Gwen Stefani Received Backlash for Saying She's Japanese When Challenged on Her "Harajuku" Era

The singer is Italian- and Irish-American.

Gwen Stefani attends The 2019 Met Gala Celebrating Camp: Notes on Fashion at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 06, 2019 in New York City.
(Image credit: Photo by Jamie McCarthy / Getty)

Gwen Stefani has come under fire for defending her Harajuku era in an interview.

The singer—who is Irish-American and Italian-American—sat down with Allure to discuss her new line for GXVE Beauty. This prompted the interviewer, Jesa Marie Calaor, to ask her about her previous beauty brand, Harajuku Lovers, which debuted in 2008. In 2004, Stefani released her album Love.Angel.Music.Baby, which drew heavily on aspects of Japanese culture and included the song "Harajuku Girls."

While the album and beauty line were both hits at the time, they have since prompted many discussions about cultural appropriation, given that Stefani was a white woman selling Japanese-inspired products.

Asked about any lessons she learned from that time, Stefani recounted the story of her father's job at Yamaha when she was growing up, which meant he regularly visited Japan.

gwen stefani met gala 2022

(Image credit: Getty)

"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," she said.

Later, Stefani visited Tokyo's Harajuku district as an adult. "I said, 'My God, I'm Japanese and I didn't know it.'"

Calaor described an uncomfortable silence at this point, which Stefani broke by saying, "I am, you know."

She continued, "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.

"I think it was a beautiful time of creativity… a time of the ping-pong match between Harajuku culture and American culture.

"[It] should be OK to be inspired by other cultures because if we're not allowed then that's dividing people, right?"

Calaor, who is Filipina American, describes how uncomfortable she and Allure's social media assistant, who is Asian and Latina, felt during this interview.

Calaor writes, "Maybe she misspoke? Again and again? During our interview, Stefani asserted twice that 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.' Surely, she didn’t mean it literally or she didn’t know what she was saying?"

Stefani's team declined to provide a follow-up statement or interview, though a rep for the singer assured Calaor that she had misunderstood Stefani.

Calaor explains, "I don’t believe Stefani was trying to be malicious or hurtful in making these statements. But words don’t have to be hostile in their intent in order to potentially cause harm, and my colleague and I walked away from that half hour unsettled."

For the journalist, it's clear that Stefani has participated in cultural appropriation, and that she has a responsibility to recognize this.

gwen stefani met gala 2022

(Image credit: Getty)

Many social media users condemned Stefani's comments to Allure.

One person tweeted, "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."

Someone else wrote, "Why does Gwen Stefani get to be Japanese when actual Asians aren't allowed to be American?

"It's not only her statement that is absurd, it's the hypocrisy that allows rich white people to make outrageous claims with little backlash while POC struggle to exist."

Author Roxane Gay quipped, "Gwen Stefani’s publicist must be busy today."

Meanwhile, Allure site director Sam Escobar wrote, "Gwen Stefani got very, uh, honest after editor Jesa Marie Calaor asked about the 2008 backlash against the Harajuku Lovers collection. In my 6 years at @Allure_magazine, this might be the strangest celebrity interview we’ve published."

Iris Goldsztajn
Morning Editor

Iris Goldsztajn is a London-based journalist, editor and author. She is the morning editor at Marie Claire, and her work has appeared in the likes of InStyle, Cosmopolitan, Bustle and Shape. Iris writes about everything from celebrity news and relationship advice to the pitfalls of diet culture and the joys of exercise. She has many opinions on Harry Styles, and can typically be found eating her body weight in cheap chocolate.