Gwen Stefani is the biggest Golden Globe winner this week because even though she wasn’t nominated, she is benefiting from all the press the award show generated as the algorithm is drowning out her story.
The story is that in an interview with Allure’s Jesa Maria Calaor about Gwen’s past and present beauty and fashion lines, Gwen talked about her first visit to Japan. The paragraph is below:
"I said, 'My God, I'm Japanese and I didn't know it.'" As those words seemed to hang in the air between us, she continued, "I am, you know." She then explained that there is "innocence" to her relationship with Japanese culture, referring to herself as a "super fan.”
Fourteen years after the debut of her Harajuku Lovers fragrance collection, we asked Gwen Stefani about the praise, the backlash, and the lessons sheâ€™s brought into her most recent beauty venture. What she said stunned us.https://t.co/9Ajqy1uvYF— Allure (@Allure_magazine) January 10, 2023
(Note: Gwen Stefani is not Japanese.)
For those who think this is just an online much-ado-about-nothing dust-up, I want to point out that Allure is NOT in the business of burning celebrities or doing “gotcha” interviews. It’s a beauty-focused magazine owned by Condé Nast and I have no doubt that going into it, the journalist was prepared for an interesting discussion about makeup and perfume (because as she notes in the story, Gwen has had her signature red lip and platinum blonde hair forever and has experimented with dramatic looks her entire career). It is Gwen who stated she is Japanese, more than once.
It's likely that Gwen’s publicist is freaking out over this and wanted the interview edited, so kudos to Allure for sticking with it and breaking open the story into a bigger discussion. It’s about Gwen but it’s also about an audience that encouraged and rewarded Gwen and by and large never questioned why the four Japanese women behind her didn’t speak. Gwen has a high-powered management team and they are definitely backing her up right now and there could be some tense phone calls with Condé Nast (it’s not unheard of for agencies to leverage their roster to muscle editorial control). Gwen had the power in the interview and still does. I point this out because this is not a case of a journalist setting out to hurt a celebrity based on a past that, in hindsight, raises questions of cultural appropriation.
There were so many ways Gwen could have answered these interview questions, even if she didn’t want to “take back” or acknowledge the uncomfortableness of the Harajuku Girls and the Love/Angel/Music/Baby era. I think most casual fans have given Gwen a pass on this for years because it’s been assumed that her intent was not exploitive. As Calaor notes in the piece, it does not seem like Gwen is aiming to be malicious but she (Gwen) has had years to ponder this question. She could have declined to answer. She could have stuck with her opinion that she is a super fan of Japan and loves experimenting and it helped her grow as an artist. It’s the claiming of a race that is not yours that is inadvisable, at best!
(If you haven’t yet, read Calaor’s interview in full for insights on how appreciation can veer into appropriation, as well insights from experts like Angela Nguyen, MSW, a therapist at the Yellow Chair Collective.)
After reading this, I did a quick dive into Gwen’s opinions as she is consistently non-political. She was a top fundraiser for Barack Obama in 2012 and since then largely seems to avoid politics and social issues like abortion rights and #MeToo. I think the knee jerk reaction here is to point to Blake Shelton (his politics are vague) but I truly think she is one of those celebrities who doesn’t want to be part of any discourse.
No one is calling for Gwen Stefani to be cancelled and there’s no way she would be. She has years of really positive People Magazine coverage from her time on The Voice, she has a robust career, she has a wide fan base and again, no one is calling for her to be cancelled in any way, shape or form. Anyone who claims otherwise is likely using the term “cancel culture” in bad faith, wielding it as a shield against genuine, thoughtful dissection about who gets to wear, quite literally, a culture when they feel like it and take it off when they move into their next creative era. Because those who can’t just “take it off” live with the reality of fetishization, racism, and violence.