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Review: Doja Cat brings blasphemous bops to Tampa on the Scarlet Tour

Plus, Tampa native Doechii made Florida fans proud in a swamp chic-inspired opening set.
 
Doja Cat brought her Scarlet Tour to Amalie Arena on Friday, her first local concert since early 2020.
Doja Cat brought her Scarlet Tour to Amalie Arena on Friday, her first local concert since early 2020. [ GABRIELLE CALISE | Times ]
Published Nov. 25, 2023|Updated Nov. 25, 2023

TAMPA — Doja Cat found herself trapped.

Midway through the song “Attention,” dancers linked hands in a circle around the star as she tried to escape. Then a guy yanked her back and flipped her around, propping Doja up in the air. Her arms stretched out like she was hanging on a cross.

“Look at me, look at me, I’m naked,” she rapped. “Vulnerability earned me a lot of bacon.”

At Friday’s Amalie Arena stop of the Scarlet Tour, the 28-year-old singer contemplated fame, her critics and a musical rebirth. This sinful version of Doja Cat was far from the goofy woman who sang about being a cow with french fries up her nose in 2018, or the glossy pop star whose choruses inspired legions of TikTok dances during the early pandemic months. The tour found Doja in the midst of a dark shift, plunging into a supervillain persona that clearly fascinates her while giving fans just enough of the hits that made her a star.

This internal conflict played out in flaming glory onstage.

Doja Cat strikes a pose onstage at Amalie Arena during her performance on Friday.
Doja Cat strikes a pose onstage at Amalie Arena during her performance on Friday. [ Courtesy of Adeline Morgan ]

In her first local appearance since becoming a household name in 2020, Doja shouted her way through “WYM Freestyle” alongside a monster truck-sized mechanical spider wriggling over the front row. She spent “Paint the Town Red” throwing it back in front of a giant eyeball on legs. Her 2019 single, “Tia Tamera,” got a devilish remix with smoldering electric guitar riffs and a cascade of fireballs. She dissed the haters in “Shutcho,” rapping on a platform in front of red cathedral windows.

Doja Cat performs in Tampa at Amalie Arena on Friday.
Doja Cat performs in Tampa at Amalie Arena on Friday. [ Courtesy of Adeline Morgan ]

“How you hatin’ on the Lord’s day?” she spat.

The hour and a half concert was a thrilling spectacle, though the shock factor was not surprising for those who have been paying attention to Doja Cat. Born Amala Ratna Zandile Dlamini, the artist has built a reputation on edgy behavior. Her arrival in Tampa came at the end of a controversial year: Accusations of being demonic, losing nearly a million followers in a month after dissing die-hard fans, wearing a T-shirt with alt-right comic Sam Hyde.

These stunts did not stop Doja’s remaining Florida followers from filling nearly every seat in the arena. In fact, many seemed to embrace her new era. Demons in red pleather corsets and light-up horns sashayed past bullhorn-wielding protesters outside the arena. Others mooed at each other while wearing cow print dresses, overalls and bucket hats. At least one fan embraced both aesthetics as a devil-cow hybrid.

Before the show, groups posed in front of a hot pink merch trunk hawking “Illuminaughty” hats and $45 T-shirts that assured us “Doja Cat loves her fans.” Never mind the tiny letters at the bottom: “I think, IDK.”

Fans are seen in the stands as they wait for Doechii to take the stage as opening act for Doja Cat as part of her Scarlet Tour at Amalie Arena on Friday in Tampa.
Fans are seen in the stands as they wait for Doechii to take the stage as opening act for Doja Cat as part of her Scarlet Tour at Amalie Arena on Friday in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
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Throughout the show, the singer did flash a hand-heart and smiles for her audience. But she only spoke to them directly a handful of times, and she saved these moments for hyping up her opener.

“Tampaaaaa,” she said. “Home of Doechii!”

Related: Doechii talks Tampa roots, Doja Cat tour ahead of Florida shows

Rising rapper, singer and dancer Doechii grew up in the city and spent her 30-minute set repping her home state. She emerged from a pool of murky green light in full Everglades chic, riding in on an airboat and spitting bars in front of a sea of sawgrass.

“Tonight I want to take you on a ride,” she purred. “All the way to the beginning of when I knew I was a real swamp b---h.”

Doechii performed a three-act set before Doja Cat at Amalie Arena on Friday in Tampa.
Doechii performed a three-act set before Doja Cat at Amalie Arena on Friday in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

It’s hard to believe that Doechii, 25, was the opener the way her audience danced and screamed. The three-act show served as a bold introduction to the artist, who bounced from rapid-fire raunch of ”B---h I’m Nice” and ”Spookie Coochie” to the butter-smooth crooning of ”Persuasive” and the Billboard chart-topping “What it is (Block Boy).” During a dance break to “Booty Drop,” Doechii climbed the airboat and threw her leg onto the fan, swirling her behind in the air with a grin. Her backup dancers — four ripped, shirtless dudes — wiggled below in cargo shorts and work boots.

Tampa native Doechii opens for Doja Cat as part of the Scarlet Tour at Amalie Arena on Friday in Tampa.
Tampa native Doechii opens for Doja Cat as part of the Scarlet Tour at Amalie Arena on Friday in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

This was Doechii’s first proper hometown return since she rose to fame, and the set felt like a celebration. Cellphone flashlights filled the arena during Doechii’s breakout song “Yucky Blucky Fruitcake,” the TikTok-famous tune that led to her Top Dawg Entertainment record deal. Her work since has gotten love from Beyoncé and former President Barack Obama. Not to mention Doja Cat.

“I told her backstage that she was supposed to happen,” Doja told the crowd. “She was meant to happen to this industry and this world and we are all very lucky to be able to see her tonight.”

Doechii performs on stage as opening act for Doja Cat as part of her Scarlet Tour at Amalie Arena on Friday in Tampa.
Doechii performs on stage as opening act for Doja Cat as part of her Scarlet Tour at Amalie Arena on Friday in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Doja Cat also played around with a multiact structure, though hers was not as tightly broken into thematic chunks as her opener’s. She drew mostly from her September 2023 album, “Scarlet,” with the third act dedicated to self-proclaimed “cash grab” songs from previous albums “Hot Pink” and “Planet Her.” A live band put a jazzy new spin on “Say So,” while illuminati pizza slices and early-Internet cat memes danced over an audience smooch cam during “Kiss Me More.” The message: She’ll drag the old stuff out for her fans, but on her own terms. And sorry, no time for her irreverent, bovine-themed song “Mooo!”

In honor of the Scarlet Tour, a fan dressed as Scarlet, Doja Cat's alter ego, at Amalie Arena on Friday in Tampa.
In honor of the Scarlet Tour, a fan dressed as Scarlet, Doja Cat's alter ego, at Amalie Arena on Friday in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

The tour offered a spectacular deep dive for “Scarlet” fans and a convincing primer for those not yet converted. A talented dancer in red embodied the Scarlet character — whom Doja calls “the reimagining of the self” — creeping around stage throughout the show. By the end, the artist and her alter ego end up dancing together, Doja Cat and her wicked side finally one in the same.

Doja Cat fans dressed for the occasion during the Scarlet Tour at Amalie Arena on Friday in Tampa.
Doja Cat fans dressed for the occasion during the Scarlet Tour at Amalie Arena on Friday in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Doja Cat setlist

Act I

1. WYM Freestyle

2. Demons

3. Tia Tamera

4. Shutcho

5. Agora Hills

Act II

6. Attention

7. Often

8. Red Room (Hiatus Kaiyote cover)

9. Balut

10. Gun

11. Ain’t S--t

Act III

12. Woman

13. Say So

14. Get Into It (Yuh)

15. Need to Know

16. Kiss Me More

Act IV

17. Paint the Town Red

18. Streets

19. F--k the Girls (FTG)

Act V

20. 97

21. Can’t Wait

22. Go Off

23. Ouchies

24. Wet Vagina

At her concert in Tampa on Friday at Amalie Arena, Doja Cat mostly performed songs from her fourth studio album, 2023's "Scarlet," though she did also cover Hiatus Kaiyote's "Red Room" and play some older singles.
At her concert in Tampa on Friday at Amalie Arena, Doja Cat mostly performed songs from her fourth studio album, 2023's "Scarlet," though she did also cover Hiatus Kaiyote's "Red Room" and play some older singles. [ GABRIELLE CALISE | Times ]

Doechii setlist

Act I: When I Knew.

1. Swamp B----s

2. Spookie Coochie

3. Yucky Blucky Fruitcake

Act II: When I Felt.

4. Xtasy (Ravyn Lenae cover)

5. Persuasive

6. Stressed

Act III: When I Became.

7. B---h I’m Nice

8. Crazy

9. Booty Drop (dancer interlude)

10. What It Is (Block Boy)