Gwen Stefani defends all-Asian backup dancers of her Harajuku Girls era


Gwen Stefani is once again defending herself against the Harajuku Girls era of her solo career.

Stefani has long been accused of cultural appropriation for performing both on and off stage with the Harajuku Girls, a dance group made up of women of Japanese descent, during the early years of her solo career.

“All of these rules only divide us further,” Stefani said, defending accusations of cultural appropriation.Paul Archuleta / Getty Images

Now, in a new interview with Paper magazine, the Grammy-winning singer insists the backlash was unwarranted – and says she believes people from different cultures should be allowed to “share” with each other. other.

“If we didn’t buy, sell, and trade our crops, we wouldn’t be so beautiful, you know?” Stefani said. “We learn from each other, we share from each other, we grow from each other.”

“And all these rules divide us more and more,” she added.

Stefani poses with the Harajuku Girls at the 2004 Billboard Music Awards.Frank Micelotta / Fox via Getty Images

Stefani said her “fascination” with Japanese culture began when she was a child, when her father was working in Japan. He would bring home Sanrio toys for his daughter and share details about Tokyo’s trendy Harajuku district.

When his band No Doubt went to Japan in 1996, “It was a big deal for me,” Stefani remembers.

Once the “Hollaback Girl” singer embarked on a solo career, she decided to bring a little bit of Japan home to American audiences.

“I never had a dancer with No Doubt. I never had to change my costume. I never had to do all those fun girlish things that I always love to do,” Stefani explained. “So I had the idea that I would have a group of girls – because I never had to hang out with girls – and they would be Japanese girls, Harajuku girls, because those are the girls that I love. They are my friends. “

The four women – who bore the stage names Love, Angel, Music, and Baby – were often mentioned in Stefani’s work, and their names served as the title for her first solo album in late 2004.

Stefani, who would later go on to create a Harajuku Lovers clothing line, added that Japan is “where I would be if I made my dream come true, I could go live there and I could hang out in Harajuku.”

Among Stefani’s critics is actress Margaret Cho. In 2005, Cho wrote an outspoken essay calling the Harajuku Girls a “minstrel show,” arguing that they reinforced negative stereotypes about Asian women.

Therèsa M. Winge, associate professor of clothing and textile design at Michigan State University, author of a 2008 article on the styles of the trendy Toyko district, argued that the situation was nuanced.

“It’s really very complex because it’s not a situation of cultural appropriation only … there is a level of appreciation that Stefani used to justify his actions,” she told TODAY. HUI in an email. “It’s cultural appropriation even though Stefani hired the young women to portray his version of Harajuku Girls for performances and personal appearances. Unfortunately, Stefani borrowed a style for her dress and her backup performers, even a style from street that is at the origin and visually defines a part of a society and, in this case, of an ethnic group, it is cultural appropriation. “

In this case, Winge said, many Japanese Harajuku-style subcultures have emerged from the region’s hair salons using young people as role models to attract future clients, followers and influencers – thus, in simple terms, spreading the word. look in the distance.

“It is likely that companies and brands lead to organized street styles and subcultures due to saturation of markets and the evolution of marketing / retail / brands”, a- she explained.

Winge added that it didn’t seem like Stefani wanted to take anything away from Japanese street-style subcultures, “however, she quickly moved away from the Harajuku Girls when these (appropriation) concerns surfaced for the first time.”

Stefani previously addressed the Harajuku Girls controversy in a 2019 interview with Billboard.

The singer, who also wore bindis and saris on stage in the 1990s while dating No Doubt Indo-American bassist Tony Kanal, said she found the idea to debase another culture. “horrible”.

“When (Harajuku Girls) first came out,” Stefani said, “I think people understood that it was an artistic and literal arc to a culture that I was a superfan of.”

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