Gwen Stefani has always publicly expressed her love for her 2004 album, “Love. Angel. Music. Baby.” The album’s visual promotion, which was inspired by Tokyo’s Harajuku fashion district, is more famous than the cheesy melodies. To Stefani, this moment—which has rightly been described as “culture appropriation”—was a love letter to a community she adored, and it appears that her admiration has reached a new problematic level. In a recent Allure interview, the singer justified her Harajuku days by claiming to be Japanese.
Stefani chatted with Allure writer and senior editor Jesa Marie Calaor about her current beauty business, GXVE Beauty, on January 10. Calaor stated in the story that Stefani’s new collection (which includes vegan lipsticks, shadow palettes, and gel eyeliners) isn’t her first cosmetic venture. She referred to the singer’s 2008 Harajuku Lovers fragrance line, which was partly inspired by her “Harajuku Girls,” a troupe of Japanese and Japanese-American dancers with whom she toured on her Love tour. Baby period. Angel. Music.
Stefani’s Harajuku period has been chastised in subsequent years for fetishizing Asian aesthetics. However, the singer has never considered her acts to be damaging, and it appears she still does. When Calaor inquired about Stefani’s Harajuku collection, she justified it by stating that her father taught her about Japanese culture. He worked for Yamaha for 18 years, according to Stefani, and regularly traveled between California and Japan.
“That was my Japanese influence,” Stefani explained during an interview. “And it was a society that was so steeped in tradition yet so futuristic [with] so much attention to art, detail, and discipline, and that fascinated me.”
The singer then told Calaor (an Asian American) that she had visited Harajuku as an adult. She realized how much she “identified” with the culture there. “I exclaimed, “My God, I’m Japanese, and I had no idea.” “I am,” Stefani responded, despite the fact that she is Italian American.
She reinforced her outlandish attitude, referring to herself as a “big fan,” and said that “it should be permitted to be inspired by different cultures because if we’re not allowed, that’s separating people, right?”
Calaour was taken aback by Stefani’s statements. Though Calaour does not believe Stefani intended to be “malicious” with her utterances, it is apparent that her words have caused irreparable harm. Allure apparently contacted Stefani’s staff for an on-the-record statement to clarify her views, but they declined to deliver one.
Allure also defined the distinction between cultural appropriation and appreciation, which is related to commercialization and an uneven power dynamic. According to Calaour, Stefani has commodified Japanese culture by selling music, clothing lines (her 2011 Harajuku Mini children’s apparel line at Target and the L.A.M.B. fashion line were named after her album), and the aforementioned fragrance collection.
Though Stefani has previously given to a Japanese charity, Calaor emphasized the singer’s deafening silence on the recent spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans. “I envy anybody who can claim to be a member of this thriving, creative group while avoiding the sad or dangerous parts of the story,” Calaor wrote.
Stefani clearly blurs the line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. It’s one thing to be a lover of a culture; but, when you begin claiming that culture is part of your ancestry and exploiting its aesthetics for financial advantage, it becomes problematic.