Gwen Stefani has responded to long-standing accusations of cultural appropriation over her “Harajuku Girls” era, making a point that such “rules” are only “dividing us more and more.”
The claims: Since the former “No Doubt” frontwoman released “Harajuku Girls” as part of her debut solo album in 2004, critics have accused her of appropriating Japanese culture.
- The song, which dropped a surprise dance video in 2019, originally featured Japanese dancers Maya Chino, Jennifer Kita, Rino Nakasone and Mayuko Kitayama. They accompanied Stefani on performances, tours and media appearances as she kicked off her solo career.
- Harajuku is a district in the special ward of Shibuya in Tokyo. The neighborhood, which lies in the area around Harajuku Station, is regarded as the birthplace of Japan’s kawaii culture, teeming with fashion-forward and pop-savvy residents and visitors.
- Among those who criticized Stefani early on was comedian Margaret Cho, who compared the concept to minstrel shows of the Jim Crow era. And while a Japanese schoolgirl uniform to her “is kind of like blackface,” Cho said she can only accept it “because something is better than nothing” in representation.
Stefani’s response: Nearly 17 years after the song’s release, Stefani addressed the claims in a new interview with Paper Magazine, saying it was her love for Japanese culture that inspired “Harajuku Girls.”
- While growing up in Anaheim in the 1970s, Stefani used to get Sanrio toys and hear stories about Harajuku from her father, who had been going on business trips to Japan as a market researcher for Yamaha. This sparked her “deep fascination” for the culture.
- As a frontwoman for No Doubt, Stefani said she never got the chance to have dancers, change costumes and “do all of those fun girl things” that she always loved to do. This inspired her idea of having a “posse of girls,” and she wanted them to 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,” Stefani told Paper.
- As for the long-standing backlash, Stefani pointed out that there would not be that much beauty “if we didn’t buy and sell and trade our cultures in.” She also said that people had more freedom before, since there was no narrative “edited for us through social media.”
- “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,” she said.
Stefani previously addressed the controversy in a 2019 interview with Billboard. She said people at the time of the song’s release understood that it was “an artistic and literal bow down to a culture that I was a superfan of.”
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