Throughout their nearly four decades as an awards show, the MTV VMAs have historically been a way for musicians to experiment with their style. Lady Gaga’s 2010 raw meat dress became one of the most-recognizable pop culture moments, and who could forget Lil Kim’s purple pasties at the 1999 VMAs red carpet? As someone who thrives at the intersection of hip-hop and pop genres, Doja Cat has definitely taken a page out of Gaga and Kim’s playbooks when it comes to her own style. Whether she’s delightfully draped in chiffon or wearing an actual stool on her head as a hat, Doja toes the line between shocking and playful — proving she’s having more fun with fashion than anyone else in music.
When it comes to her style, part of Doja’s shock value success comes from her commitment to a concept. It’s been an important part of her artistry from her breakout moment and is abundantly clear from watching her music videos, performances, and eyeing her show-stopping red carpet looks. Throughout her career, Doja has leaned into cat-like looks to go along with her namesake, caught disco fever with the ‘70s-inspired outfits following the release of her No. 1 track “Say So,” and gone out of this world with a futurist approach to her ensembles surrounding the era of her latest album, Planet Her.
Doja’s videos make it clear she has stayed true to an aesthetic from the very beginning. She fully leaned into the title of her song “Moo!” in a video that became her first viral moment. The green screen-backed visual saw the singer dressed head-to-toe in a cow-print outfit and sipping on a strawberry milkshake while she shouts, “B*tch, I’m a cow.” Her outfits in the video to “Bottom B*tch,” a song which samples Blink-182’s “What’s My Age Again?,” brought pop-punk into a new decade by taking style elements from Spencer’s-obsessed teens like mesh tops and neon beanies while adding a modern twist with stringy corset tops and a patterned two-piece set. Fast-forward a few years and most of her videos to the tracks from Planet Her now revolve around an extraterrestrial theme. She and SZA were giant femme fetal space dwellers in “Kiss Me More,” while Doja transformed into a seductive, green, metropolis-living alien in her “Need To Know” video.
Doja’s conceptual style also plays a major role in her live performances. She played up the feline-lover origins of her moniker with her Vevo Lift performance of “Say So” in 2020, which added campy elements to distinctly classic styles. Her wig was bobbed and curled in the style of Marilyn Monroe, while its hot pink color and fuzzy cat ears made it her own. Her accompanying outfit was a Garo Sparo bodice with a sweetheart neckline cut to mimic the Playboy bunny cocktail waitress outfits-turned popular Halloween costumes. But instead of being made from satin, Doja’s outfit was cut from hot pink furry cloth, once again nodding to her cat-like look. “There’s something mysterious about the concept of a ‘crazy cat lady,’” she said in an interview alongside the performance. “I took that symbol and applied it to my character, Doja Cat.” When it came to her recent 2021 performance at the Balmain Fashion Show in Paris, her concept was a bit more open-ended. Rather than formatting her look after an animal, the singer said she wanted her look to give the energy of “sexy garlic.”
Doja has long positioned herself as a fashion boundary-pusher, so she is always right at home on the red carpet. In fact, some of the singer’s most experimental looks happened at award shows. When it comes to the VMAs, Doja hasn’t held anything back. When she took the virtual stage in 2020, the singer showed up in an ensemble that can only be described as a sexy fish, complete with lit-up genitalia. A year later while hosting the ceremony, the singer accepted a VMA award in a head-to-toe padded quilt dress designed by Thom Browne that Doja compared to a colorful worm. “I never thought I’d be dressed as a worm while accepting an award,” she said.
Her “sexy fish” VMAs outfit is, to no one’s surprise, not the only look Doja has worn that draws attention to her… nether regions. At the 2020 AVN Awards, aka the “Oscars of porn,” the singer showed up in a skin-tight mesh bodysuit that sparsely covered her crotch in rhinestones. The look expertly combined the disco-inspired era “Say So” with the theme of the night, an outfit her stylist would later call her “Cher moment.”
Whether she’s posing in a glittery merkin, accepting an award dressed as a neon worm, clomping around in massive chicken claw-like shoes, many of her wildest outfits have one thing in common: they were designed in collaboration with her stylist, Brett Alan Nelson. While Doja has always had her own style, there’s no denying that Nelson has helped take her fashion to the next, sometimes bizarre, level. As a central part of Doja’s team since 2019, Nelson is drawn to over-the-top, theatrical styles. “She and I get each other so well,” Nelson said about his work with Doja in an interview with Vogue. “We bicker like brother and sister, but I know her, sometimes better than she knows herself. She’s down to have fun, take risks, and she trusts me, which in my industry, that is the best thing a creative could ever ask for.”