Nothing to see here! Gwen Stefani doesn’t think the title of her hit song “Harajuku Girls” is a big deal, and now the blonde beauty is slamming people for calling it an act of cultural appropriation. “I wanted to write a song that talked about my love for Harajuku. When you’re from Anaheim [California] and never traveled outside of your city until you’re 21 years old, it was really crazy to go to Japan,” she told Billboard magazine in an interview published on Tuesday, November 19.
The 50-year-old released her first solo album, Love. Angel. Music. Baby., in 2004 and got candid about her thought process while she was in the studio at the time. “My dad went [to Japan] a lot because he worked with Yamaha motorcycles, so I had a fascination from a young age,” she continued. “When I got there and saw how fashion-obsessed they were, I thought they were my people because my style was so unique. I get a little defensive when people [call it culture 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.”
At the time, critics slammed the track and one reviewer claimed it contained “extremely racist stereotypes.” But Gwen — whose fashion and perfume line along with the way she dressed was inspired by Japanese women — made it clear that she wasn’t trying to be controversial. “When it first came out, I think people understood that it was an artistic and literal bow down to a culture that I was a superfan of,” she explained. “This album was like a dream. I went in thinking, ‘I’m going to make something that could never be possible — me doing a dance record — come true.’ It was almost like a joke because I thought that could never happen to me. So, it was my fantasy. When the Harajuku Girls came out, it was like, you’re not even real, you’re a dream. It wasn’t like, ‘You’re not real because you’re Asian.’ Are you kidding me? That would be horrifying!”
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Ultimately, the “Hollaback Girl” songstress wanted to release a bop about a place that meant so much to her. “So, when people asked me about it during radio interviews, I told them this was all a concept, and we were having fun,” she shared. “By the way, the girls were cast to be dancers — that’s all. We went to Nobu in London, and we talked about the concept of the record, and I showed them my style bible. Judging by their own personalities, I called them ‘Love,’ ‘Angel,’ ‘Music’ and ‘Baby.’ It was like we were creating a group together.”
Despite some backlash, the album was a huge success as it debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 chart at the time and earned six Grammy nominations. “I didn’t know it was going to be embraced the way it was,” she gushed. “Plus, so many other things were happening in my life: I just got married [to Gavin Rossdale in 2002], went on my first solo tour, where I actually had costumes changes, got pregnant with my first baby, started [the clothing lines] L.A.M.B. and Harajuku Lovers. It was a time of creation and a really fun time in music. I’m really lucky that I got to live through that period.”
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