Gwen Stefani Responds to ‘Cultural Appropriation’ Backlash

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Ever since Gwen Stefani rose to fame in the mid-’90s, the singer has been known for drawing “fashion-influence” from minority cultures.

Stefani’s problematic behavior has become more famous than her music. But now, all these years later, she’s finally responded…

Gwen Stefani began her career as the lead singer of “No Doubt.”

Stefani burst into the mainstream music scene as the lead singer of SoCal rock band, No Doubt.

They’re famed for several hits including “Don’t Speak,” “Spiderwebs,” and Just a Girl”.

However, after the release of the band’s 1995 studio album, Tragic Kingdom, the star’s problematic aesthetic soon became apparent.

Throughout the ’90s, in many of No Doubt’s music videos, the singer is seen wearing a bindi. Bindi’s are worn by South Asian women for religious and cultural reasons, however, the singer continued to wear the decoration as a fashion accessory for her “distinct” aesthetic, ex-Stefani-fan, Wanna Thompson, writes in her article for Vice.


After splitting from the band in the early ’00s, the singer embarked on a solo career that skyrocketed her to pop stardom, seeing her release popular hits such as “Hollaback girl” and “Sweet Escape.”
But, this was far from the end of her “problematic” choices…

The singer received backlash for her “Harajuku girls” backup dancers.

In 2005 and 2006, Stefani was slammed for appearing with a silent group of Asian-American women, whom the singer called her “Harajuku Girls,” after a group of women that she met in the Harajuku district of Japan.
The group regularly featured in the star’s music videos and accompanied her to promotional events.

The singer raised eyebrows when, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, she called the “Harajuku Girls” an “art project” and reportedly renamed each of them — “Love,” “Angel,” “Music,” and “Baby” after her new album title.

Though the singer justified herself by saying that she was simply embracing the Harajuku culture, others were not so sure…

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At the time, Cho compared the singer’s Harajuku Girls to “Blackface,” while a 2005 Salon article about the Harajuku Girls accused the singer of “fawning” over Harajuku culture in her lyrics.

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Since then, the star has had a “Harajuku Lovers” line of fragrances, made up of 6 scents and a Harajuku Mini fashion line, which was sold in Target.

However, the singer insisted that she didn’t regret using the Harajuku girls.

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During an interview with TIME in 2014, Stefani admitted that she didn’t regret hiring or featuring them, despite the backlash.

“There’s always going to be two sides to everything.”

“For me, everything that I did with the Harajuku Girls was just a pure compliment and being a fan… Seriously, that was all meant out of love,” the star said.

Though her “questionable” fashion days may have appeared to have simmered down since the ’90s and early ’00s, after reuniting with her band, No Doubt, in 2012, Stefani and her band faced backlash once again.

This time, for their “stereotypical” portrayal of Indigenous people.

The band were forced to pull their music video for the 2012 single “Looking Hot” just one day after its debut, which featured the band members playing a game of cowboys and Indians.

After receiving criticism for the music video, the band issued an apology on their website, saying: “As a multi-racial band our foundation is built upon both diversity and consideration for other cultures. Our intention with our new video was never to offend, hurt or trivialize Native American people, their culture, or their history.
“We sincerely apologize to the Native American community and anyone else offended by this video. Being hurtful to anyone is simply not who we are.”

5 years ago, Stefani posted an image of herself seemingly wearing African-inspired wear.
The singer then had her backup dancers dressed in similar pieces pulled from fashion-house, Valentino’s “wild Africa” themed SS16 collection during an episode of The Voice.

In response, one Instagram user wrote, “You know I had really hoped it was a fluke, that the first image I saw last night was a one-off. It’s really unfortunate that nothing was learnt from the video fiasco @gwenstefani. You should, in my opinion, be using your celebrity as a platform and mentoring new artists against cultural appropriation in this day and age.”

“There’re so many other ways to be creative than to take very recognizable pieces of other cultures and exploit them.”

But why did it take so long for people to speak about the star’s cultural appropriation?

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In her article for Vice, Thompson said that she thinks the star managed to evade judgement for the most part, as cultural appropriation had not yet “become a national buzzword” and because, at the time, social media didn’t exist.

“It wasn’t until I joined Twitter years later and became more aware of how pop-culture often sucks the life from disenfranchised communities as fodder, that I realized that various people shared similar thoughts about Stefani’s offensive action,” wrote Thompon.

Since the Vice article was published, more people took to Twitter to bash the star’s track record.

One user wrote how the singer has always been “canceled,” saying: “Gwen Stefani has BEEN canceled since she made a whole ass album to fetishize Asian culture and bit off every other culture in between who cares what racist tractor-trailer white cousin she’s dating now.”

“2004 was a simpler time… a time when Gwen Stefani could base a whole solo career around cultural appropriation,” they wrote.

They took to Twitter to say how people are quick to call out other celebrities but are yet to “call out years of cultural appropriation from Gwen Stefani.”

Now, more than 2 years after the original Vice article was published, Stefani has finally responded.

“If we didn’t buy and sell and trade our cultures in, we wouldn’t have so much beauty,” she claimed.

“We learn from each other, we share from each other, we grow from each other.”

“And all these rules are just dividing us more and more.”

“I get a little defensive when people [call it cultural appropriation], because if we didn’t allow each other to share our cultures, what would we be?”

“You take pride in your culture and have traditions, and then you share them for new things to be created.”

So … not quite an apology, then.

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