Gwen Stefani's appropriation of Japanese stuff
April 13, 2005 2:19 AM   Subscribe

Salon (with letters) on Gwen Stefani's clueless appropriation of Japan-ness.
posted by Tlogmer (69 comments total)
So she's basically doing what everyone else does when they first encounter Japanese stuff? Look around, the net is full of people going batty re-interpreting Japanese things through their own skewed perspective.
"OMG those wacky Japanese!"

Still, the article is worth it for this gem:
...ends up feeling more like a big Pacific Rim job
posted by nightchrome at 2:35 AM on April 13, 2005

I don't get it. What's wrong with Gap selling Anarchy t-shirts?
posted by cillit bang at 2:48 AM on April 13, 2005

and going by that last quote, shes been watching Neon Genesis Evangelion.

I dont really have a problem with this. The 4 girls arnt being forced to do this. if they didnt like what was going on they could just give a big "screw you" to Gwen and walk away.
posted by lemonfridge at 2:51 AM on April 13, 2005

I don't think the issue is personal cruelty -- god knows I'd wear a tiny geisha dress too for however much those kids are being paid. The issue is head-against-wall frustration at cultural misunderstanding.

Postscript: I did once see an outfit selling at the Gap that came with a Dead Kennedys pin.
posted by Tlogmer at 3:01 AM on April 13, 2005

her appropriation of this subculture makes about as much sense as the Gap selling Anarchy T-shirts; she's swallowed a subversive youth culture in Japan and barfed up another image of submissive giggling Asian women.

MiHi Ahn mistakely assumes there is anything subversive about Harajuku street fashion in the first place. It is simply a game to play on Sundays. On Monday, these same kids put on their ordinary clothes like a good Japanese and study hard for their exams.

Ms. Stefani's credo of having frivilous fun dressing up comes closer to the spirit of Harajuku than stern talk of anarchy and subversion. If anything MiHi Ahn herself misreads Japanese culture with a very Western assumption: that fashion carries a political meaning.
posted by dydecker at 3:27 AM on April 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

What dydecker said.
posted by ciderwoman at 3:33 AM on April 13, 2005

> big kiss to the East ends up feeling more like a big Pacific Rim job.

What is that supposed to mean? Looks too clever for its own good. Are rim jobs supposed to be bad?

> baffling mélange of semiotic ambiguity

What's wrong with that?

Possibly interesting issue, but poorly discussed in a sloppy, poseur article.

nitpick: it's a glottal, not "guttural", stop.
posted by Turtle at 4:04 AM on April 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

Since when did any trendy street fashion, on either side of the pacific, not influence (or get ripped off by) commerical fashion? Which in turn influences (or gets ripped off by) trendy street fashion, ad infinitum?

Hell, not just fashion, anything. From cinematography to typography.

I fully support it. Culture isn't owned. The ideas are taken, used, reshaped, new things emerge, people outside the box put a different spin on things, things are gained, things are lost, things drive other things, creating an endless rich tapestry of culture. This is how it's always worked and always will. Taking something out of it's original context isn't a crime, it's a cornerstone of vibrant culture, and commerically-driven culture is not something that can be separated from this.

It's no different from when, for example, Hot Topic turned goth fashion culture into hipster acessories for teenie boppers. Some people were annoyed, and some were delighted. Was it some kind of cultural net-loss? No.

If something has merit, expecting it to not propagate is silly and selfish.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:17 AM on April 13, 2005

Vaguely related, I can't remember any concrete examples, but I've been fascinated in the past to see Westerners crudely aping something Japanese, when it's actually not so much Japanese as something that the Japanese were crudely aping from the West (but the Westerners didn't really realise this). In other words, people seeing their own culture as something awesome and exotic because they are seeing it through the eyes of another. That's seriously cool.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:28 AM on April 13, 2005

Argh - fricking overlay advertisements. Can't even read the bleedin' article.

Mental note: do not visit any more Salon links.

posted by Chunder at 5:12 AM on April 13, 2005

kara oke.
posted by pekar wood at 5:20 AM on April 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

Dydecker's right.

I only made it to Harajuku on a Saturday, and didn't see a thing...
posted by runkelfinker at 5:28 AM on April 13, 2005

Dydecker's spot on.
I got decked out in my usual club garb for a Sunday walk in Yoyogi Park only to find that I was a tad overdressed.
posted by dabitch at 5:44 AM on April 13, 2005

Pop star exploits cultural trend. Film at 11.

Enjoyed the article and the overreacting letters though.
posted by theorique at 6:11 AM on April 13, 2005

Dydecker's on the money.

Harajuku "subversive"? Sure. Just like Limp Bizkit fans are "subversive". Harajuku is mainstream, it's just a mainstream subculture as opposed to the mainstream main culture. It's like goths, or rockers, or metalheads, or jungle kids, or emo kids. Mainstream, but not the main mainstream.

Besides which, fashion in Harajuku has become aggravatingly plain in the last 5 or 6 years. 1997 or 1998 was the peak of Harajuku fashion actually being interesting. Now it's just a lot of vintage clothes.

This does bring to mind, though, something I was wondering at last weekend, when my parents came to visit me in Tokyo: who makes the tourist merchandise here in Japan? Japan has its own style of portraying Japan in postcards and the like. There are geishas, sumo wrestlers, Mt. Fuji, and the whole regular menagerie. But it looks, somehow, completely different than the portrayals used in postcards at the airport or big foreign tourist destinations. Whenever I'd see a picture of a geisha or a cherry blossom or sushi or the like, it struck me with this incredibly strong feeling of "American". Perhaps it works for Canada, Europe, Australia, Zimbabwe, and the rest. I don't know, not having lived there. But even using the exact same icons, there's some bizarre aesthetic sense that exists in these postcards that is utterly divorced from Japan. And while I'm not surprised to see that type of image in American cinema or pop music or the like, it's really strange and disorienting seeing them in postcard shops at the airport. What Japanese person has been so thoroughly and deeply steeped in American culture that they can design these postcards with such a thorough divorce from Japanese aesthetics and such a thorough implementation of American (Western?) aesthetics?

I wouldn't be surprised (but I would be amused and delighted) to find that the postcards are imported from overseas because they sell better to foreigners than similar cards designed by Japanese.
posted by Bugbread at 6:18 AM on April 13, 2005

I for one am much more upset by Stefani's appropriation of pirate culture. Arrr.
posted by emjaybee at 6:28 AM on April 13, 2005

What dydecker et al said.
posted by ibmcginty at 6:49 AM on April 13, 2005

I think Stefani's next video should have her and the four girls running around one of those huge geek department stores in Akihabara Electric Town, being chased by a bunch of smelly otakus driven wild both by her plunderful cultural magpiedom and by those bizarre only-in-Japan porn PlayStation games...
posted by runkelfinker at 6:51 AM on April 13, 2005

While I personally think Gwen has absolutely gone off the deep end with this, in a larger sense, this is how new ideas happen. Every time one large culture encounters another large culture, they start swapping ideas. Do they ever really understand each other? Nope. But that doesn't keep their creative people from bouncing off each other to find new and better things.

The cross-pollenization of Japanese and American cultures may have led to Stefani having a geisha minstrel show trailing behind her, but it's also led to a huge number of technological innovations over the last few decades. Oh, and Cowboy Bebop. Can't forget that.
posted by InnocentBystander at 6:59 AM on April 13, 2005

Oh! the Japanity!
posted by kirkaracha at 7:04 AM on April 13, 2005

If it's any comfort, remember that fashion is only a shadow cast by culture.

Sorry, I've caught aphorisms.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:05 AM on April 13, 2005

Gwen's a goddess.
posted by Toecutter at 7:28 AM on April 13, 2005

Yes, but what about gothlolita?
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 7:33 AM on April 13, 2005

I still stick to my conviction that Love Angel Music Baby will go down as the most important pop album of the last 10 years. All of the critics will writhe and scream bloody murder but little girls like it, and the marketing tie in is well played. I bet the japanese thoroughly love this stuff too. In one of the songs on LAMB she gives a shout out to harajuku, followed by a spiel about how the girls of harajuku are gonna wig out when they get their grubby little hands on some LAMB clothing. Shameless marketing, but she then has a japanese girl doing a sample saying "thats super cool in japanese." Woman knows her market, and besides id rather have her idea of fashion than another 20 years of banana republic and J-Crew driven fashion. At least with some vintage goth wear people have personalities.

On preview:

Mr. Bucket - i was reading that the other day....
posted by sourbrew at 7:50 AM on April 13, 2005

InnocentBystander : " While I personally think Gwen has absolutely gone off the deep end with this, in a larger sense, this is how new ideas happen. Every time one large culture encounters another large culture, they start swapping ideas. Do they ever really understand each other? Nope. But that doesn't keep their creative people from bouncing off each other to find new and better things."

I understand what you're saying, but the silliness comes where Gwen is pretending that this stuff has any relation to Japan itself. This works in pretty much all directions. The Japanese borrow stuff from overseas all the time, but it only comes off as really silly when the pretence is that it's related to the country of origin (for example, the goth lolita or French pop stuff comes from Europe, but no Japanese are under the impression that Europe is full of black lipped, white faced girls in black and lace, or dressing and acting like Pizicatto Five. On the other hand, the rockabilly folks actually have the impression that their pointy shoes and pompadours are "real America 50's style", which is why they come off as so silly).

I don't think what Gwen's doing is worthy of anger or outrage or anything. It isn't insulting (er, well, I only know what I read in Salon, so I don't know for sure). It's just stupid. Crossadoption itself isn't what's stupid, it's the adoption not only of the fashion / what-have-you paired with the idea that it's somehow representative of the place it was adopted from.

sourbrew : "I bet the Japanese thoroughly love this stuff too."

Hmm...Again, only going from what I saw in the Salon article, it seems like they would fall roundly in the camp of "not giving a damn". Hey, silly foreigners have weird ideas about Japan! News at 11! (And, of course, the converse is also true, to an even greater extent, of TV / movies presenting ridiculous caricatures of foreigners, with nobody really taking umbrage).

To put forth an example: I recently saw a pretty old flash going around of a Star Wars gangsta rap. I doubt many actual rappers would get upset about it, but I can't see them thoroughly loving it either.
posted by Bugbread at 8:10 AM on April 13, 2005

sourbrew-- Are you fucking serious?

Otherwise, this article was pretty awful. There's a chip on her shoulder, but I can't quite figure out its nature. She should have quoted Roland Barthes at least...
posted by bardic at 8:19 AM on April 13, 2005

At least with some vintage goth wear people have personalities.

Yes, because that's where personality comes from, a peice of cloth that be purchased for ten bucks.
posted by jonmc at 8:30 AM on April 13, 2005

Wow. No one here seems to mind the caricatures, or that the women are forbidden to speak English. Or that they're refered to as figments of the imagination.
Guess I'll trot out my minstrel show accompaniment, then, huh?
They're called S.A.M.B.O., and they follow me everywhere.
posted by klangklangston at 8:36 AM on April 13, 2005

klangklangston : "No one here seems to mind...that the women are forbidden to speak English."

Er...why would anyone? They're actors, contractually obliged to play their parts. Nobody complains that the actors in Passion of the Christ weren't allowed to speak English, or that characters at Disneyland aren't allowed to say "Fuck you" either...I'm just not seeing the problem with the "not speaking English" part.
posted by Bugbread at 8:40 AM on April 13, 2005


- Yes im fucking serious. I know that a lot of younger japanese girls in particular will be like oh man this is fucking awesome. Gwen has had commercial success in japan for a while. It was there on concert that she found out about the harajuku style. I'm sure there are plenty of japanese teenagers who are flipped out about her adoption and or bastardization of japanese culture. They will probably remodify it again to make it their own but this sort of international pop is here to stay. A quick perusal of many new albums will make that abundantly clear, lots of people are grabbing samples from all sorts of ethnic music. Elephunk by the Black Eyed Peas is a much better example although they are both a driving force towards global pop-hop.

Bugbread - I tried to find some japanese fan club sites, unfortunately not speaking japanese or knowing a lot of katakana thats proving pretty difficult. It seems a lot of the people who are pissed about this are so called "fruits Who appear to largely just be americans who are pissed that their sense of style is being co-opted by corporate america. I remember similar trends when hot topic opened in the early 90's. Obviously all of this is cyclic, but gwen stefani and her haphazard jap fashion is here to stay for sure. Pretty much every adolescent girl i know loves this album, and its their dollar driving social trends not the naysaying of more intelligent adults.

jon mc
- I refuse to believe that you do not own some article of clothing that identifies you as belonging to some social class or another. Be it a random t-shirt for a band or a pair of aging birkenstocks. We all use clothes to identify ourselves and describe our personalities. For me its probably my "Microsoft Visual C++ big Kahunna" shirt and my corsair ram cap. What i was trying to suggest is that i welcome more diversity in what is essentially a bleak american landscape of pastel dress shirts, power ties, and little paris hilton fuck me skirts.

on preview:

i agree with bugbread. They get paid, why do you care?
posted by sourbrew at 8:42 AM on April 13, 2005

and as far as this video goes, I'm not the world's biggest Gwen Stefani fan, but people working themselves into a lather on either side of this tempest in a teapot have too much time on their hands.
posted by jonmc at 8:42 AM on April 13, 2005

(Gwen's song itself is quite flattering to the Japanese of Harajuku, one long paean to how cool she thinks they are)
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:53 AM on April 13, 2005

I refuse to believe that you do not own some article of clothing that identifies you as belonging to some social class or another. Be it a random t-shirt for a band or a pair of aging birkenstocks. We all use clothes to identify ourselves and describe our personalities.

sour brew:that's not what you said. you said that with vintgae goth wear people have personalities. This is not an attack on goth, but a black velvet cape (or to be fair, a Ramone's t-shirt, or cowboy boots) do not make a dull person interesting. And who's to say that for better or worse, power ties and pastel shirts don't reflectthe personality of the wearer.

By the same token, I know people who dress utterly conventionally, even dully, who are some of the weirdest, most out their fuckers on the planet, and "weird looking" people who are utterly banal underneath. Don't invest so much in surfaces.
posted by jonmc at 8:55 AM on April 13, 2005

From “Harajuku Girls”

Gwen Stefani: Harajuku girls, I like the way that you are, I am your biggest fan.

Japanese girl, incredulous, delighted: Gwen Stefani, you like ME?

How can stuff like that not prick at you? I like the album OK--although I think it’s pretty corny, especially the obsessive name-checking of her clothing line--but I do find her toying with this whole submissive Asian woman thing kind of repugnant. Yes, they’re actors, they’re being paid, but it’s just playing into a tired old stereotype.

There is a restaurant in Atlanta--or at least there used to be--where they hired black children to run around the restaurant wearing the menu with a sign that said “Howdee folks, what’ll it be?” (if memory serves). So the children were performing and were compensated for their performance but it’s still appalling, right?
posted by Sully6 at 8:59 AM on April 13, 2005

sourbrew : "It seems a lot of the people who are pissed about this are so called 'fruits Who appear to largely just be americans who are pissed that their sense of style is being co-opted by corporate america."

Just to reemphasize: While I don't think very many Japanese will care about the album (though some, of course, will like it), I certainly don't think they're going to be upset. Japanese don't have quite"striving to be the most offended" that us Westerners (and especially Mefi users) have. I expect antipathy from most, and a bit of fandom from some.

As for Fruits: Thanks for the link. I would never have expected that magazine to have a whole little English speaking subculture on the net. Shame that all the pictures for the last few years have been so...damn...boring.

jonmc : "people working themselves into a lather on either side of this tempest in a teapot"

Either side? The only folks in a lather are against the image. The rest is lather-free antipathy and fans who don't particularly notice or care about the soapy folks.

jonmc : "a black velvet not make a dull person interesting."

It is if they store it in a hole in their chest and can cough it out like a balloon.
posted by Bugbread at 8:59 AM on April 13, 2005

Sully6 : "Yes, they’re actors, they’re being paid, but it’s just playing into a tired old stereotype."

I suspect you misunderstood. The part I'm talking about is the "speaking only Japanese" part. Paying someone to act like they are Japanese is not appalling. It's not like it's portraying them in a bad light, unless you think speaking Japanese is somehow a bad thing, or an insulting caricature.

But thanks to this thread, I've tracked down the lyrics, and...ugh!

"In a pedestrian paradise"

The pedestrian avenue got closed down in 1998 or 1999.

"With your underground malls in the world of Harajuku"

There are no underground malls in Harajuku.

"Wild hair color and cell phones"

Ooh, exotic! Cell phones! (Do they not exist in America?)

"You're so original girls"


"Flipped the landscape when Nigo made A Bathing Ape"

Bathing Ape has gone very out of fashion. Nigo has moved his sales ops to Hong Kong and Taiwan because Bape is seen as old and played out in Japan and doesn't sell. I'm thinking the Japanese audience will be mildly amused by her "hip" callout of "popular fashion".

"Did you see your inspiration in my latest collection?
Just wait 'til you get your little hands on L.A.M.B.,
'Cause it's (super kawaii), that means (super cute in Japanese)"

Ok, that's just insulting.

"(Gwen Stefani - you like me?)"

I suspect, for the most part, "Who is Gwen Stefani?" "She's that one-hit wonder that sang Spiderwebs, right?" "Oh, yeah, I forgot about her."
posted by Bugbread at 9:13 AM on April 13, 2005

Gwen Stefani's particular use of this Japanese subculture does bother me somewhat, but at the same time I don't think it's worth a lot of consideration. Clothes, music and spectacle are really just the superficial trappings of culture, that don't in themselves change anything. or have a lot to do with the way we think or treat others. They are also ephemeral - in two or three years Gwen Stefani will either have dropped out of sight or have moved on to another look.

It's better to just let such trends be and to work for genuine social change and justice.
posted by orange swan at 9:23 AM on April 13, 2005

Bugbread - i agree that as an american you should find lines like that relatively infuriating. I however am not entirely convinced that the japanese feel the same way towards brand posturing or advertising in general. I could be wrong, i would be willing to bet she gets a lot of publicity in japan, and that her clothing line is doing fairly well. I know some people who have bought outrageously expensive items from her line. Beyond that i find this sort of shameless self promotion pretty enjoyable, and have to admit that if i had similar posturing power i would probably do the same.
posted by sourbrew at 9:28 AM on April 13, 2005

Just wait until MiHi Ahn hears about Japanese Country Western. Shed a tear for the real fake cowboys who have had their subculture chewed up and spit out like a dern plug of tobaccee.
posted by Cassford at 9:46 AM on April 13, 2005

Where did that silly "submissive asian woman" thing come from anyway? I've lived in asia for years, and I've never seen one.
posted by nightchrome at 9:47 AM on April 13, 2005

Those photos of the Japanese country/cowboy fans rock. Seriously.
posted by DaShiv at 9:52 AM on April 13, 2005

which in turn inspired Iron Chef USA. Except that Iron Chef USA completely sucked.

The Shatner version sucked, but the version with Alton Brown is very good, they've copied the tone of the Japanese version almost exactly.
posted by bobo123 at 10:07 AM on April 13, 2005

sourbrew : "i agree that as an american you should find lines like that relatively infuriating. I however am not entirely convinced that the japanese feel the same way towards brand posturing or advertising in general. I could be wrong, i would be willing to bet she gets a lot of publicity in japan, and that her clothing line is doing fairly well."

You're right on several counts. As an American, I've got the "righteous indignation" gene going full force. It's especially obvious when my wife and I watch the news. She'll be saddened or upset about various things, whereas I get all fuming. It's especially obvious when we talked about advertising (I think it was when I said "When we have kids, no Disney or other advertainment", which just pretty much baffled her). That, along with other discussions with friends here, indicates that the advertising-in-song will probably be taken by Japanese differently than us self-righteous Americans. So you're also right that there is a chance that her clothing line will do well when it starts up.

I do feel, however, that the reaction to her advertising jingle in the middle of the song will be laughter. Folks will probably find it a bit silly.

Regardless, I'll find out soon enough if this goes over well, badly, or never hits the public consciousness: my wife works in Harajuku.

Cassford: Thanks for the Country Gold link. I had a chance to go to that when I lived in Kyushu (and hung out at a bar called "Howdy" with a bunch of country and motorcycle fans), but couldn't be bothered to wake up early in the morning and skipped it. I regret that.
posted by Bugbread at 10:09 AM on April 13, 2005

Bugbread: So, there'd be no outrage if I, as a white man, hired a bunch of blacks to play minstrels behind me? That's a lot of willful blindness you've got there. Just because someone is payed to do something doesn't mean that it's acceptable.
posted by klangklangston at 10:11 AM on April 13, 2005

Can someone link to the video? I'd like to see it now.
posted by dydecker at 10:15 AM on April 13, 2005


What are you talking about?

If you, as a white man, hired a black minstrel group to play a song in Japan, no, there wouldn't be outrage. Sorry. I wish there would be, but there isn't.

And as far as outrage in America: Yes, if you hired a bunch of blacks to play minstrels, there would be tons of outrage. When have I ever implied there wouldn't be?
posted by Bugbread at 10:21 AM on April 13, 2005

and going by that last quote, shes been watching Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Great. Now I'm having existential angst-driven flashbacks.

That series was awesome, until the end. The end sucked.
posted by salad spork at 10:38 AM on April 13, 2005

she's totally using them, but it's not like they're not unwilling to be used, and i'm sure they're paid well. It's her version of Madonna's Puerto Rican boys ages ago.

I really like the new stuff she's doing. Mashing Fiddler on the Roof with Japanese stuff with rap=good. Gwen was always overly girly and even Betty Boopish in the past, so that look actually fits.
posted by amberglow at 10:54 AM on April 13, 2005

put me in the "Harajuku = crass marketing" group. Not that I've ever been there, but come on. Harajuku is american marketing *1000, Gwen is reselling crass consumerism. Who cares?

Btw, have you hear of the huge anti-japanese protests in China? A chinese friend of mine, not particularly worldly but now she's all anti-japanese. Should find some of these links funny.
posted by delmoi at 10:54 AM on April 13, 2005

She's cheesy; that whole thing about dressing like an anime character (or gothic lolita or like your favorite band...) is cheesy too. It fits.
posted by amberglow at 10:56 AM on April 13, 2005

interpretation is death.

dont fuck with our post it notes.

and no, you cant have your own.
posted by Satapher at 11:03 AM on April 13, 2005

So, let's see here. Objectifying women is bad. Paying people to act like one dimensional stereotypes? Probably bad. Wait, though -- what if you're into the fandom surrounding people who regularly make themselves into objects and act very one dimensionally?

There's a lot of bizarre play-acting that goes into creating an elaborate costumed role. I have mixed feelings on the whole thing, but I think that Gwen Stefani is paying people to act like one dimensional, slightly submissive, stereotypes. The submission is not in service to her, or even to her image, but in some bizarre attempt to stay true to the "Harajuku girl" image. Most likely, a lot of that image was copied from the Western image of Japanese girls.

There are so many levels of meta-culture here that it hurts. bugbread is right, though -- this is another wave of culture recycling. Nigo, and some of the fashion that Gwen is championing, is already out of style in Japan. But Gwen's selling records like crazy and Nigo just got shouted out by Pharrell on a recent mixtape. He's got his own shoes coming out in the US. Every few years, celebrities pick up on a new culture or trend and popularize their variation on it, and the "loyal fans" get pissed off.
posted by mikeh at 11:17 AM on April 13, 2005

The more I think about it, the less I think they're even going to bother putting much weight behind debuting her new stuff in Japan. Not because there would be outrage, but because it wouldn't sell nearly as well as it does in America. That's because it isn't an image targeted at Japan. It's an image targeted at America/the West. Like the postcards I mention above, fake Japanese sells better with Westerners than real Japanese. Her songs don't have to make her popular in Japan, they have to make people in the West think she's popular in Japan.

Which is amusing, because there is so much stuff in Japan which is marketed as being "popular in America" as a selling point, despite the fact that most Americans haven't heard of it. It's even more dramatic with bands who speak English and are marketed as "Big in America". All Japanese know that Dreams Come True is big in America. After all, they sell out every concert. What isn't mentioned is that their concerts are all in LA or NY, and sell out to all the Japanese folks there who can see them much cheaper than they would in Japan. As for the bands that actually are (or were) big in America, like Shonen Knife, few Japanese know them.

Sure, if the songs take off, Warner Japan (or whoever is handling her account locally) will be ecstatic. But even if it flops, that's no problem. The Japanese image isn't targeted at Japan, it's targeted at the West.
posted by Bugbread at 11:27 AM on April 13, 2005

Like Madonna's period of surrounding herself with gay black men, this is less of a cultural-misinterpretation and more of a cultural appropriation. Gwen Stefani is a dumbass who makes shitty music and, like a mannequin in a store window, needs a change of clothes every now and then. The white person's proclivity to look across the cultural divide for makeover material is less misinterpretation than it is raw imperialism.
posted by scarabic at 11:29 AM on April 13, 2005

Back when No Doubt used to actually be ska, and back when I was a goofy young high-schooler (and earlier) No Doubt's main claim to fame (besides their wicked-tight horn and keyboard section) was that Gwen would frequently get nekkid and/or topless on stage.

Frequently, as in every show I ever saw them at. And I saw No Doubt dozens of times, mainly because they seemed to be at just about every good ska show in LA.

Not that there's anything wrong with naked, but I guess it kind of depends on the motive. And considering that the audience at the time was leering, boiling crowds of drunken wannabe third-wave "rudeboys", the motive was quite probably marketing, not empowerment.

15 years later, my mom likes No Doubt. She's even in the crowd at the front of the stage for that DVD special they released a while ago. Go figure.

(This admission should certainly not be construed as any claim to taste. For fuck's sake, I was dancing to two-bit ska bands and had a funny haircut and clothes and shit. Taste and style weren't in my vocabulary, and probably still aren't.)
posted by loquacious at 11:38 AM on April 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

loquacious, to quote Jay McInerney: "Taste is a matter of taste."
posted by jonmc at 11:45 AM on April 13, 2005

What an embarassingly poorly written article. The album is quite annoying but catchy as well. As much as you want to hate her for putting out song after song that talks about how rich and hawt she is, and how "wicked" her style is, you just can't because she doesn't take herself too seriously. Forget about the borderline offensive Harajuku girls and just enjoy the music. Incidently, the last song on the album is a plea for racial tolerance.
posted by euphorb at 12:21 PM on April 13, 2005

Will no one think of the holla back girls? Gwen's cruel dismissal of them is far more scandalous.

/I wanna be your holla back girl
posted by haqspan at 12:25 PM on April 13, 2005

Part of Ahn's concern seems to be about authenticity: "She's taken Tokyo hipsters, sucked them dry of all their street cred, and turned them into China dolls." I find this especially interesting in the context of an appropriation of Japanese culture, as it's been observed many times that the idea of authenticity, as Americans see it, doesn't really have an analog in Japanese youth culture. Many Western observers would tell you that in Japan, there's no such thing as "street cred".

I don't know how true this is; my own experience with Japanese culture is pretty superficial, and I don't want to draw any conclusions from it. I'd be curious to hear someone with more experience comment on the idea of authenticity (or the lack thereof) in Japanese youth culture and how Stefani's appropriations play off of that.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:33 PM on April 13, 2005

mr_roboto : "Many Western observers would tell you that in Japan, there's no such thing as 'street cred'."

They'd be wrong. It exists, it's just important to fewer people.

I think (if you're old enough), you can see it with American pop. I was born in the 70's, so most of my formative memories are from the 80's on. In that time, we had manufactured groups like the New Kids on the Block. At the time, most folks didn't care about authenticity or street cred, but some did. As time went on, and we went into the 90's, idol groups fell out of favor. True, there were plenty of manufactured groups, but they tried to hide it, to put on a veneer of "realness". In the mid-90's, there is no way you could pull off a string of bands like the New Kids. Some people didn't care about authenticity or street cred, but most did. Then towards the end of the 90's and into the 00's, there was a resurgence in the manufactured pop idol. N'Sync, Backstreet Boys, etc. And once again, like in the 80's, most don't care about authenticity or street cred.

Take that situation to Japan, where the pop idol has been a fixture continuously for years and years, and the amount of people concerned about street cred is even lower. That doesn't mean people aren't aware of it, or don't have a sense of it. It's just that they don't care, in the same way that I understand and have a sense of the "hardness" of hip hop groups, but don't care. And, of course, the degree of caring varies from person to person: it's not a binary system of "people who care" and "people who don't", but a ton of shades of grey. It's just that the average is a relatively light shade of grey, while America, for example, is a much darker shade of grey.
posted by Bugbread at 12:47 PM on April 13, 2005

Word, scarabic.

And bugbread, I wasn't complaining about the fact that Gwen's Japanese entourage acts Japanese, but that she has them bowing to her and crap during performances. Before the release of her album, AOL Sessions has a video of Gwen performing Harajuku Girls. Gwen sat on a throne with the Harajuku girls at her feet.

Like I said, although this bugs me, I find her album more corny than deeply offensive. Pretending you're a highschooler gettin' it on in the backseat when you're really a thirtysomething with crow's feet? Puhlease.
posted by Sully6 at 12:50 PM on April 13, 2005

"Gwen sat on a throne with the Harajuku girls at her feet."

posted by Bugbread at 12:58 PM on April 13, 2005

Back when No Doubt used to actually be ska

posted by glenwood at 1:00 PM on April 13, 2005


This may seem terribly naive, but I'm having a hard time believing that Gwen Stefani spent most of No Doubt's early years prancing about nude on stage, and the internet somehow seems entirely devoid of photography from this era (Not that I've looked THAT HARD). You would think, her being a rather largish celebrity and all, with millions of pages on the interwebs chock full of salacious photography, that someone would be posting some snapshots from this lewd and otherwise unheard-of era in No Doubt's illustrious history.

Are you possibly embellishing just a tad bit? Or have I missed something, despite a fairly ravenous thirst for pop culture? Did you actually go seem them dozens of times? Like 24? 36? Just curious.
posted by glenwood at 1:06 PM on April 13, 2005

Gwen's entourage isn't made up of Harajuku girls, those are prop Harajuku girls. They go back in the box at the end of the day.
posted by mikeh at 1:07 PM on April 13, 2005

> Part of Ahn's concern seems to be about authenticity

Yes, and the authenticity complaint is always lame, especially concerning pop entertainment. It's pop music. She's a pop star and she's very good at it. If she wears funny-looking, "inauthentic" clothes, well, probably so do you.

> Yes, but what about gothlolita?

I thought the first picture there was a Gothic Lolita with a peg leg. I'm not ready for Gothic Lolita pirates yet.

posted by pracowity at 1:23 PM on April 13, 2005

Gwen's a whore. There's actually some decent songs on the album, but everyone I know who hears "Harajuku Girls" tells me that they think Gwen's a retard. It's like, she's trying to make herself look cool by name dropping that was only ever cool to dorks, ten years ago. It's obviously targeted at Westerners who know even less about Harajuku than she does, of which there are quite a lot. And by the same token, groan-inducing to people who know more about Harajuku than her, of which there are also a lot. It reminds me a lot of Utada Hikaru, whose all-English hip-hop album "Exodus" is very popular here because people think it's all popular in America. But I can't any American playing that crap unless they are in full otaku mode or just trying to torture people in their vicinity. Now that I think about it, someone ought to introduce those two; they could make a collaboration album that seems popular everywhere while actually being popular nowhere.
posted by donkeymon at 1:50 AM on April 14, 2005

Heehee. Finally got around to googling "Harajuku Girls" on Google Japan, and it seems the most frequent reaction is:

"Where are those Harajuku Girls behind Gwen from anyway? They sure aren't Japanese."
posted by Bugbread at 6:46 AM on April 14, 2005

glenwood: Dozens and dozens of times, yes. I used to go out to ska shows in SoCal on few-times-a-week basis. Literally hundreds of ska shows. Dozens with No Doubt.

And yeah, the fact that No Doubt ever was ska is certainly debatable, no argument there.

As for live, nude and regrettable Gwen: No, she didn't spend the entire show naked. We're not talking about Crash Worship or Babyland or something neo-pagan like that. Sometimes it was just half-assed raised-shirt Mardi Gras style chest flashes. Sometimes it was about as naked as one could be. It wasn't ever for very long, never an entire show or even an entire song.

But flesh was being used to sell music, repeatedly. As in, every show I ever saw No Doubt at. At least AFAIR, but then, maybe I'm only recalling the shows she did this at. However, I did tend to land on my head a lot at these gigs, so whatever. Take it all with as little or as much salt as you like.

Which brings me to the photos. They probably don't exist, because:

A) Most small-but-famous clubs like the Whiskey do not allow photography, at least not as far as I've ever observed, and certainly not at ska shows. You couldn't enter the club with so much as a Bic pen. Some shows wouldn't let you in with your keys or wallet chain if they didn't like the look of you, much less let you in with a camera.

B) Have you ever been to a good, real ska show? Photography is f'ing impossible. Not improbable, impossible. You'd have better luck photographing G. G. Allin pooping out beer bottles from the vantage point of a slam pit. Ska shows are boisterous to the point of unfocused, world-consuming violence, more so than any OG punk or metalhead mosh pit I've ever been in. However generally more friendly the ska scene is, the slam dancing and carnage is second to none. Once a good show gets going it continuously rains sweat, boots, and sweaty, booted people. Evan Dorkin downplays this unfocused violence in his Pirate Corp$ comix. It's not fiction, ska shows actually looked like that, but worse. Like a bunch of people in a giant popcorn machine - there's always a few people upside down and in midair at any given point until the music stops or the beer stops or both. It's downright cartoonish. People probably died; I know I almost did a few times, and I wasn't even in any gangs or anything. Remaining standing for longer than a few seconds is a Herculean feat, unless you happen to be one of those 400 pound Samoan dudes in the SoCal ska scene that are able to just stand there in the pit like some blasted rock amid a hurricane-frothed sea.

So, I never saw anyone with a camera inside any venue at any of the shows I went to. I know that seems unlikely, but I recall people taking pictures at non-ska shows, so I'm pretty sure my memory isn't just being selective. To extrapolate, the thought of "oh, hey, bring your camera!" never crossed my mind, just because it's just that dumb, and I take my cameras some pretty dumb places. Besides the violence, it's so moist in those shows you'd need an underwater rated camera housing just to have your film and camera survive the ordeal.

Yeah, there's a bit of descriptive hyperbole in all this, but far less than you probably suspect. The only other times I've ever seen the ceiling of a nightclub or bar literally rain sweat like this is at underground raves and acidhouse afterhours clubs where you have similar numbers of people all dancing like there's never, ever going to be a tomorrow.

So, interpret that however you will. But just don't be jealous 'cause I've seen Gwen's boobies and you haven't.
posted by loquacious at 3:46 PM on April 15, 2005 [1 favorite]

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