Let’s set the scene: it’s 1980s America. A book titled Michelle Remembers by a Canadian psychiatrist and his patient has catalysed a nationwide satanic panic. 12,000 people are accused of satanic ritual abuse. You’re worried that your favourite heavy metal band is sneaking Satanism into their screamo symphonies, and if your neighbours are sacrificing their cat to the devil. This frenzied, forgotten era has re-emerged to attack modern-day celebrities – and Doja Cat has become its most infamous target.
The witch hunt
Since the 1980s, a timeline of artists have been accused of devil-worship, from rock bands to pop singers. During the 80s, Dimebag Darrell, guitarist of heavy metal group Pantera, recorded a group of Christians trying to exorcise him. In the 90s, Michael Jackson’s success was attributed to selling his soul to the devil. As the witch hunt progressed throughout the decades, suspicions have turned from Lady Gaga and Beyoncé to Sam Smith and Doja Cat.
These Twitter posts demonstrate how certain celebrities are targeted on social media. Lady Gaga winking on the red carpet labels her as a ‘sicko’ member of the ‘Satanist club’, while Sam Smith indulges in demonic activities such as wearing jorts. Is this truly what’s corrupting the minds of innocent youths? Or is ‘Satanist’ just a loose term for any celebrity who wears a questionable outfit to the MET gala?
No one knows what Satanism actually is
Most modern Satanists are non-theistic. This means they do not worship satan as an actual entity. The Church of Satan even states that Satanists who believe in a ‘real’ devil aren’t Satanists at all. Those people are just plain devil-worshippers. For actual Satanists, Satan is only a symbol. There’s no ritualistic abuse, no animal-sacrificing, no overarching plot to take over the world. Satanists strive for individualism, believing in focusing on yourself. For a Satanist, any evil scheme of global corruption requires far too much of being in other people’s business.
Why people still scream ‘Satanist’
Evidently, most people spewing satanic suspicions don’t actually know what Satanism is. This means that these accusations definitely don’t stem from a genuine concern of the devil making a comeback. So why are certain celebrities targeted?
Upon investigating the current celebrities charged with these devilish allegations, a link emerges. Lady Gaga’s liberating, lead single ‘Born This Way’ was inspired by black, gay activist Carl Bean. Sam Smith and Kim Petras won a Grammy as a non-binary and transgender duo. Lil Nas X became the first black and openly gay artist to win an MTV award. Most recently, Doja Cat, who is biracial and Jewish, has been stamped with Satanism after adopting a more unconventional image.
Arguably, the ‘Satanist’ insult is just another brand of thinly disguised sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia. Any artist who breaks the ‘conventional’, mainstream mould – even by simply being themselves – becomes a target of the digital Satanic Panic.
History repeats itself
Unfortunately, this online conservative backlash isn’t anything new. A decade ago, social media had a different name for the online Satanic Panic: the Illuminati conspiracy. The Illuminati were a small, German group of intellectuals from nearly three centuries ago. In the 2010s, the internet decided the descendants of this ancient order were, naturally, pop stars like Beyoncé and Rihanna. Most of the internet only fuelled Illuminati suspicions with light-hearted memes and jokes. Others, though, used the Illuminati mania as a mask to justify their hatred of certain celebrities.
Illuminati discourse was at the top of the social media food chain for years. In such a tsunami of internet hysteria, real hate towards artists blended with the masses. The objective wasn’t to uncover if Beyoncé actually was a shapeshifting lizard, but to isolate and villainize certain artists. In 2016, Beyoncé released Formation, in which the opening lyric stated, ‘y’all haters corny with that Illuminati mess’. This cleared up most of the rumours that she was a humanoid lizard running a top-secret society. Beyoncé’s lyrics also made another point clear – most Illuminati conspiracists were indeed just ‘haters’ rebranding their attacks.
Beyoncé hasn’t been the only artist to retaliate through her music. In 2021, Lil Nas X faced his satanic accusations in his Montero music video. As a gay artist, he has been a frequent target of religious extremists who equate his queer-empowering stance with sin. The Montero MV showcases the artist cleverly restructuring the biblical narrative, while also ironically pole-dancing down to hell.
Similarly, Sam Smith has also faced devilish allegations after coming out as non-binary in 2019. Smith teased these allegations alongside Kim Petras in their ‘Unholy’ Grammy performance, wearing devil horns and red robes. After the performance, Petras revealed how as a transgender artist she ‘grew up wondering about religion and wanting to be a part of it, but then slowly realizing it doesn’t want me to be a part of it’. So while these artists are mocking the fingers pointing ‘devil’ at them, these accusations of Satanism also highlight the continuous exclusion and condemnation of queer artists in pop culture spaces.
Doja Cat bites back
Doja Cat has been the most recent artist to take the devil accusations in her stride. In recent years, the singer-rapper has been shifting her image from the pink-haired princess of pop to experimental extremes. From transforming into a fashionable feline at the MET Gala, to crystallising herself with full-body red paint at Paris Fashion Week, Doja Cat has strutted into the spotlight for creative exploration.
Doja’s experimentalism, however, has sparked intense conservative backlash – and even downright fear. Many internet users – including former fans – have voiced their concern for the artist’s evolving image.
Rather than disputing these absurd claims, Doja Cat seems to have embarked on a personal mission to add fuel to her own fire – literally. In her recent music videos, Doja makes blatant references to hellish fires and satanic domination. She either dances with the devil, or, in the case of her Demons music video, becomes one herself. As she turns into a red-eyed demon halfway through the song, Doja draws more and more attention while simultaneously exhibiting the absurdity of the public’s irrational fears. She becomes a physical demon, and, more importantly, a representation of breaking cultural and conventional boundaries. The main line of the chorus is ‘how my demons look…now that you bitches shook?’. With this, Doja mocks her Satanist accusers by transforming into exactly what they fear her to be – an uncontrollable, unrestricted menace to the music industry.
On one hand, fans have praised Doja’s dedication to dismantling the expectations of herself. These expectations have been cemented since her domination of 2020 TikTok with glossy tracks from her Hot Pink album. Many people have celebrated her separation from this old era, admiring her new, non-categorisable persona.
Unfortunately, others are still sincere in their advocation of Doja as the devil incarnate.
There’s more to this than meets the eye
In the end, most people can watch these videos and discredit them with a single swipe. But they are still being watched, listened to, and supported. These videos – however ridiculous they sound to the average viewer – serve as a gateway for bigotry. Music is accessible and globally influential, so traditionalists will always be ready to pounce on whichever celebrity takes centre stage. When mould-breaking and unconventional artists like Doja Cat start to stand out, bigots will jump on social media bandwagons to alienate queer and POC artists. Under the guise of the reemerging Satanic Panic, the underlying intention is to exclude unique creators from mainstream spaces altogether.