Gwen Stefani has long received criticism from those who accuse her of cultural appropriation for her Harajuku Lovers perfume line and backup dancers, Harajuku Girls.
However, the 53-year-old singer’s latest comments on Japanese culture and identity during an interview on Tuesday sparked further outrage.
A Filipina American interviewer broached the question of what Stefani had learned from the backlash of her Harajuku Lovers brand. She responded by retelling the story of how she became interested in Japanese culture.
Her Italian American father, Dennis, had a job that required him to travel between the United States and Japan for 18 years. As a result, Stefani became enamored with what she learned about Japanese culture because it was “so rich with tradition, yet so futuristic.”
Her father would share stories with her about Japan, which marked the beginning of her interest in Harajuku. When she was an adult, she decided to travel to the Harajuku district herself.
According to Stefani, upon visiting Japan, she was struck with the thought, “My God, I’m Japanese and I didn’t know it.” She stuck by this sentiment throughout the interview, stating, “I am [Japanese], you know.”
She then launched back into more familiar territory as she reiterated that she was a “fan” of Japanese culture and that it didn’t “feel right” that people would criticize her for sharing something she found beautiful.
Gwen Stefani came under fire for ‘I’m Japanese’ remark
Stefani’s interviewer, Allure editor Jesa Marie Calaor, was the first to comment on Stefani’s controversial statement. She explained the struggle of being Asian in America, especially as hate and violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders has been rising.
Calaor detailed her experience of fearing for her family’s lives and being attacked with racial slurs due to her Asian heritage. As a result, she noted the wrongness of someone trying to claim a place in Japan’s community while avoiding the pain that those in the community have experienced.
She went on to explain feeling unsettled by Stefani’s statements and the fact that she reiterated more than once that she was Japanese. Following the interview, Calaor stated that a representative for Stefani claimed that she misunderstood Stefani’s comments but refused to expand further.
Users quickly took to social media to slam Stefani’s statements. Many were particularly surprised that she doubled down on her previous controversial claims despite criticism.
Most users expressed utter shock that Stefani called herself Japanese during an interview with an Asian American editor.
Even Allure’s director, Sam H. Escobar, called it the “strangest celebrity interview” that Allure Magazine has ever covered.
Stefani has not publicly responded to the backlash for her stating that she is Japanese.
Stefani’s history of cultural appropriation explained
Stefani has been receiving criticism since 2004 over alleged cultural appropriation. The accusations kicked off in 2004 when she released her debut album Love. Angel. Music. Baby.
To promote her album, Stefani hired four women dubbed the Harajuku Girls. All four women, Maya Chino, Jennifer Kita, Rino Nakasone, and Mayuko Kitayama, were of Japanese descent.
She received criticism for using Asian culture for her gain and trying to make caricatures of the Harajuku Girls. However, in 2008 she decided to launch her Harajuku Lovers fragrance line.
The fragrances came in five bottles modeled into caricatures of Stefani and the Harajuku Girls. The fragrance line and Harajuku Girls seemed to be part of a fantasy of Stefani’s, as she stated, “So I had this idea that I would have a posse of girls… and they would be Japanese, Harajuku girls because those are the girls that I love… That’s where I would be if I had my dream come true, I could go live there and I could go hang out in Harajuku.”
Stefani never publicly apologized for her Love. Angel. Music. Baby album, Harajuku Girls, or Harajuku Lovers perfume.