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Why ‘Girls Who Code’ Created a Music Video with Doja Cat

The organization and the female rap artist have teamed up to make programming fun and accessible for girls. But the campaign has some critics.
Jan 2nd, 2022 6:00am by
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One of my favorite moments in the year gone by was a very creative attempt to bring long-term changes to the world of computer programming — when female rap artist Doja Cat released what she’s calling “the world’s first codable music video.”

It’s all part of a larger campaign to draw young women into computer science. Or, as Girls Who Code later tweeted, “Okay, it’s official. Doja Cat might just be the coolest coding teacher ever.”

The nonprofit launched back in 2012 specifically to address the gender gap in technology — and part of that mission involves getting young girls interested in the field of computer science.

“When I founded Girls Who Code, I took a bet,” founder Reshma Saujani recently tweeted. “You don’t close the gender gap in tech just by teaching girls to code. You have to change our whole culture. Attitudes about what coding is and what it can enable us to do. About who is a coder and what a coder looks like.”

And that’s where Doja Cat comes in.

Programming Fun on ‘Planet Her’

Doja_Cat_2020_Vogue_Taiwan_01 (via Wikipedia)A special website displays Doja Cat’s newest music video in a unique interface that lets viewers change images from the video using computer code — and it’s been a big hit. When Girls Who Code tweeted out an announcement about the new site, it drew over 1,000 retweets and 2,714 likes. (The first reply to the tweet came from the official Twitter account of Barbie, who’d responded: “Incredible.”)

In a statement, Girls Who Code said “The aim of the experience is to show a new generation of fans who may be unaware of the career opportunities in the technology and computer science field, just how creative and fun it can be.”

And a buzz began to build quickly…

By Christmas YouTube showed over 40 million views for the new video in just its first three weeks — and it was still attracting nearly a million new views every day. And some of that comes from teenaged girls accessing the video through DojaCode.com, enjoying its unique mix of education and fun.

Screenshot from DojaCode dot com

The music video shows Doja Cat as the ruler of “Planet Her,” receiving an urgent warning about men stealing her throne. But for viewers at DojaCode.com, the video pauses on a close-up of Queen Doja’s glamorously long fingernails, as an on-screen prompt urges visitors to type a new color name in a line of CSS code highlighted at the bottom-left of the screen.

As they begin typing, the site auto-fills some suggestions — including nail-color-themed choices like rainbow, pixels, water, snake, leopard and reptile. There’s a question-mark-in-a-circle icon for anyone who’s confused, but it just brings up the same simple challenge again: “Type any color you want.”

And the long fingernails in the close-up instantly switch to whatever color the visitor types in.

The video pauses again when it reaches a mysterious swirl of magical gold sparkles — this time displaying a snippet of JavaScript code in the screen’s lower-left corner. “Activate Doja power,” the comment hints, highlighting three lines of JavaScript code and suggesting that viewers “Try typing any number.”

There are variables named particles.height and particles.speed (as well as a text-based variable named particles.color) — and sure enough, changing the variables’ values bring changes to the animated image.

The fresh creativity of the song and the video somehow infuses the programming challenges. “Bring your sky to Planet Her,” suggests a later comment, letting users enter their own values to JavaScript variables named date.timeZone (as well as sky.clouds.type, and sky.tint.Color).

And the final coding challenge? “Create flower shower — change the number and color of the flowers.” Emma Roth, a weekend news editor at the Verge, wrote that “While the DojaCode video doesn’t involve any intense amounts of programming, I still found it fun to experiment with typing in different options and seeing my changes instantly take effect.”

And as the video ends, viewers are invited to save screenshots of their handiwork from any of the four challenges — or to share the site’s link on Twitter or Facebook.

Doja Cat nails from Woman video - moment_1

Making Coding Cool

it’s the final result of an earnest three-way collaboration which included activist marketing agency Mojo Supermarket, which in 2020 created an online portal for watching the Oscars livestream where all the ads were replaced with trailers for films directed by women.

RCA Records teamed them up with Active Theory, a creative digital production studio that builds unique apps and websites, as well as installations and even VR and AR experiences. (Among other things, the studio worked with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on an educational website listing all the off-the-shelf parts you’d need for building your own Mars rover.)

All the collaborators seemed to come to the project with a clear sense of purpose. Emily Berger, Mojo Supermarket’s creative lead, stated in the project’s announcement that “We want to get more girls to try coding. But there’s a thousand other things that girls care about more than coding. And Doja Cat is like 999 of them. So we were like … can Doja make learning to code cool?”

And the video’s director (who goes by the name of child.) added in the statement that “this project has been an especially meaningful and unique one for me. Seeing more inclusiveness in creative fields is something I’m really passionate about, so to be part of a project that gives young girls exposure to a whole new industry, while acting as creative directors of Planet Her all by using code, really means a lot.”

Doja Cat says she’s also very excited about the partnership. “Fans all over the world will get to input code via a microsite and unlock some really cool special features,” she said in the project’s announcement, adding that “It’s going to be awesome.”

And on the Girls Who Code Twitter feed, the organization shared some of the enthusiastic reactions. “I’ve always been the only girl in my coding classes,” one viewer tweeted. “I used to hide my femininity because I was scared of not being taken seriously. That’s why this means so much to me. Thank you.”

The Right Role Model?

The site carries extra cachet with teenagers since Doja Cat is becoming one of the hottest names in pop music. 2020 saw her set a Guinness World Record, as part of the first female rap duo (with Nicki Minaj) to have a number one record on America’s “Billboard Hot 100” charts.

By the end of 2021, she’d earned 11 Grammy nominations and had 18 million followers on Instagram, plus another 4 million on Twitter. (An October article in Forbes noted her “aloof, irreverent, chronically online persona,” but also “a tireless work ethic.”)

But not everyone’s convinced that her video sends the right message. Anita Lavakumar, the computer science program director for Boston public schools, is a fan of Girls Who Code, and called the programmable video a “great idea.” But Lavakumar also questioned the choice of song, asking “how in the world are the sexual images and the lyrics ‘let me be your woman’ supposed to empower women?”

Lavakumar also wondered what age group the video was ultimately targeted to, and complained that the exercise ultimately “missed the mark.”

Or, as one commenter on the Verge put it, “I’m not sure a music video with half-naked girls gyrating in bikinis made of jewelry is the right imagery.”

Also weighing in was Lindsey Sachs, a technology integration specialist at a Catholic Independent academy for preschool to eighth-grade students. Sachs has used Girls Who Code material with female middle school students, and tweeted about the video, “I know they would love this experience.”

But Sachs felt the video was overly sexual (and included drinking), ultimately calling it “not appropriate.” She also complained that in the video Doja Cat also sent the wrong message visually. “Sorry, won’t be using this to bring coding into my school,” she tweeted.

To be fair, in the site’s version of the song some explicit words get replaced with a quick radio-style drop in the volume of the vocal track. And a commenter on the Verge countered that “It’s great to see a role model a lot of girls look up to promoting STEM in a fun way.”

Jacqueline Smalls, chief programs officer at Code.org, also specifically applauded the video “for making relevant connections to inspire young women to code!”

And while calling it “so inspiring to a generation of women and girls pursuing STEM,” the youth-oriented nonprofit Do Something also hailed it as “a reminder that there’s so much more to the field than what’s advertised.”

In fact, Girls Who Code’s statement emphasized that it’s all part of a series of campaigns “designed to transform the common narrative of what a coder looks like and does. Empowering girls and people from underrepresented groups in tech to envision themselves as the future of the industry is key to fulfilling the organization’s North Star mission of closing the gender gap in tech by 2030.”

On Twitter the organization added that “We think partnering with a Grammy-nominated superstar is an amazing step towards making that transformation happen.”

And perhaps to underscore the point, deeply and emphatically, they shared a reaction video from Slack software engineer Maya Bello, who gushed, “I don’t think my heart has ever been this happy before.”

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