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The Schmooze

At the VMAs, Jewish rapper Doja Cat reminded us that flirting used to be a thing

Just imagine: It’s a Saturday night and you’re waiting in line for a club while cheek-kissing friends outside your pod and showing off a skin-tight dress whose “pockets” accommodate neither hand sanitizer nor nitrile gloves. The bouncer handles all your belongings and admits with nary a body scan or temperature check. Once inside, you share beverages and emit aerosols at a heightened rate by shouting over the music to your friends. You may even make eye contact with an attractive stranger (judging the physical appeal of others is easy thanks to the fact that no one is wearing a mask) and exchange a series of glances that signify your mutual willingness to share bodily fluids in a ritual sometimes described as a DFMO, or “dance floor makeout.”

Sound familiar? Of course not. From a modern perspective, these pre-2020 mating rituals seem arcane, unintelligible, and frankly quite feckless. But it’s that vanished world of maskless makeouts that singer-songwriter Doja Cat conjured in her inaugural VMA performance on Sunday night, a four-minute serenade that — along with her four award nominations — cemented the former TikTok star’s superstar status among music world elite.

Before scooping up the award for Push Best New Artist, Doja entertained the (virtual) crowd with two chart-topping tunes: “Like That” and the iconic “Say So,” which evokes the moment when “you go somewhere and you see someone and they don’t approach you, but you’re looking at each other and you both feel like there’s something there,” Doja told MTV in an interview earlier this year.

While Doja Cat is very much a superstar of the here and now — ”Say So” gained massive popularity after teenage TikToker Haley Sharpe created a viral dance to accompany it — her performance gestured to the golden era of of MTV with an outer space theme (the singer and her background dancers beamed in from “Planet Her”) and kitschy neon sets.

Still, there were some nods to our current predicament: Doja’s backup dancers wore what can only be described as sexy hazmat suits (perhaps the hottest Halloween costumes of the 2030’s?), complete with cloth masks.

Irene Katz Connelly is an editorial fellow at the Forward. You can contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @katz_conn.

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