Concert review: Doja Cat stuns in her arena debut at Target Center

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Doja Cat set Minneapolis’ Target Center on fire Thursday night during a tour stop on her first headlining arena tour.

The 28-year-old rapper/vocalist born Amala Dlamini delivered an impressive, highly theatrical and expertly paced show that had the sold-out crowd screaming, swooning and singing along. And it was very much a show, with tight choreography and almost as much fire and pyro as a Kiss concert.

A high school dropout who taught herself to sing, rap and use GarageBand, Doja spent the mid-’10s establishing herself as an extremely online star. After her 2018 major-label debut “Amala” largely flopped, Doja went ahead and recorded a novelty song “Mooo!” and released it via a homemade video that soon went viral.

The success of “Mooo!” — which very pointedly did not make Thursday’s set list — all but forced her label, and soon after audience, to take her seriously. She was set to embark on a major tour in 2020 that was ultimately scrapped due to the pandemic.

But that didn’t stop Doja from continuing to write, record and score a seemingly endless string of hits over the past three years. Due to the pandemic, she doesn’t have the amount of live performance experience someone at this point in her career typically would, but you’d never guess it Thursday night. For 90 minutes, she delivered the sort of show one would expect from Beyonce or Lady Gaga. Save for a pair of snoozy slow songs (“Often,” her cover of Australian neo-soul singer Hiatus Kaiyote’s “Red Room”), she commanded attention throughout.

With her terrific live band perched in the shadows off to the side, Doja spent much of the evening alone on her V-shaped stage, with three large screens behind her. A small troupe of dancers joined her for some numbers, but she always remained the alpha in charge.

Those who fell for Doja’s poppy and fun pandemic singles may have been surprised by the darker tone. She structured the set list around her fourth album “Scarlet,” which delves deeper into hip-hop, with nods to goth rock and a more sophisticated production. Indeed, she has dismissed much of her previous work as “cash grabs” and “digestible pop hits” and kept them largely confined to the third of five acts of the show. (“Kiss Me More” remains a banger, whether it was a cash grab or not.)

Given Thursday’s wildly entertaining show, it’ll be fun to see where Doja Cat goes from here.

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