Over 15 years since the release of her debut solo album, Gwen Stefani has defended her decision to employ “Harajuku girls” as part of her creative process.
There was a time when it was completely normal to open a magazine and see a photograph of Gwen Stefani posing with four “Harajuku girls”.
This was 15 years ago, when Stefani released her first solo album Love, Angel, Music, Baby, with hit songs including Hollaback Girl, Cool and What You Waiting for? It’s hugely inspired by Stefani’s love for Japanese culture, which is her explanation for asking the women to be a part of the creative process. There’s even a song called Harajuku Girls on the record.
But, at a time when we’ve woken up to the problem with cultural appropriation, would Stefani’s decision to do this be acceptable today?
In a new interview with Billboard, she has defended her decision to involve the women in her work, saying that she just wanted to show her love for Harajuku.
“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 said.
“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!”
She continued to explain: “So when people asked me about it during radio interviews, I told them this was all a concept and we were having fun. 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.”
She then discussed the song Harajuku Girls and addressed the question about cultural appropriation.
“I wanted to write a song that talked about my love for Harajuku. When you’re from Anaheim and never traveled outside of your city until you’re 21 years old, it was really crazy to go to Japan,” she said.
“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.”
Although Stefani still insists she was just paying homage to a culture she loves, it’s the failure to recognise why some would question this that perhaps makes her words an uncomfortable read.