"I'm washed out," Doja jokes with PEOPLE as a neon JBL sign blurs her screen. "I look like the alien from Cocoon."
The background sign that momentarily takes over Doja's Zoom screen, as she compares herself to a creature from a 1985 Ron Howard film, is just a flashy reminder of what Doja is up to in Las Vegas during her Wednesday catch-up with PEOPLE. The pop superstar, 26, is preparing for what's essentially her comeback performance at the Virgin Hotels Las Vegas as part of JBL Fest – a three-night entertainment experience featuring fellow global brand ambassadors The Kid LAROI, Bebe Rexha and Martin Garrix, as well as opportunities for JBL fans to immerse themselves in gaming and sports.
Months after having to pull out of her opening slot on The Weeknd's After Hours Till Dawn Tour this summer as a result of an abscess in her left tonsil, Doja is ready to perform again at the event's JBL Live show. She's practically totally healed too as she works on her new music, she tells PEOPLE, and has a newfound love for Velveeta shells after her surgeries. But her love for performing, on this night for some of Doja's biggest fans, surpasses that of even the most digestible pasta.
Missed y’all 🥲
— spooky cat (@DojaCat) September 29, 2022
"I'm really excited to be on stage again," Doja explains ahead of her performance, where she squeezed everything from "Tia Tamera" to "Kiss Me More" inside a 15-song setlist. "That's one of the greatest parts of my career. I think the prep for it is hard. Obviously, when I have 1,000 dancers and things are a lot, it's too much. But I'm going out there by myself this time, and it feels really freeing and relaxed. And that's a good way to come back into it."
Ahead of her performance, Doja spoke with PEOPLE about recovering from her surgery, being "bald and cute" in her new It's Giving merch line, and why she doesn't plan on revealing anything about her upcoming album. You're going to have to "beg and plead" for that information.
With you being a global ambassador for JBL, your authenticity as an artist was cited as a main reason for this partnership. What would you say has been your key, over the last few years, to remaining authentic to your vision in music?
I'm not sure, I think it's just ranting on Twitter. I wouldn't recommend that to anyone. Just having the right people around me has helped me a lot, and having people tell me not to do certain things and to do certain things. I think, when people agree with you all the time, you sort of lose yourself. And people tell you you're doing great or that you're an idiot, it's good. You need all of it. You need all of that all the time.
This is one of your first performances back after your throat surgery. How was that process of resting your voice for those weeks after? I read that it could take a few weeks.
I swear, they told me it was weeks. It took so long. It's still healing. I'm practically healed right now, but it took much longer. Yeah man, that was tough. I think I could go through any surgery at this point. That was just so, so crazy. They took a laser to my tonsils and singed it off with heat, which is just like… and then the fear of it opening back up because it's healing. You can do certain things to open it back up by accident. Some people have to get rushed back in; it's not common. But I had to be really good to myself and chill out.
How did you spend that time of quietness?
Ice cream. So much, so much ice cream. And just soft food, which is really nice. I started eating like a child again, which I was excited for. I think that was the best thing that came out of it. But yeah, and then getting back into eating like an adult again was hard, but it was really useful. [I've had enough] Velveeta shells.
I'm gonna have to get myself some after this. But I'm glad you're back on track, and you have this show. Obviously, with this event set in Vegas, you have the opportunity to play a song called "Vegas" in Vegas. What does it mean for you when you see a track like "Vegas" (from the Elvis soundtrack) continue to rise on the charts, and on radio, even as a non-album single?
It's amazing. It happens with other people, you know, when artists have a song in a movie, and it goes really big. I never thought about it before. I was just like, "Oh, that's a big pop song." But when it happens to you, and you're just like, "Oh, I'm doing this thing for a movie," you think that maybe the movie is more important. It's not about you, and you're just creating an atmosphere… I didn't think that it would be such a moment for me. It was really something to give to that crew, to get to Baz [Luhrmann] to enhance the film. I didn't know it was going to be so about it.
— Doja Cat News (@DojaNews) September 29, 2022
I'm glad that it is. And I do want to talk to you about this next album that you're working on. I'm not going to ask about German rave. I know you went on Twitter, said the album was R&B. You had that voice note where you said it's a rock album. You even said it's going to be called Rock Out Volume One: The Abyss 5000, which I'm particularly excited for if that does happen. But what has it been like seeing people try to figure out what this next sound is going to be?
I'm doing that. I'm doing that. It's gonna happen. That yeah, Rock Out Volume [One]: The Abyss  is coming to you. It's coming to a store near you. A Best Buy near you! I mean, I was going off on tangents on Twitter because I thought it would be funny. Also, I was half joking. Or fully. I mean, I don't know. That's for everybody else to predict.
I'm doing an R&B album
— spooky cat (@DojaCat) September 21, 2022
I think a better question too would be, what is the sound of your next album not going to be?
What's it not going to be? *laughs*
That's the best we're gonna do right now.
I don't know, man. I cannot say. I'm not gonna tell you! I'm not gonna tell anybody anything. I don't care how much people beg and plead.
I'm not gonna beg and plead. Just gonna keep it pushing here! This year also saw you branch out into the "It's Giving" merch line. What was your favorite part of the process, conceptualizing that?
That was a long process but it was worth it, because I got to understand how to put things together like that. I've done merch with people, and the person who helped design some of these clothes with me was a really close friend. So that's really nice to have. He's so talented. And I just really wanted simplicity. I didn't want to go too crazy for the first drop. We have a holiday drop coming up, which is going to be a little bit more fun, and wanting to add a little bit more of a flair to it, and girly flair. But yeah, I just wanted to create some really wearable pieces, and it was fun doing the whole paparazzi thing with that, I loved it. I messed up the rollout for that, not the whole thing. But when I shaved my head, I was supposed to do a reveal with the It's Giving line to the paparazzi. Instead I went on Live and shaved my eyebrows. So I took the much rougher route, where everyone thought I was insane. Instead of just bald and cute.
What would you say this next year for you is going to mean when you look at music, when you look at this holiday line, and all that you're working on? What do you hope fans can take away from this moment for Doja Cat?
I want my fans to feel like they can — it's cliché, but I want them to feel like they can do whatever makes them happy. I want them to express themselves the way that they want to. I want them to never be afraid to take a risk when it comes to music or fashion or, you know, being creative. That's just like everybody's message in a way, but I really do believe that I want my fans to feel that way.