By Leah Greenblatt
June 25, 2021 at 11:37 AM EDT
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Doja Cat
Doja Cat
| Credit: Christopher Polk/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

When the Los Angeles rapper and singer Doja Cat first released "Say So" to radio in January 2020, it hardly seemed auspicious: The song, a burbling slice of disco funk as sticky and effervescent as a mouthful of Pixy Stix, was the fifth single floated from her second studio album, 2019's Hot Pink. Boosted by a a viral TikTok surge and two Nicki Minaj remixes, it went on to top the Hot 100 and became one of the few vestiges of pre-pandemic life to carry over into the grimmest early days of COVID-19, a bittersweet reminder of all the freedoms (clubs, friends, tigers on the dance floor) we'd left behind.

Whatever lockdown struggles the artist born Amala Ratna Zandile Dlamini might have come through in the year-plus in between, they haven't been allowed an entry visa on to Planet Her (out today), a record so fizzy and golden that its release the same week of the summer equinox hardly seems like a coincidence. The album opens with "Woman," an undulating island bop that calls back to mid-career Rihanna, and the hiccuping handclaps and rubber-ball bass line of "Naked," a breathless ode to sexual anticipation.

The guest list, too, is its own solar system: Young Thug fits a raspy cameo into the pretty dip and sway of "Payday"; Ariana Grande's clear soprano rides over the feathery, syncopated "I Don't Do Drugs"; the Weeknd brings his dark-lord 3 a.m. energy to the slow-rolling infidelity anthem "You Right." And then there's SZA, dropping rap interludes and doubling the chorus on "Kiss Me More," the top 5 hit that comes as close as anything to replicating the honeyed disco glow of "Say So."

That Doja is one of the few mainstream female artists who continues to work with producer Dr. Luke when so many in the industry have spoken out against him is still hard to get comfortable with, but so is presuming we have any say in the choices of a grown woman. The outside world never really intrudes on the record's candy-gloss empowerment either way: "I could be the leader, head of all the states/I could smile and jiggle it 'til it's pockets empty/I could be the CEO, just like a Robyn Fenty," she raps with sweet rapid-fire swagger on her opening salvo - a pop-star boss and player president of the Planet she's created, dictating her own laws of gravity. Grade: B+

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