As her Grammys appearance showed, Doja is the 21st century's Tin Pan Alley cat

My teenage informants tell me that Doja Cat is a skilled crafter of the 'memeable hooks' which helped her “blow up” on TikTok. Her performance last Sunday, was, I’m told, a 'massive bop'


LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - APRIL 03: Doja Cat winner of the Best Pop Duo Group Performance Award for 'Kiss Me More' poses in the winners photo room during the 64th Annual GRAMMY Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on April 03, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

April 07, 2022 13:16

I don’t like new music. I have long since ceased to be a pop-picker. In fact, I haven’t picked any pop in decades.

I have, though, had children and driven them to New York and back many times in a minivan. This makes me the musical equivalent of a goose on a foie gras farm. I am force-fed through the ears. 

As we barrel down the I-95 and my daughters cheerfully bellow along to lyrics that make up in lascivious obscenity for what they lack in melody, my knuckles whiten on the steering wheel. I want to scream: “What is wrong with the youth of today that they wish to bathe in this tide of aural filth?” What I actually murmur is: “Is that strictly necessary?”

Every now and then, however, a fragment of old Tin Pan Alley floats to the surface: a decent tune, a clever chord sequence, a witty lyric or one of those toe-tapping grooves that the girls call a “banger”. I cling to these fragments like a drowning man to flotsam.

So it was with a heavy heart and a lightened credit card that I sat down on Sunday night with the girls to watch the livestream of the Grammy Awards. The Grammys are the Oscars of the music business. Like the Oscars, they’re a legacy of the golden age of Jewish American showbiz. Like the Oscars, their audience figures are in rapid decline. No one under 40 has the patience to sit still for that long.

As a recent witness to the half-time festivities at the Super Bowl — this year, a crotch-grabbing, bottom-quaking tribute to hip-hop in LA — I was braced for a merciless deluge of glitz and smut, and mild embarrassment at the more gymnastic dance moves. I was not greatly stirred that the Jewish producer Jack Antonoff, the dweeb on the dials on Taylor Swift’s latest album, was nominated. But I was rooting for Doja Cat, who had eight nominations this year, and whose every ditty is a banger.

My teenage informants tell me that Doja Cat is a skilled crafter of the “memeable hooks” which helped her “blow up” on TikTok. Like Taylor Swift, she is an accomplished ironist of her celebrity. Unlike Swift, she is crude and cheerful. Kiss Me More, her duet with SZA that won a Grammy last Sunday, is, I’m told, a “massive bop”.

As you may have guessed, Doja Cat is not her real name. Originally, Ms. Cat was Amala Ratna Zandile Dlamini, the daughter of a Jewish American painter and a Zulu actor. He appeared in The Lion King on Broadway. Perhaps this is why she changed her name.

Doja Cat is not quite alone in being Jewish and Zulu. The late South African singer Johnny Clegg, who was Jewish, learnt the Zulus’ language and their high-kicking dance style, and was nicknamed “the White Zulu”. But that isn’t really the same.

There are also Zulus who, like several other African tribes exposed to the efforts of European missionaries, now feel themselves to be Jewish and claim to be one of the Lost Tribes. The historian Tudor Parfitt has written fascinating books about them, but that isn’t really the same, either.

The uniqueness of American music lies in its fusion of styles, not least the fusion of black and Jewish music. The uniqueness of Doja Cat lies in her sense of humour. She is pure vaudeville, a Fanny Brice for the 21st century. As America’s sense of humour has lately failed along with its supply chains, that can only be a good thing.

April 07, 2022 13:16

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