Gwen Stefani says ‘I’m Japanese’ while defending controversial Harajuku era

Singer Gwen Stefani attends Harajuku Lovers #PopElectric High Tea at The Ebell Club of Los Angeles on July 10, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo: Getty Images for BeautyCon)

Gwen Stefani’s had many style iterations throughout her decades-long career, but the Harajuku era spurred backlash as critics accused her of cultural appropriation. During an interview with Allure, The Voice coach called herself a “super fan” of Japanese culture and said her relationship with the country in East Asia is innocent.

Stefani’s father, who is Italian American, worked in marketing for Yamaha motorcycles. He traveled back and forth between California and Japan for 18 years.

“That was my Japanese influence and that was a culture that was so rich with tradition, yet so futuristic [with] so much attention to art and detail and discipline and it was fascinating to me,” Stefani shared, while promoting her new vegan line, GXVE Beauty. As an adult, she traveled to Harajuku and was in awe of Japanese culture. “I said, ‘My God, I’m Japanese and I didn’t know it.'”

Allure‘s senior editor Jesa Marie Calaor, who’s first-generation Filipina American, conducted the interview and noted Stefani’s “words seemed to hang in the air between us.”

“I am, you know,” Stefani added.

In 2004, Stefani released her album Love. Angel. Music. Baby. which featured the song “Harajuku Girls.” The entertainer hired Japanese and Japanese American backup dancers named Love, Angel, Music and Baby as part of the album’s promotion. The Harajuku Lovers Tour kicked off the following year, the No Doubt singer’s first solo concert tour. The Harajuku Lovers fragrance line launched in 2008 and has been part of her brand for years. Looking back at the era through a 2023 lens, it doesn’t sound like Stefani finds it problematic as she was asked what she may have learned from Harajuku Lovers.

“If [people are] going to criticize me for being a fan of something beautiful and sharing that, then I just think that doesn’t feel right,” Stefani explained. “I think it was a beautiful time of creativity… a time of the ping-pong match between Harajuku culture and American culture.”

The singer added: “[It] should be OK to be inspired by other cultures because if we’re not allowed then that’s dividing people, right?”

Calaor claims Stefani asserted twice she was Japanese and once that she was “a little bit of an Orange County girl, a little bit of a Japanese girl, a little bit of an English girl.” Allure‘s social media associate, who is Asian and Latina, was present for the 30-minute interview as well.

A representative for Stefani purportedly reached out to the magazine the next day indicating they misunderstood what the singer was trying to convey; however, the spokesperson declined to provide an on-the-record statement, per Allure. Yahoo Entertainment reached out to Stefani’s representative as well, but did not immediately receive a response.

Stefani has previously spoken about where she’s drawn inspiration from for her beauty lines, like her upbringing in Southern California.

“I’d see these girls in Anaheim with this makeup on. It was literally like they airbrushed their face,” she said in October on Dax Shepard’s podcast Armchair Expert. “They would sit in class and they would have a mirror and they would just be picking their eyelashes apart because they never took their mascara off and I was just fascinated by their beauty, you know? I wanted to be like that, so I became my version of it. I plucked my eyebrows out, and it was a combination of those girls and a combination of watching old movies.”

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