, hanging around the Hot 100 well into the new year. The spritely pop-rap bop “Kiss Me More,” the project’s most successful single, nabbed Doja and featured artist SZA their first Grammy Award wins for best pop duo/group performance at the 2022 ceremony – a tear-jerking moment that conveyed the vulnerable side of the quirky figure.

But even before she grabbed her Grammy, it was exceedingly clear that Doja Cat was the name on everybody’s lips. From being the titular figure in songs by $NOT and A$AP Rocky and Central Cee, to Wale dubbing her “one of the best rappers out” after her stand-out Coachella performance, she received flowers from virtually all corners in 2022. 

In February, Courtney Love tweeted that the experimental artist should “add rock goddess to [her] resume” after covering Hole’s “Celebrity Skin” for a Taco Bell Super Bowl commercial. Later on, Post Malone praised Doja for her “epic” feature on his Twelve Carat Toothache ditty, “I Like You (A Happier Song)” — which continued her commercial winning streak, hitting No. 3 on the Hot 100 and scoring a 2023 Grammy nod in the best pop duo/group performance category. 

Betwixt her spirited cover and standout guest verse, Doja also released the solo single “Vegas” for Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis soundtrack. Interest in the Big Mama Thornton/Shonka Dukureh-interpolating song was slow to start, but in a similar fashion to her first Hot 100-topping single “Say So,” it found its crowd through TikTok virality and radio airplay. It eventually made the top 10 in October in its 19th week on the chart, and garnered a 2023 Grammy nom for best rap performance. (Additionally, the Planet Her singles “Woman” and “Get Into It (Yuh)” continued rising on the Hot 100 this year thanks to TikTok, with the Grammy-nominated “Woman” eventually peaking at No. 7 in May.)

Despite life and career accomplishments, burnout and fatigue are potential worries for any high-achieving, forward-facing individual. Amidst her accolades and growing acclaim, Doja Cat rocked the music world and fans alike by announcing via Twitter in March that she was “quitting music.” This came after being on the receiving end of online vitriol following a canceled headlining festival performance, and a few months after tweeting and deleting that she was overworking herself. However, a few months later, she admitted she wanted to focus on creating new music instead of “doing a bunch of other things.” While Doja didn’t retire from the music scene, she did become less visible, beginning with exiting her opening stint on The Weeknd’s After Hours tour due to tonsil surgery. 

During her break from the spotlight, she began sporting a new bald ‘do and experimented with various eye-catching makeup looks, prompting many to speculate that her new style corresponded with new music. Concrete details surrounding her forthcoming era haven’t been pinned down; however, she’s offered various teases of the material, which she says toys with unchartered sounds and shifting trends. She notes that the project will be “mostly rap,” with one of her key inspirations being The Beastie Boys, though she also includes Death Grips and ‘90s German rave as additional sonic influences. (That said, there’s still the considerable chance that many of the hints about the next phase of Doja’s career are said with a wink, as it’s often difficult to discern her serious plans from her often-trolling behavior.)

“I don’t know if what I’m doing is going to be pop, but I want to keep that in mind for when I go into the studio,” she told Dazed in November. “The album will come and it’ll be its own moment on Earth.”

While some celebrity’s URL antics have yielded catastrophic effects on their careers IRL, Doja Cat’s commitment to embracing chaos and reveling in unpredictability has been crucial to her success thus far. The controversy she faced in mid-2020 regarding her past appearances in incel internet chat rooms threatened to derail her budding success, however, it proved to be just a bump in the road. As her mainstream popularity continued to build momentum, she’s ultimately proven that a star doesn’t have to be uber-polished to shine bright. 

It also doesn’t hurt that Doja’s music has lasting power, thanks to her ability to keep fans and pop lovers on their toes. She ends 2022 with seven appearances on the Hot 100 this year, the most of any artist (tied with Bad Bunny), showcasing a variety of styles and sounds indicative of her versatility. She’s open about enjoying the ride she’s on as an artist and the learning process that comes with growing as a human. Doja Cat doesn’t have it all figured out, but pop music is much more exciting because of her place in it.

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