We’re barely two weeks into the new year, and the internet is already in shambles — and it’s not just over Shakira throwing shots at her ex in a BZRP Music Session. Over in another chat, it’s Gwen Stefani in her recent Allure interview (published Tuesday, Jan. 10), where she seemingly claimed a Japanese identity.
When asked about her past accusations of cultural appropriation with Harajuku Girls, Stefani clarified her admiration for Japanese culture. According to the artist, it started when her Italian father had a job in Yamaha, where he’d travel between their home in California and Japan. She became fascinated by his stories, and when she became an adult and traveled to Harajuku, she told Allure, “I said, ‘My God, I’m Japanese, and I didn’t know it.”
As if that wasn’t enough, in the same interview, Stefani also spoke about identifying with the Hispanic and Latinx communities of Anaheim, California, where she grew up. “The music, the way the girls wore their makeup, the clothes they wore, that was my identity,” she told Allure referring to the communities. “Even though I’m an Italian American — Irish or whatever mutt that I am — that’s who I became because those were my people, right?”
It didn’t take long for many to speak out, with many offended by her remarks. “It is disappointing that Gwen Stefani is choosing to double down on her Orientalism in 2023. I remember how uncomfortable her ‘Harajuku Girls’ era made me almost 20 years ago, but it wasn’t so easy to share those feelings pre-social media.”
On the contrary, some within Latine communities were more welcoming to her embracing the culture.
A critical question in these conversations is: How do we differentiate appreciation from appropriation? Cultures can be admired and serve as inspiration, but it is an entirely different conversation when you’re capitalizing on them. Remember: The Harajuku Lovers fragrances were wildly successful and received awards. It is also one reality to claim an identity and in the same breath, call it a “fandom.” This isn’t to say that you can’t love a culture or community — or feel a strong connection to one but when you navigate the world in a privileged identity and try one that faces the reality of discrimination, violence, and more, it works against the many fights in place.
The one fact that we can agree on in all of this is that it’s surely stirring up some important dialogue. What are your thoughts?