Love. Appropriation. Music. Baby.: Gwen Stefani and her Harajuku Girls

Rachel Matlow
Communications, Concordia University
April, 2007
 

Abstract

ABSTRACT

LOVE. APPROPRIATION. MUSIC. BABY.:
GWEN STEFANI AND HER HARAJUKU GIRLS
By Rachel Matlow

With the release of her debut solo album, 2004’s Love. Angel. Music. Baby.,
No-Doubt front-woman Gwen Stefani turned to the street fashions of Tokyo’s Harajuku district for her inspiration. The platinum-blonde Stefani promoted herself by being constantly surrounded with an entourage of four voiceless Asian women, dubbed her “Harajuku Girls”. They were on her CD cover, she dedicated a track to them, they performed in her videos, and they danced on her Harajuku Lovers live tour. Stefani even re-named them, “Love”, “Angel”, “Music”, and “Baby” after her new record and clothing line, L.A.M.B.. The Harajuku Girls function as Stefani’s human accessories – silent, sexed-up, submissive, school-girl muses sent to save her from her dull whiteness. I introduce Stefani as an intertextual celebrity who appropriates, absorbs and cross-references cultural texts and ethnicities in order to market and brand herself as a distinct entity in the worlds of music and fashion - all while resisting any static signification or “authentic” identity. This thesis questions: (1) how Stefani has appropriated Harajuku culture in ways that reinforce Orientalist ideas of Asian women; (2) how Stefani has used Harajuku culture in order to reify her whiteness and distinguish herself as a distinct celebrity brand; (3) if Stefani’s representations reveal the performative nature of ethnicity and destabilize essentialist ideas of authenticity; (4) how we may compare the transcultural differences between Harajuku appropriation of American culture and Stefani’s appropriation of it; and (5) what the political and cultural implications of Stefani’s ethnic signifiers may be.
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