Symbolic Elements in Doja Cat’s Music Video

Throughout history, forms of oral, written, and visual culture were initially established as a method for defining the literal representation of a concept, but they gradually develop new metaphoric and multi-layered meanings known as “semiotics” (Hall 1997, 24).  A modern example of this ideology extends from the combination of lyrics, music, design, and film elements which are converged into music videos to create various messages and themes. Sometimes, the content within media productions appear to be very simplistic and repetitive, but there are still multiple ways for people to individually assign their own interpretations.

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My essay will develop a case study on the symbolic elements which are portrayed in a particular music video called “Mooo!” which was created by the singer and content producer named “Doja Cat”. The first section will explain some of the theories and methodology of semiotics and how this way of thinking can allow us to analyze content from a philosophical perspective. This will be followed by a summary of the external aspects of Doja Cat’s works such as the lyrics, visuals, and her body language. Afterwards, I will examine how a semiotic analyze ties in with the denotative framework of “Mooo!” and how it provides a more comprehensive interpretation of this song. The final portion of this paper will conclude with a statement about my personal insights in relation to the messages being expressed by the music video.
When it comes to studying semiotics and finding significance in visual representations such as television and internet-based broadcasts, one of the most commonly used models is the process of encoding/decoding messages.
Stuart Hall also established another method of examining semiotics which consists of three approaches to comprehend how meaning is generated and represented by different symbols and languages. Beginning with the reflective approach, it indicates that people will automatically believe visual and verbal communication within the media reflects the idea of life itself. This instance occurs when the receiver expects that the producer is using examples of truthful meaning and reconstructing it with encoded messages (Hall 1997, 24). Second, the intentional approach has a different perspective, and it asserts that media representations are encoded with the distinctive intentions of whoever created it. In other words, it is not about the ideas that are presented, but rather the individuals who are sharing them because they are basically conveying their own interpretations that represent whatever the creators want it to mean (Hall 1997, 25).
Thirdly, the Constructionist approach has collective ideals from the previous two because it combines characteristics from both reflective and intentional representations. This notion occurs when the meaning of something is formed from both of its literal and symbolic versions. From this standpoint, the meaning of a representation is formed from the audience’s understanding of a message rather than the producers (Hall 1997, 25). Overall, the combination of knowledge from the encoding/decoding model and Hall’s theory provides an outline that is helpful for dissecting the literal and subjective depictions in “Mooo!”.
When examining the denotative layer of Doja Cat’s music video, the lyrical and cinematic aspects appear to be very straight forward. It follows a sequence of random background images that coordinate with her actions in the foreground while wearing a cow costume and holding fast food props such as burgers, fries, and milkshakes.
On a more connotative level, “Mooo!” exhibits a variety of themes which are linked between particular phrases from the lyrics and the central visualization of portraying cows as a symbol.
Doja Cat’s music video was certainly full of symbolism and subtexts that can be interpreted as a challenge against the cultural structures of society and it resonated with millions of viewers. However, I believe that the creative direction that she chose for encoding these messages is not the most ideal way to captivate her audience. For instance, the cinematography in this media follows more of an intentional approach because the composition focuses mostly on Doja Cat’s actions. This style of framing convinces the audience that the visuals being presented in the music video are only meant to promote her own personal values and discourages people from perceiving them in a reflective manner.  I also feel that visual types of media should attempt to follow the constructionist semiotic approach, and Doja Cat could have done this by incorporating more thematic elements that express the metaphoric messages from her lyrics (e.g. capitalism, factory farming, body image, etc).
As I previously stated, information was originally shared with a specific purpose in mind until society introduced additional connotative references that enlightened the ways in which we interpret the meaning of its context (Hall 1993, 24).  One of the more elaborate forms of encoded semiotics derives from music videos because they contain several symbolic ideas mixed together with verbal, print, and image-based components. My paper examined this subject matter by using the foundational components of semiotic analysis to academically evaluate Doja Cat’s viral music video. I started by discussing the terminology and characteristics of semiotics that were constructed by prominent scholars who specialized in this area of study. Then, I summarized the denotative characteristics of “Mooo!” including the scenery, lyrical components, and non-verbal expressions. The third part of this essay demonstrated how a semiotic analysis of this music video allowed me to implement connotative meanings to create a different and more complex representation of Doja Cat’s original production. Lastly, I concluded with some thoughts regarding my own opinion on this music video and explained why it does not intellectually appeal to me despite having several layers of symbolism.

Doja Cat. 2018. “Mooo!”. Video.
Hall, Stuart. “Encoding/Decoding.” In The Cultural Studies Reader, Simon During, ed.,
507-17. London: Routledge, 1993.
Hall, Stuart. 1997. Representation: cultural representations and signifying practices. London: Sage in association with the Open University.