As I make myself comfortable inside Portland, Oregon’s Roseland Theater, I notice a blindingly bright neon sign above me. It reads: “Better Safe Than Social.” It’s a sweet notion made sweeter by all the friendly faces clutching Red Bull mocktails as they wait for Dodgr, the slogan’s creator, to take the stage.
Tonight is the first headlining show for Dodgr (f.k.a The Last Artful, Dodgr) at one of Portland’s premier venues, and the room is buzzing with the energy of a homecoming. Unbeknownst to the sold-out crowd in attendance, Red Bull Presents: Dodgr will be her last show as a Portland resident. After years of running away to find herself, Dodgr is returning home to Los Angeles.
Going home isn’t exactly easy for the artist born Alana Chenevert. Raised by a single mother in Los Angeles’ Mid-City, music always enraptured Dodgr. “Before I could speak-speak, I was memorizing songs and making them myself,” she tells me a day later over drinks at Moloko, her favorite local spot. “I didn’t pick this up when I turned 12 or 13. I was born with it. And I’m only getting better.”
From a young age, music became Dodgr’s solace amid the gang violence that surrounded LA and her family. A love of music not only helped Dodgr to graduate from Humboldt State University in 2011 with two degrees—one in journalism and another in anthropology, with an emphasis in public relations—but inspired her to move somewhere with more kindred spirits.
“I was traumatized,” she elaborates. “I have a brother who was about that action. My mom was a single parent, and I grew up with nothing. All kinds of shit. I was afraid for my life living in that city for the longest time. I needed to get away.”
Dodgr’s motto rang true at the show the night prior. During her finale, as she executed her best Powerline impression for new single “Hot,” a stanza from the song’s second verse stood out:
“You say I’m a dog and I’m crazy / Yeah, maybe true / But I never stray from you / Always by your side, tongue out for the ride / Darlin', to stay with you / Just to lay with you here.”
Dodgr’s writing is both candid and practiced, direct reports from the frontline of heartache. As the song’s doo wop-inspired production swells to a crescendo, Dodgr’s words close the distance between artist and fan and speak to the anxious excitement in the room.
After graduating from Humboldt State, Dodgr’s music journalism ambitions morphed into a desire to create music of her own. “From what I could see online, there wasn’t much of a hip-hop scene out here,” she says, talking in-between bites of an eggplant panini with pesto and cheese, and an arugula salad with pecans and beets on the side. “I thought to myself, I could either stay in Cali with all the people who were moving in, or I could go to somebody else’s hometown, where nobody popped, and lowkey make it my own. It was an experiment, and it worked out.”
Dodgr’s move to Portland led her to sign a record deal with EYRST, an independent label founded by former professional basketball player Martell Webster in 2015. Her breakout single, 2016’s “Squadron,” showcases high-pitched syrupy flows over droning synths. It would be the first of many irresistible earworms.
Dodgr found a creative muse in the city of Portland, but her hard work wouldn’t pay off until 2017 when she received a fateful call from a burgeoning star named Aminé. The Republic Records signee was set to perform his breakout hit “Caroline” on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and he needed backup singers. Dodgr gladly accepted his offer.
“We all watched where Aminé came from since 2016,” she says. “That he thought of me to back him up at that time was incredible. That changed my life.” The next day, Dodgr appeared on Sway Calloway’s Wake Up Show—an opportunity which boosted her profile even further—and set the stage for the latest chapter of her career.
Being an openly queer artist with an ever-expanding profile caught the eye of Maarquii, a fellow Portland transplant who had moved from LA shortly after college, a year later. Their affinity for the ballroom scene helped to curate a connection to Dodgr’s image.
“I had just started playing shows on my own, and I remember my friends telling me I needed to hear Dodgr’s music and how alike we both were,” they tell me in the green room before Dodgr’s show. “When we did meet, it was like she’d been my sister forever. She’s someone who’s always been a champion and tosses the rope back to me when she can.”
As we finish our conversation, it clicks that everything Dodgr has built relates to a sense of home. She wants everyone to be comfortable. The soft coos that grace the velvety funk of Anderson .Paak’s “Anywhere” is the same voice capable of penning a kiss-off like “Wrong Way.” Whether chill or scorned, Dodgr’s ethos is about feeling at one with yourself.
This ethos was present in her stark announcement at the end of her performance the previous night: “This is my farewell show.” Portland helped Dodgr spread her wings, but she’s grown tired of running from her home. “I have trauma to heal, and I can’t do that here,” she states plainly. “Especially since so many of my people have moved. What keeps you anywhere? People. I wanna be where my people are, and I wanna be close to my family.”
“Better Safe Than Social” helped hundreds of people feel seen within the Roseland, but for now, it’s calling Dodgr home to heal. Home is always where the heart is.