In an interview with Allure, Gwen Stefani defended her Harajuku period. The Irish-American and Italian-American singer sat down with the magazine to talk about her new beauty line for GXVE. This led the interviewer, Jesa Marie Calaor, to ask her about her 2008 beauty line, Harajuku Lovers.
The song “Harajuku Girls” was on Stefani’s album Love.Angel.Music.Baby, which came out in 2004. The album was heavily influenced by Japanese culture. It was released during Stefani’s so-called “Harajuku Girls.”
Despite being a huge success, both the album and beauty line led to much discussion about “cultural appropriation” after Stefani released her album “Love. Angel. Music. Baby.” in 2004.
The controversy came from the fact that she was a white woman who sold products inspired by Japanese culture. When asked about the situation, Stefani said that when she was growing up, her father worked at Yamaha and often visited Japan for work.
Calaor said that Stefani’s fascination with Japan was influenced by her Japanese heritage. “That culture was so futuristic in its appreciation of beauty, precision, and discipline, and yet so steeped in tradition. It was fascinating to me.” Later, as an adult, Stefani went to the Harajuku district of Tokyo.
“I said, ‘Oh my God, I’m Japanese, and I didn’t know it!'” Calaor said that at this point, there was an awkward silence. Stefani broke it by saying: “I am, you know.” She went on, “If people are going to criticize me for liking something beautiful and talking about it, I just don’t think that’s fair.”
“I think it was a beautiful time for creativity,” Stefani says. “It was the beginning of Harajuku culture and American culture playing ping-pong together.” Getting ideas from other cultures should be okay because if we’re not allowed to, that’s dividing people.
That’s what Calaor thought when she interviewed Stefani for Allure. The Allure is a magazine targeted toward women who enjoy luxury products such as makeup and perfume. Calaor had a hard time feeling comfortable during the interview because Stefani kept saying things like, “My father is Japanese,” or “I’m half Japanese, half English, and half OC girl [from Orange County].” Surely she didn’t mean it literally, or she didn’t know what she was talking about?
Calaor stated that Stefani’s representative said she misinterpreted the singer. Calaor declined to issue a follow-up statement. Calaor adds, “I don’t think Stefani intended any harm by her comments. But comments need not be nasty in meaning to possibly do harm, and my coworker and I left that half an hour uncomfortable.” He believes that Stefani should acknowledge that she has engaged in cultural appropriation.
Many people were upset on social media when Stefani said to Allure. Someone wrote, “It’s a shame that Gwen Stefani plans to be even more Orientalist in 2023. I remember how uncomfortable her Harajuku Girls period made me feel almost 20 years ago, but it wasn’t easy to talk about those feelings before social media. Someone else asked, “Why can she pretend to be Japanese, but real Asians can’t be American?”
“It’s ridiculous that rich white people get to say crazy things without being called out on it, while it’s hard for people of color,” said Roxane Gay. Meanwhile, Allure site director Sam Escobar said, “Gwen Stefani got very honest with editor Jesa Marie Calaor when she asked her about the backlash against the Harajuku Lovers collection in 2008.”