Doja Cat review, Ovo Hydro Glasgow: Rapper’s first UK arena tour showcases her charisma – and her growing pains

It sometimes seems like Doja Cat lives her entire life within the 9:16 box of an Instagram Story. The 28-year-old American rapper and singer is a true internet-era celebrity, a performer who owes her hits (as well as the occasional controversy) to the whizzy virality of social media. As she walks out at Glasgow’s OVO Hydro arena on Tuesday to kick off her UK stadium tour, I wonder how someone so eminently online will approach a large-scale live experience. From the opening rendition of the pugnacious, Drake-like “ACKNOWLEDGE ME”, which she performs while flanked by two large angel wings made of hair, it’s clear the answer is: with verve.

Doja (real name Amala Dlamini) begins the night wearing a long, blonde wig, an oversized, unbuttoned shirt and lingerie; after a couple of songs, the shirt is gone. It’s at this point too that the energy lifts, as she launches into a propulsive performance of “WYM Freestyle”. Almost every song she goes through tonight is drawn from last year’s album Scarlet, or this April’s expanded re-release, Scarlet 2 CLAUDE. Both were top-to-toe hip-hop records, a pointed departure from the pop-leaning material that preceded it. Lyrically, her concerns were largely unchanged: topics such as sex, fame, the internet, herself.

Throughout the first tracks of the night, Doja moves a little stiffly, her face stony with concentration; when, five songs in, she switches to an older favourite – 2019’s “Tia Tamera”, with its dextrous and catchy barrage of pop-culture references – you can see her start to have a good time.

Scarlet was very much a “proof of concept” when it comes to Doja’s rapping credentials; tracks such as “Get Into It (Yuh)” and the trap hit “Need to Know”, a Nicki Minaj-inspired single from 2021’s Planet Her, let her really flex this on stage. This latter number draws some boisterous rapping-along from the loud but rather static stalls section. It ends with her guitarist stepping out centre stage for a long and squealy solo. (He is dressed in hair-covered trousers from the waist down, giving him the look of Mr Tumnus from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, or as if an actor playing Chewbacca needed to go out for a cigarette.)

Halfway through the set, Doja tells the crowd: “I won’t sing Hilary Duff this time, I’m not gonna do that.” It’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to her Parklife set last week, when a cover of Duff’s “Come Clean” drew bafflement from her audience. This is quite comfortably the most that Doja says between songs all night. In her music, though, she’s loquacious – her lyrics might not have the depth or sophistication of some of the genre’s very best, but they’re slick and undeniably infectious.

On the one hand, the production is refreshingly low-maintenance for a 90-minute stadium gig: there are no costume changes and few elaborate group dances. What it does have is enough pyrotechnics to produce a remake of Backdraft, and a complicated set design involving an elevating platform hung from the ceiling, which sort of resembles a U-boat, or a long metallic baguette. Doja climbs onto this platform, harnessed, as she performs “Can’t Wait” and “Agora Hills”, auto-tuning her vocals over a patient trap beat. She never looks completely at ease when she’s dangled some five-to-10 metres above the ground, but she twerks through it anyway. The live band, meanwhile, are arranged on top of what I first assume to be bales of hay; on closer inspection, these too, seem to be made of hair.

A gig of this scale perhaps requires a larger and more diverse repertoire to really draw from. Doja blasts through 24 tracks on the night, but they begin to bleed into each other. “Often” is a lull – sparse and slightly dissonant – and you can sense the energy sap from the room. But the high points are compelling: the snaky melodies of “Attention”; the snappy and dynamic “Rules”.

Doja Cat performing in New York on 2 June 2024 (Raymond Alston/Shutterstock)
Doja Cat performing in New York on 2 June 2024 (Raymond Alston/Shutterstock)

The climax of the show comes with her biggest hit, “Paint the Town Red”. It’s a big banger, and she obviously knows it: dangling the microphone in the direction of the crowd, she defers the staccatoed, slightly off-kilter scansion of the verses to the word-perfect onlookers. The encore, “Wet Vagina”, struggles to really follow it.

What we’re left with is an imperfect set, but a perfect showcase of Doja’s electric confidence, what younger gig-goers might call her rizz. There were four backing singers on stage throughout the night, but I couldn’t tell you anything about them. All eyes – and all cameras – were trained on Doja Cat. As they should be.

Tickets for Doja Cat’s The Scarlet Tour are on sale now