Gwen Stefani Doesn't Get What the Big Deal Is About All Her Cultural Appropriation

Illustration for article titled Gwen Stefani Doesn't Get What the Big Deal Is About All Her Cultural Appropriation
Photo: STAN HONDA/AFP (Getty Images)

In a recent profile in Paper Magazine, Gwen Stefani decided to once again stick her foot in her mouth when talking about cultural appropriation by defending the Harajuku Girls, the group of Japanese backup dancers who accompanied Stefani at the beginning of her solo career. Of course, the Harajuku Girls were just one part of Stefani’s appropriation empireshe was also integral to popularizing the cringe-worthy trend of white women wearing bindis, and, of course, who could forget her Frida Kahlo cosplay in the “Luxurious” video??

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Apparently, Stefani got her inspiration to co-opt and profit off of the Japanese culture from the business trips her father took to Japan when she was a child.

“So I had this idea that I would have a posse of girls — because I never got to hang with girls — and they would be Japanese, Harajuku girls, because those are the girls that I love. Those are my homies. That’s where I would be if I had my dream come true, I could go live there and I could go hang out in Harajuku.”

....... So essentially, the Harajuku Girls were props in the background of Stefani’s weird orientalist Japanese fantasy life. She even renamed them. The “Harajuku Girls” consisted of four women named Maya Chino, Jennifer Kita, Rino Nakasone, and Mayuko Kitayama, who had the respective stage names Love, Angel, Music, and Baby..... which also happen to be the words in the title of Stefani’s debut solo album. I can’t help but wonder if any of the women received compensation for their stage names being used as Stefani’s album title, but I probably already know the answer to that question.

The four women were often seen accompanying Stefani both on stage and in public appearances during the early stages of her solo career, and were typically completely silent—likely in part due to their contractual obligation to only speak Japanese in public. Because that definitely doesn’t at all feed into and profit off of stereotypes about Asian women being passive and submissive!

Illustration for article titled Gwen Stefani Doesn't Get What the Big Deal Is About All Her Cultural Appropriation
Photo: Kevin Winter (Getty Images)

Although the backlash against Stefani’s culturally appropriative tendencies has grown in recent years, comedian Margaret Cho was one of the first to criticize the Harajuku Girls. In a 2006 blog post about the Harajuku girls, Cho wrote:

I want to like them, and I want to think they are great, but I am not sure if I can. I mean, racial stereotypes are really cute sometimes, and I don’t want to bum everyone out by pointing out the minstrel show.”

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In the decade and a half since Cho’s comments, Stefani has repeatedly been called out for her appropriation of all things Harajuku. And yet, in the year 2021, Stefani is still insisting that it was absolutely fine for her to use four silent Japanese women as a backdrop for her culturally appropriative bops and then further profit off of them with her Harajuku Lovers clothing and fragrance line.

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

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How FUNNY that white people are the only ones who ever make money off all of this supposed “cultural exchange!

It might be a bit easier to believe this total and utter bullshit if Stefani hadn’t literally trademarked the phrase “Harajuku Girls” in order to make her clothing line—as if Harajuku isn’t a real neighborhood in Tokyo where actual people live, and instead just a fictional playground made just for her own needs.

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Stefani decided to end her utterly inane and empty-headed comments about cultural appropriation the traditional way—with a vague sentiment about “the past” that says nothing at all.

“I think that we grew up in a time where we didn’t have so many rules. We didn’t have to follow a narrative that was being edited for us through social media, we just had so much more freedom.”

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..... I’ll take “Ways To Reveal You’re A White Woman Without Saying You’re A White Woman” for $300, Alex.

Freelance writer & night blogger at Jezebel. Lover of television, astrology, and sandwiches.

DISCUSSION

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JurassicSnark

I can’t help but wonder if any of the women received compensation for their stage names being used as Stefani’s album title

to be fair, that’s not usually how that works.

How FUNNY that white people are the only ones who ever make money off all of this supposed “cultural exchange!”

I hate feeling like I need to point this out but Japanese people do make money off of mimicking western culture, there is definitely more “NY Yankees”- themed stuff in Japan than there are NY yankees fans. Not all exchange is bad, and not everything is white people vs. asian people lacking agency - they have agency, and insert art dissertation here about how some of the most iconic Japanese imagery today [36 views of Mt. Fuji, as an example] was heavily influenced by the trade exchange between Japan and Europe at the time - it’s just tasteless the way she did it, literally branding something that is foreign to her whilst also dumbing it down into a more western-palatable concept of “harajuku” etc.

Having four women as your visual backtrack who are contracted to not speak anything other than Japanese is utterly bizarre and inappropriate.

Apart from that, Stefani is desperately trying to hold onto her street cred from 400 years ago when No Doubt was good and pink hair was something you stood out for.

Sorry Gwen but the world kept turning. That album was cringe, you’re old, we’re all old, let it go.