doja cat
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Entertainment

The Story Behind Doja Cat's 'Say So' Dance Is an Internet Virality Ouroboros

Following an internet trend's virality is almost as complex and random as the forces that drive something to go viral in the first place. With the half-life of memes getting shorter and shorter by the month as social platforms like Twitter and TikTok provide an endlessly refreshing stream of new stuff to read, watch, and interact with, it's rare when one really catches on. The longevity of Rage Comics and LongCat is a product of a much slower, much older era; nowadays, as soon as presidential candidates start doing the "Renegade," the majority of the internet's trendiest teens (all of them) have already moved on to something else. Virality is also the least labor-intensive way of becoming famous, which is exactly how the singer and rapper Doja Cat began building her budding empire, months before the meteoric rise of Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" was even a thing. 

Doja Cat recently made headlines for her "Say So" music video, which features a dance during the chorus that went viral on TikTok at the end of last year, but her viral fame started long before that. In August of 2018 -- she had released a debut EP, Purrr!, in 2013, and her first album, Amala, in early 2018, and had already signed with RCA Records -- Doja Cat posted a video she made in about half a day for her song "Mooo!", which is about, obviously, being a cow and doing cow things. It's the weirdest song she's ever done, but it was a hit, the bizarre combination of bovine lyricism ("Bitch, I'm a cow / I'm not a cat / I don't say 'meow'") and lo-fi green-screened video effects layered behind Doja Cat herself dancing languidly in a black and white spotted cow costume making its instant meme-ification inevitable. 

Which was, of course, the whole point. The video has racked up more than 66 million views, and spawned the #MooChallenge on Twitter, though her instant popularity came with its own caveat. Shortly after she released "Mooo!" fans unearthed a tweet from 2015 in which she used a homophobic slur in reference to Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt. She initially doubled down on her usage of the word, defending herself and stirring up more controversy, before posting a series of apologetic tweets (all of the tweets involved have since been deleted). Nevertheless, Doja Cat was able to stay atop the viral wave, promptly following it with a steady stream of singles (including "Juicy," produced by the Kemosabe label's Dr. Luke, who was accused by Kesha of sexual assault) before releasing her second album, Hot Pink, in November 2019.

Her song "Say So," originally just another song on the album, was released as a single in January 2020, after it had become more popular thanks to social media -- in particular, TikTok. 

@yodelinghaley

and here’s the dance🤪🥰 and THANK YOU FOR 10 MILLION HEARTS OMG THAT’S CRAZY

♬ Say So - Doja Cat

In December 2019, TikTok user Haley Sharpe, who goes by the handle @yodelinghaley on the app, posted a video of herself in her own bathroom, performing a dance she had made up to go with the bubbly, poppy chorus of "Say So." Including a quick punch, a body roll, and a series of hand movements that go along with the words in the song, it's the kind of dance destined to be picked up almost immediately -- and, because of the hard to predict but inevitable nature of TikTok's algorithm, it was. It's difficult to scroll through the app and not see teens doing Sharpe's dance, which has been performed by everyone from online stars Emma Carmichael and Charli D'Amelio to Laura Dern and, eventually, Doja Cat herself.

In February 2020, Doja Cat released the much anticipated music video for "Say So," a fuzzy, glowy '70s roller disco throwback featuring the singer and a team of dancers twirling around in sequined bell-bottomed bodysuits. Not only does Doja Cat do a bit of the dance in the music video, but she also invited Sharpe to star in it as well, giving her a couple of seconds of screentime to perform the dance she invented alongside the singer whose song she invented it to.

To round things out, Doja Cat performed "Say So" on Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show, her backup singers also doing the moves to Sharpe's dance. It's cool! And something that doesn't happen too often -- recently, The New York Times published a piece about Jalaiah Harmon, the 14-year-old creator of the "Renegade" dance, whose credit and "ownership" of the viral dance, if such a thing exists, had been summarily steamrolled by other content creators and influencers. Doja Cat seeking out the person who made her song go viral in the first place demonstrates the singer's innate understanding of both virality and what she, and those like her, owes to the ever-churning, ever-refreshing content machine. Viral fame may not last forever, but it's a whole lot better than just 15 minutes. 

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.