Gwen Stefani has responded to cultural appropriation criticisms levelled against her in a new interview, saying her first visit to Japan made her think: “My God, I’m Japanese and I didn’t know it.”
The star has been criticised in the past for using elements of Japanese culture in her music – including the promo campaign for 2004 album ‘Love. Angel. Music. Baby’ – and her merchandise, like the Harajuku Lovers perfume range. Stefani has also been criticised for appropriating South Asian, Black, Native American and Latin cultures at various points in her career.
In a new interview with Allure, Stefani – who is Italian-American – was asked what she had learned from the backlash to the Harajuku Lovers line. She replied by explaining that her dad’s job at Yamaha, which saw him frequently travel to Japan, exposed her to Japanese culture when she was young.
“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,” she said.
Gwen Stefani with her Harajuku girls in 2004 CREDIT: Jon Furniss/WireImage
After visiting herself as an adult, she explained: “I said, ‘My God, I’m Japanese and I didn’t know it’. I am, you know.” Allure reported that Stefani said she was Japanese twice during the interview and described herself as “a little bit of an Orange County girl, a little bit of a Japanese girl, a little bit of an English girl”.
Speaking about her connection to Japanese culture, Stefani called herself a “super fan”. “If [people are] going to criticise me for being a fan of something beautiful and sharing that, then I just think that doesn’t feel right,” she said. “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?”
The singer previously responded to criticisms of cultural appropriation regarding her ‘Harajuku Girls’ backing dancers in 2021. Told of Margaret Cho’s criticism of the dancers, in which she compared them to a minstrel show, Stefani said: “If we didn’t buy and sell and trade our cultures in, we wouldn’t have so much beauty, you know?
“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 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.”
Last year, Stefani discussed the possibility of a No Doubt reunion, saying although the band hadn’t spoken about it, she wasn’t ruling it out. “Anything can happen,” she said. “I have no idea what’s going to happen with No Doubt.
“We haven’t really talked about doing anything, but it feels like everyone is, right? All the ’90s people — Blink-182 did an eight-month tour that sold out in like five minutes.”
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