The first time I heard the name Gwen Stefani was in 1996. A fellow classmate in University told me that her term paper topic for English Literature class was about Gwen Stefani of the band, No Doubt. She said one particular song titled “I am just a girl” really inspired her and has made her feel empowered.
Almost ten years has passed by, I wonder whatever happened to Ms. Stefani that bleached blonde dyslexic girl from
Recently I have received several emails from readers about Gwen Stefani; one of them was an article by MiHi Anh titled “Gwenihana” posted in Salon.com. The article was indeed interesting about how Ms. Stefani has been blindly adapting pseudo-Japanese culture into her fashion and life style. One particular oddity was the “Harajuku Girls”:
Stefani, the platinum-blond No Doubt front woman with the undulating midriff, recently released her first solo album, "Love, Angel, Music, Baby," a riotous jumble of everything from '80s bubble-gum pop to hip-hop to "Fiddler on the Roof" gone mad on a pirate ship. And tying all these influences together in one baffling mélange of semiotic ambiguity is her ever-present entourage: Four Harajuku girls, or rather, Stefani's interpretation of
They shadow her wherever she goes. They're on the cover of the album, they appear behind her on the red carpet, and she even dedicates a track, "Harajuku Girls," to them. In interviews, they silently vogue in the background like living props; she, meanwhile, likes to pretend that they're not real but only a figment of her imagination. They're ever present in her videos and performances -- swabbing the deck aboard the pirate ship, squatting gangsta style in a high school gym while pumping their butts up and down, simpering behind fluttering hands or bowing to Stefani. That's right, bowing. Not even from the waist, but on the ground in a "we're not worthy, we're not worthy" pose. She's taken
Real Harajuku girls are just the funky dressers who hang out in the Japanese shopping district of Harajuku. To the uninitiated, Harajuku style can look like what might happen if a 5-year-old girl jacked up on liquor and goofballs decided to become a stylist. Layering is important, as is the mix of seemingly disparate styles and colors. Vintage couture can be mixed with traditional Japanese costumes, thrift-store classics, Lolita-esque flourishes and cyber-punk accessories. In a culture where the dreaded "salary man/woman" office worker is a fate to be avoided for this never-wanna-grow-up generation, Harajuku style can look as radical as punk rockers first looked on London's King Road or how pale-faced Goths silently sweating in their widows weeds look in cheerful sunny suburbs.
Stefani has taken the idea of
Stefani fawns over Harajuku style in her lyrics, but her appropriation of this subculture makes about as much sense as the Gap selling Anarchy T-shirts; she's swallowed a subversive youth culture in
It's not only Stefani whose big kiss to the East ends up feeling more like a big Pacific Rim job. Author Peter Carey's own recent foray into Japanophila, the book "Wrong About Japan," was a semi-autobiographical account of one clueless father's attempt to bond with his son over manga on a trip to Japan, and his futile attempts to understand Japanese culture through a Western filter. Why devote an entire book to being "Wrong About Japan," when you can just send out a one-page fax that reads, "They Are Inscrutable." Even some of the movies that consciously play with Japanese stereotypes can seem puerile no matter how fast the postmodern hipster spin, whether it's Lucy Liu's blood-lusting geisha in "Kill Bill," or Devon Aoki's killer Miho in the new "Sin City," who slays a multitude but is never allowed to utter a single word.
One reader Chris has emailed me about this phenomenon:
"The point is, Ms. Stefani has started using Asian culture as a way to make money. Specifically, as I understand, Japanese Harajuku style clothing in her upcoming clothing line.
http://gwenihana.blogspot.com/ is a site you can go to learn more about the situation if you're interested. Story has it she pays her little entourage of "Japanese" girls (who are probably Americans) to walk with her everywhere she goes and only speak Japanese and exude a trendy hip-hop styled geisha aura. I have a screen shot from her aforementioned music video in which there are Asian characters on a basketball court floor, and a little ad Gwen did for her clothing line. But anyway, this is a more recent appearance of eastern language in western pop-culture."
I have also asked my friends in
“I've never seen anybody in Harajuku that dresses like that and I go by and through all the time. It's just another gimmick. The knee pads thing is a bit weird.
In her lyrics she mentions the underground malls in the world of Harajuku. How ignorant can she be? Shinjuku has underground malls. So does
But then she just wants to create a fantasy world in her own mind. Like I said, if it works for her, more power to her.”
Aaron emailed with the following:
“The fact that they are only allowed to speak Japanese in public is what pisses me off the most. Japanese is not a "cool" language. It's not a game. It's not a parlor trick. It's a language. It's a language with a long and convoluted and interesting history (much like that of English). It is a language that people speak to do business, learn things, and talk to their loved ones. It is a TOOL; it is a CULTURE. It is NOT some quaint little habit of yellow people with crazy costumes. So you know what? Screw Gwen Stefani. I'd say she should know better, but since she's essentially illiterate, I guess that is simply asking too much.”
However another friend of mine, Andy, has a different view about Ms. Stefani:
“I don't really agree with the article much. She talks about how Stefani appropriated a youth culture for her own purposes, but what's wrong with that? She’s just using a style she thinks is cool, and people find their inspirations everywhere. Why not use the Harajuku girls? I don't even think the real girls in Harajuku are mad that they're being misrepresented by Gwen Stefani.”Personally, I don't really mind if Ms. Stefani uses pseudo-Japanese culture to make a few bucks with her fashion line, or randomly throw in couple of Japanese Kanji in her music video and on the CD album covers, as long as she would get them done correctly.
Otherwise, she is just another Winkie poser.