Doja Cat has made no secret of telling the world that she doesn’t want to have relationships with her fans. So much so that when half a million people unfollowed her on Instagram last month—after she herself encouraged them to delete their fan accounts and rather scathingly denounced the “kittenz” fandom that has grown in support of her—her response, which she gave on Instagram last week, was to say, “I feel free”.
This isn’t the first time that Doja Cat has made her attitude towards her fanbase known. Across her own social media and in a number of interviews, Doja Cat has made it clear to her progressively more outraged fans that she doesn’t believe that parasocial celebrity relationships are constructive or healthy, and most importantly, are relationships deserving of emotional reciprocation.
After telling fans on Twitter who considered themselves a part of the “kittenz” fandom to “get off your phone and get a job” and “rethink everything”—give or take a few expletives—Doja Cat then commented further on her thoughts about fans. “My theory is that if someone has never met me in real life, then, subconsciously, I’m not real to them,” she told an interviewer. “So when people become engaged with someone they don’t even know on the internet, they kind of take ownership over that person. They think that person belongs to them in some sense.”
Many cite this altercation as a fan feud, suggesting Doja Cat has started a war with the fans, who are now demanding an apology for what might be considered an unnecessarily virulent dismissal. But at its basest form, Doja Cat is attempting to employ one of the most talked about therapy-speak terms of the past few years—she’s trying to set boundaries.
For Doja Cat, distinguishing between admiring a celebrity from fans believing they have some kind of relationship with them is of the utmost importance, and is something she’s adamantly and perhaps aggressively encouraging her fans to do. But other celebrities have, historically, shown us that they feel less strongly about making this distinction—in fact, some artists have embraced their fan groups in unprecedented ways. It’s a lucrative strategy which can lead to legions of dedicated fandoms, which in turn brings in the big dollars.
Take for example Taylor Swift, whose degree of fan interaction has often been unparalleled in its intimacy. Swift in particular has gone so far as to invite select groups of her fans over to her residences in the past for exclusive album listening nights, complete with home-baked cookies, house tours and special gifts.
On the other hand, Swift has also historically been incredibly private with her romantic relationships, choosing to shield them from public view and believing she doesn’t “owe” anyone intimate details about her life. Therein lies the question when it comes to people’s dedication to celebrities and artists—how much, if anything, do they owe fans in return for their devotion?
Whether other icons take the Doja Cat or Swift approach, the evolution of parasocial relationships and the closer proximity people have to their idols thanks to social media has to make us wonder—why exactly do people feel as though these celebrities owe them mutual adoration?
In many ways, one could argue that a celebrity has their fans to thank directly for their success—after all, what’s a celebrity without any admirers? Particularly in the case of musicians, the amount of fans listening and streaming their music is in direct correlation to their amount of success, monetary and otherwise, and losing fans inevitably means losing overall listeners. For those that take this line of thinking, Doja Cat’s isolation of her biggest fans might be seen as incredibly detrimental to her career moving forward.
Others applaud her stance and her courage for trying to speak up against the unhealthy elements of super-fan behaviour. Such negative behaviour can be seen getting increasingly common lately in cases of, either dangerous or just plain rude, concert etiquette. In June of this year, musician Bebe Rexha was hit in the eye by a phone when a fan threw it at her on stage, in what the fan in question said he thought would be “funny”, but was also most likely a bid to seek her attention. Singer P!nk was thrown a vessel of human ashes from a fan in the crowd, which is one step too far for even the most accommodating of pop stars to handle.
Months later, Cardi B threw a microphone in retaliation to a fan who threw a cup of water in her face on stage in Las Vegas after she asked in jest that the crowd “splash her”, apparently without meaning it literally. If this is what love is, it’s no surprise some celebrities don’t want it.
Of course, most fans aren’t resorting to acts like these, and their adoration for their favourite artists is, for the most part, innocent and harmless. Boundary setting is also only considered therapeutically appropriate when you set limits on your own behaviour, not that of others, which is why her courses of action might indeed come across too harsh for some.
At the end of the day, however, artists and celebrities alike are known for their skills and talent, and the art they produce and share with the world. Their music, films and other bodies of work are something for the world to enjoy freely—and perhaps the sharing of their art with the world is, in itself, enough of a reward for fans’ devotion.
However you look at it, Doja Cat’s ultimate message is that people should be prioritising their real-life relationships and should be careful of relying too much on the ones they have with people they’ve never met. And though her choice of words in communicating it may have left something to be desired, in the purest sense, perhaps it’s not so terrible of a suggestion.
This article was originally published on Vogue Australia.