The pop singer made the comments during a conversation with Allure magazine while promoting her beauty brand Gxve. But conversation turned to her past beauty venture, a 2008 fragrance line called Harajuku Lovers.
This perfume brand is named after the Harajuku district in Tokyo, Japan. During the interview, Stefani denied that she took up Japanese culture, instead saying that she was inspired by it due to her father’s frequent business trips to the country during his childhood, which he later visited as an adult.
“I said, ‘Oh my God, I’m Japanese and don’t know it,'” Stefani said while visiting Harajuku for the first time. “I, you know.”
Later in interviews, she claimed that she was “a little Orange County girl, a little Japanese girl, a little English girl.”
It’s so disappointing that Gwen Stefani chose to double down on her Orientalism in 2023. I remember how uncomfortable her “Harajuku Girls” era made me nearly 20 years ago, but it wasn’t easy to share those feelings before social media. https://t.co/oCmU38Bu55
Allure reported that Stefani’s team contacted the following day to say that the journalist had misunderstood what the singer was trying to convey with her remarks, but declined to submit additional statements or provide a follow-up interview.
CBC News has reached out to Stefani’s representatives for comment.
It’s cultural appropriation, critics say
The comments reignited old criticism that Stefani, who was born and raised in California and is not ethnically Japanese, was adopting a culture that was not her own.
Stefani often played on her affinity for the Harajuku aesthetic during the height of her fame in the 2000s. After releasing the album Love.Angel.Music.Baby in 2004, she hired four Japanese and Japanese-American backup dancers (named Love, Angel, Music and Baby) to appear in her music videos and accompany her to public events.
Harajuku Lovers, a fragrance line, is a collection of five perfume bottles designed to look like caricatures of Stefani and her backup dancers. Stefani launched the children’s clothing line Harajuku Mini for Target in 2011.
“If [people are] would criticize me for being a fan of something beautiful and sharing it, then I don’t think it’s right,” he said in an interview with Allure. “I think it was a wonderful time of creativity… a time of ping-pong match between Harajuku culture and American culture.”
“[It] it’s okay to be inspired by other cultures, because if we’re not allowed to, then it divides people, right?”
The singer was also criticized this summer for wearing dreadlocks and the colors of the Jamaican flag in the music video for the Sean Paul song. Light my fire.
Stefani, who is also the vocalist of the pop-rock band Without doubthas been accused of cultural appropriation in the past for using reggae and ska influences in his music.