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Doja Cat on ‘Growing Up’ in California, Her Embarrassing First Song & ‘Unbelievable’ Next Album

In the latest episode of Billboard‘s “Growing Up” series, Doja Cat explains the origin of her colorful, unique fashion sense while delving into her unconventional childhood and previewing her next album.

The singer and current Billboard cover star explains that both her mother and grandmother are painters, which is what likely inspired her striking visual style. “A lot of that inspired me to take up fashion and visual, experimental things,” she says, describing her mom as a full-on “hippie from the ’60s” who always supported her musical efforts.

Doja’s aunt — a singer who helped raise her — was also instrumental in her early ambitions by giving the budding star singing lessons that helped her get into a performing arts school. It’s no surprise she has the moves, either, since she began taking dance lessons at age five, starting with the Indian classical dance style Bharatanatyam. “I feel like it taught me to be emotive and control  my body in a special way,” she says, noting that at that time her family moved from New York to an ashram in California where late jazz great Alice Coltrane was her swamini.

Though she is too mortified to sing it now, Doja says she wrote her first song at age eight for her mom. “I don’t remember how it goes… I mean I kind of do, but I’m definitely not telling anybody what the lyrics were,” she laughs. “I’m kind of ashamed. I don’t know why, I guess it’s just too mushy for me.” The singer also recalls her first gig at a “very small” bar in Echo Park where she remembers not being able to breathe as she struggled to get the words out while wearing a “horrendous” outfit.

Undeterred, after high school Doja spent most of her time searching around for cool beats and trying to find her voice in her room while fiddling on a MIDI keyboard a boyfriend sent. “I was like, let me just stream this, maybe there’s some cool people on the internet who want to see what I’m doing,” she says. That inspired a week-long spree during which Doja made one new song a day, which was enough for an album and just the fuel she needed to keep going with her music.

“The only challenge I ever had was addiction,” the “So High” singer says of the obstacles in her way at the beginning. “Alcohol and cigarettes were my thing and weed was my thing. I would smoke and smoke and smoke and I’d be chain-smoking and it would mess with my voice, it would mess with my energy.”

Now, of course, she has a No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hit under her belt with the Nicki Minaj remix of TikTok viral smash “Say So,” whose ascent to the top she celebrated with a cul de sac dance party with dozens of friends. “For the next project, it will be similar to [2019 sophomore album] Hot Pink, in the sense that each of the songs are very different from each other,” she says of her follow-up, adding that it will be more “consistent” than her breakthrough collection. “Unbelievable,” is the only word she has for it.