Gwen Stefani Says Her Harajuku Girls Phase Wasn't Cultural Appropriation
The Harajuku Lovers weren't just an entourage, they were ambassadors.
Fifteen years after its debut, Gwen Stefani's Love. Angel. Music. Baby. is getting the nostalgic retrospective it deserves. Not only did it give us jams such as What You Waiting For?," "Cool," and "Harajuku Girls." It's that track and Stefani's troupe of backup dancers that drew criticism at the time, with people calling out the newly minted solo artist for cultural appropriation. In a new interview with Billboard, Stefani explains that it was an homage to Japanese culture, not a caricature.
"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."
The record and its visuals eventually grew beyond just music. Stefani parlayed the album into a line of clothing, perfume, and promoted it all with a worldwide tour. She explains that as a girl from Anaheim, California, she never imagined she'd be thrust onto the world stage and it was her love of Japan that she wanted to showcase. It was never intended to offend.
"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."
She went on to say that Harajuku is one of her favorite places in the entire world and she wanted to bring it to her fans, which is why she had the Harajuku Lovers with her. They were a way for her to bring the fun and energy of that neighborhood of Tokyo to all of her fans.
After receiving the Fashion Icon Award at this year's E! People's Choice Awards, Stefani says that she understands how critics could see her past actions as offensive, but notes that she was hoping to share her love of Japanese culture.
"If we didn't allow each other to share our cultures, what would we be?" she added. "You take pride in your culture and have traditions, and then you share them for new things to be created."