Gwen Stefani Rejects Cultural Appropriation “Harajuku Girls” Backlash

For decades, Stefani has been ridiculed for enveloping Japanese culture in her career. She says now, “All these rules are just dividing us.”

BYErika Marie
Gwen Stefani Rejects Cultural Appropriation “Harajuku Girls” Backlash

She's long stood accused of cultural appropriation, but that hasn't stopped Gwen Stefani's career. The singer entered the music scene as the lead singer of Rock group No Doubt in the 1990s and after the band reached mega-success, Stefani ventured off as a solo artist where she dominated the Pop scene. She borrowed looks and mannerisms from Hip Hop and had an entire movement with her band of Japanese "Harajuku Girls" who traveled with her from coast to coast. Stefani donned traditional Japanese attire and changed her makeup to fit the style, but not everyone was thrilled about the look.

For decades, Stefani has faced backlash and criticism, even as recently as her music video for "Slow Clap" featuring Saweetie, but the Pop star sat down with Paper Magazine to address the controversy, citing her "deep fascination" with Japan and being "inspired" by the culture.

Gwen Stefani Rejects Cultural Appropriation "Harajuku Girls" Backlash
Getty Images / Stringer / Getty Images

"If you read the actual lyrics [in 'What You Waiting For?'], it talks about being a fan of Japan and how if I do good, I get to go back there," she told the publication. "I never got to have dancers with No Doubt. I never got to change costumes. I never got to do all of those fun girl things that I always love to do. So I had this idea that I would have a posse of girls — because I never got to hang with girls — and they would be Japanese, Harajuku girls, because those are the girls that I love. Those are my homies. That's where I would be if I had my dream come true, I could go live there and I could go hang out in Harajuku."

Paper noted that years ago actress and comedian Margaret Cho compared the Harajuku Girls with Stefani to a minstrel show. "If we didn't buy and sell and trade our cultures in, we wouldn't have so much beauty, you know?" Stefani said. "We learn from each other, we share from each other, we grow from each other. And all these rules are just dividing us more and more... I think that we grew up in a time where we didn't have so many rules. We didn't have to follow a narrative that was being edited for us through social media, we just had so much more freedom."


  • Link Copied to Clipboard!
About The Author
Erika Marie is a seasoned journalist, editor, and ghostwriter who works predominantly in the fields of music, spirituality, mental health advocacy, and social activism. The Los Angeles editor, storyteller, and activist has been involved in the behind-the-scenes workings of the entertainment industry for nearly two decades. E.M. attempts to write stories that are compelling while remaining informative and respectful. She's an advocate of lyrical witticism & the power of the pen. Favorites: Motown, New Jack Swing, '90s R&B, Hip Hop, Indie Rock, & Punk; Funk, Soul, Harlem Renaissance Jazz greats, and artists who innovate, not simply replicate.