Gwen Stefani has responded to the accusations of cultural appropriation that greeted her use of Japanese influences in her music, stage show and beauty brands in the 2000s. Stefani's debut solo album, 2004's Love. Angel. Music. Baby., featured imagery heavily influenced by Japan’s Harajuku subculture, including the introduction of the 'Harajuku Girls', four Japanese and Japanese-American backing dancers that accompanied Stefani in her music videos, tours and public appearances around that time.
Furthermore, in 2008, Stefani launched her Harajuku Lovers perfume line, further leaning into the Japanese influences she had embraced. While this era in Stefani's career received great critical acclaim and saw her become one of the most successful pop artists of the mid-2000s, the former No Doubt singer also suffered a backlash from certain sections of the media, with many outlets accusing her of cultural appropriation.
Now, in a new interview with Allure, Stefani has responded to the various reactions that greeted her aesthetic creative direction during the Love. Angel. Music. Baby. era. When asked by Allure writer Jesa Marie Calaor what she learned from her experience with Harajuku Lovers, including the backlash she received, Stefani responds: "That was my Japanese influence and that was a culture that was so rich with tradition, yet so futuristic [with] so much attention to art and detail and discipline and it was fascinating to me." The singer goes on to explain that her (Italian-American) father would regularly travel between California and Japan for work, and his stories of Japanese culture would fascinate the young Stefani.
She would then later travel to the Harajuku district of Tokyo herself and embrace the culture there, telling Calaor: "I said, 'My God, I'm Japanese and I didn't know it.'....I am, you know." Stefani adds that she is a "super fan" of Japanese culture, before addressing the criticism of her 'Harajuku phase' head-on, stating:
"If [people are] going to criticize me for being a fan of something beautiful and sharing that, then I just think that doesn't feel right. I think it was a beautiful time of creativity… a time of the ping-pong match between Harajuku culture and American culture...[It] should be okay to be inspired by other cultures because if we're not allowed then that's dividing people, right?"
Stefani later suggests she is "a little bit of an Orange County girl, a little bit of a Japanese girl, a little bit of an English girl", leading Calaor to point out within the article that the issue of cultural appropriation lies in power dynamics, and that for all Stefani's embracing of Japanese culture, she hasn't seemingly expressed any condemnation of the explosion of hate crimes towards Asians in the United States since 2020.
You can read the article in full here.
Stefani recently announced her first UK tour in 16 years. You can see those dates in full below.
Gwen Stefani UK tour 2023
June 23: Warwick Castle, Warwick
June 24: American Express presents BST Hyde Park, London (supporting Pink)
June 25: American Express presents BST Hyde Park, London (supporting Pink)
June 27: Harewood House, Leeds
June 28: Bolesworth Castle, Chester
June 29: Broadlands Estate, Romsey