Gwen Stefani Pushes Back at Cultural Appropriation Critics

The singer is defending herself more than a decade after the Harajuku Girls moment
By Liz MacGahan,  Newser Staff
Posted May 29, 2021 1:50 PM CDT
Gwen Stefani Pushes Back at Cultural Appropriation Critics
Gwen Stefani attends The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala celebrating the opening of the "Camp: Notes on Fashion" exhibition on Monday, May 6, 2019, in New York.   (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Gwen Stefani has no regrets about the Harajuku Girls. When she was singing for No Doubt, she inspired thousands of girls to buy a bindi at the mall and wear it to school, but “cultural appropriation” wasn’t a familiar phrase in those days. It’s a familiar phrase in 2021, though, and the Voice star is hearing it again. The accusation centers on her choice to hire a quartet of Asian backup dancers. The women, Maya Chino, Jennifer Kita, Rino Nakasone, and Mayuko Kitayama, were called Harajuku Girls after the famously trendy shopping district in Tokyo where Japan’s most fashion-forward hipsters showed off their street style. Way back in 2005, before Twitter was in everyone’s phone, and lately, in a Paper profile, she’s been defending that choice. "If we didn't buy and sell and trade our cultures in, we wouldn't have so much beauty, you know?" she says in the profile.

"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," the 51-year-old adds. Not everyone sees it that way. In 2005, Margaret Cho called the schoolgirl outfits “a kind of blackface” and referred to the dancers as a minstrel show, per USA Today. Dr. Neal Lester of Arizona State University defines cultural appropriation to the newspaper as taking something from a culture and profiting from it. While Stefani clearly embraced and appreciated Harajuku street style, she gained from it, too, and not just on tour or from her song Harajuku Girls. The singer’s fashion line, Love.Angel.Music.Baby—which is also the stage names of the Harajuku Girls backup dancers—had a spinoff called Harajuku Lovers. Later she put out Kuu Kuu Harajuku, an animated series with plenty of related toys for sale. (More Gwen Stefani stories.)

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