Gwen Stefani: Please Release the Harajuku Girls

April 13, 2005


Is anyone else tired of Gwen Stefani parading around with an entourage of Japanese girls?

Ah, appropriating other cultures, so cool and fun.


Melissa Hung

Founding Editor

Melissa Hung is the founding editor of Hyphen. She was the editor in chief for the magazine's first five years and went on to serve in many other leadership roles on the staff and board for more than a decade. She is a writer and freelance journalist. Her essays and reported stories have appeared in NPR, Vogue, Pacific Standard, Longreads, and Catapult, among others. She grew up in Texas, the eldest child of immigrants. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.



Umm.. you really think that the 4 harajuku girls dont want to be there? they are getting paid major money for being on tour with gwen as dancers. How does being Japanese change anything?
Wow...Just, wow...-pokepoke-
no one is disputing the fact that they are getting paid."How does being Japanese change anything?"4 small "japanese girls" following a white blond woman around. hmm, let's see, does race have anything to do with this?
i guess the question is what is meant by her having 4 people of any type following her around with no apparent purpose but to follow her. if they were white, would you be concerned? irish to her italian (I presume)? mexican? redheads to her blond? brunettes? black? arabic? is there a 'cultural translation' of a harajuku girl in other cultures?
I spent a year and a half in Japan, and during that time went to Harajuku nearly every sunday because my friends had a rock band there. I got to know a lot of girls like the ones in gwen's band, and believe me, it's a dream come true for them! Japanese girls really love doing the 'groupie' thing, and they do it so well. It's not degrading to them, it's fun! I've watched about 100 girls, all dressed identically, swinging their heads in unison for hours to Japanese rock bands in Harajuku. So they love to follow and be in groups. It's nothing to do with Gwen Stephanie being white. And I was happy to see Gwen sharing some of that with the rest of the world. It promotes globalisation, in my opinion, same with when she was wearing the bindis and doing the Indian thing. I was in India at the time and they absolutely loved her! I say, share the love!P.S. what a lot of crap about her 'not allowing them to speak English' Why on earth would she do something stupid like that? Don't believe every rumour your hear or read. Come on, people!
Yes, the Japanese love doing the 'groupie thing', but you're putting this in a whole different context. Famously or perhaps infamously, Japan is a country of harmony, unity, and CONFORMITY. Historically, it is a country that tolerates very little diversity (though this is slowly changing). Even the "rebels" in Japan, like motorcycle gangs and Harajuku freaks (yes, they are perceived as freaks to the rest of 'normal' Japanese society), do it in a coordinating, almost uniform way. There are no true "rebels" in Japan. This is simply part of their culture.What Miss Stefani is clearly doing is utilizing these "authentic Harajuku girls" to promote and build images. She "dresses" them, she "names" them, they FOLLOW her everywhere but are always one step behind her. The spotlight doesn't belong to them. Maybe the girls love it, maybe they don't, but as far as I'm concerned, they are simply tools in Gwen's image and public persona.If Gwen is really wants to celebrate and spread Japanese street culture, she would not have four submissive Asian girls (in clothing that HARDLY reflects that of Harajuku youth, no less) following her, giggling, and serving no other purpose than being cute, painted, breathing decor.
Might I add, these girls are hardly the image of 'true' Harajuku kids. Look at their makeup. Clothes. Hair. Poses. School girl uniforms? Funky 'geisha' makeup? Cheesy 'oriental' hair ornaments? 'Sassy' poses? Um. Yeah. No.
dude, one of the gals is Chinese American. she can speak english. she's basically been hired to play a part -- that of a giggling, no-english speaking "japanese" "harajuku" girl.
I never thought she was passing them off as authentic. I always assumed it was meant to be more of a caricature of the Japanese rebellious young people, which I thought was rather cute.
That's really sad. :\I hate how she is stereotyping ever Harajuku girl. There are so many fashions, you can't just get a group of, apparently not all Japanese girls, and dress them up like one particular group and parade them around.
As an Japanese girl, I don't find Gwen's harajuku girls offensive. As a matter of fact, i would ABSOLUTLEY LOVE to be one. Even if it means being called "Love" or "Music."
I think that Gwen is the shit....... Yall need to stop haten. She is an amazon person with outstanding talent....she is a person with style and she fucken rocks! She is different and expresses that through her music. I think that she is a Beautiful person INSIDE as well as OUT.
No, i am NOT tired of gwen stefani at all! She is amazing and one of the best female singers and a designer in the world. and i am sick of u all saying stuff like that about her. i am sure tose harajuku girls get paid loads of money and enjoy what there doing.
they aren't even real harajuku girls. they are hired models. i hate gwen stefani.
what the shet are you thinking....gwen is thw most beautiful person in the world and I love her,and her style is so beauty than all style in world..people who say gwen is ugly,and her styl is shet,than they are not on the earth...this is my e-mail adress for all gwen fans..meggy_gwen [at]
yall need to just shut the hell up cuase there getting paid major money to be on this tour and if they were white mexican irish or any other race im sure yall would be hating on gwen then too so just shut the fuck up cuase u dont know anything GWEN IS THE SHIT!!
wow Dallas, you are just so mature and articulate. thanks for such a convincing argument.
listen its up 2 the girls, if they didnt like it they'd quit right? so stop moaning. I thank gwen because i never new nothing about harajuku before her and yea it might be a bit sterotypical but what isnt these days, she just wants to show a basic idea of the harajuku girls not the exact 1s
They're her dancers and they go everywhere with her because they're also her friends. Read some interviews with them. They love her and she takes them everywhere. And in Harajuku they lived well too...I mean they wear Versace and Chanel every day there. Gwen was amazed by their style and attitude she loved the four...and her new album is all about them. The title is their nicknames (Love. Angel. Music. and Baby.) It's the same as Britney marrying one of her dancers...she's friends with her's. So, in the end, it's like you're saying:" Hey everyone aren't you tired of Gwen having friends"[SOME COMMENTS HAVE BEEN DELETED FOR NAME CALLING- ED.]
Wow for a journalist or whatever you are you don't do your research
I can see both sides of the argument, but it is slightly patronising on behalf of Gwen. Would you really let your 'friend' take you everywhere like some sort of accessory? It appears not much more than a clever marketing ploy to make gwen 'cool'. The fact she is the star, being followed around by giggling schoolgirls (that she has benevolently taken the duty of naming) is pretty typical of a sell-out popstar, regardless of race- though that certainly comes into it. Perhaps they could replace her old band members - or does no-one remember No Doubt?
i must certainly acknowledge my contribution to this round robin, but don't you think (this is the collective 'you') that Gwen Stefani and hera) indentured servents,b) self-loathing sycopants,c) mind-controlled minionsare not even close to worth this level of discussion?
So Linda, where are these interviews with the dancers? I'd be surprised to see that -- Gwen doesn't seem to let them speak in public. Not very friend-like, is that? Let's see if I follow your logic here -- she pays them, and that makes them her friends? Do you pay your friends too?
It's call commentary, Alex. Get your facts straight.I'd also like to remind everyone that name calling is not allowed on our blog. This is a place for discussion -- and that often means disagreements. Calling people names because they disagree with you is immature and will not be tolerated. Play nice, kids.
I watched the interview of the four girls and the fact that one of them (Angel) speaks English (publicly...not sure if the others know English, maybe Angel is just a ploy to draw attention away from the others in case of questioning) and she still let Stefani rename her is kind of sickening.Also...I think Love and Music referenced Gwen's videos in their interviews. They said something about being in "Gwen's fantasy world" like it was REAL. I remember a specific quote from Music saying that she was shopping in a music store and "the rows of CDs turned into green hedges. I heard a 'tick-tock, tick-tock', saw a white rabbit run past and Gwen chasing it. At that moment, I knew I was a part of Gwen's fantasy world." (Referencing the music video of "What Are You Waiting For - Gwen Stefani")It's like she's completely admitting to be a figment of Gwen's imagination. Not to mention, that same video features the girls giggling like the stereotypical Japanese schoolgirls.I'm sure people outside of the Japanese culture wouldn't find that very offensive. Now let me ask you. Say you were American and you were in Gwen's video, featured as an obese fast-food eater, beer swilling redneck. Or if you were Indian and you were belly dancing while cooking curry in her video. How about an Irish leprechaun running around with marshmallow cereal and shamrocks?Point made.
ENOUGH ALREADY ON THR OH SO TRIVIAL SUBJECT OF GWEN STEFANI AND HER 'BACK-UP' SINGERS\DANCERS!! I cannot believe that after 4 months this topic is still going on.
I agree, they are no more, she let them go
Gwen is the best.She is not doin anything to the harajuku girls.They probaly get paid alot and if they didn't like being the harajuku girls they wouldn't do it duh.I mean really idiots.Gwen u rock these people dont no wat there saying.And the harajuku girls u r great dancers.Love ya Gwen.
The Harajuku girls are hotties. They can dance. And the way they're dressed up in hollaback girl is a helluva turn on for me. I think Gwen made a good move regardless of what haters have to say. Racism this and stereotypical that... I wouldn't be suprised if the ppl that say that are the same white boys that think there's a difference between saying nigga and nigger. Anyway, I give her props and hope to see more of the girls in the future. Angel and Music are just too damn hot!
Now that they are gone, oddly, I miss them...
Just when you thought this blog was dead, it comes back up
Ok, people. THEY ARE DANCERS! Let's face it regardless of their race; they probably want to follow her around (SHOOT FOR ALL THE MONEY THEY ARE PROBABLY GETTING I WOULD TOO). for all you know they can be just a bunch of groupies did they send anyone a SOS saying" save us from the evil Gwen Stefani"? NO they did not. I am sure if they did not want to follow her they wouldn’t have signed a contract! And if they did not have that in there contract they can sue or tell her that they don’t want to go with her. Backup dancers can be her friends too, maybe not originally there to be her friends but they could have built a relationship. They might become like her band. I personally think that harajuku culture is cool ,and Gwen likes it and it is part of her look, so what. The point is that it is SHOWBIZ, GROUPIES ARE GROUPIES, BACKUP DANCERS, and ARE BACKUP DANCERS REGARDLESS OF RACE!
does it bother anyone that she has claimed the term "harajuku girl" as her own? Harajuku is a place in Tokyo that is well-known because it reigns as a fashion showcase. It is an amazing place where most people go to shop because it has the best clothing. Girls that hang out there are considered Harajuku girls. The term does not belong to Gwen Stefani.
We know, If you read any of the previous blogs we already covered the question you are asking. Anything you can possibly ask was covered it. Its just an old subject, time to retire this blog.
Get over it, people. She loves Japanese culture. Big deal. So do I. People are trying too hard on being anti-stereotype and being politically correct. They're Harajuku girls. That's how they look and that's how they act. They obviously want to be with Gwen. Wouldn't you? Geez.
I do think Gwen Stefani is a decent person, hell I even like her songs from No Doubt. But does anyone remember how she was "wannabe Indian" when No Doubt first made it big? She used to wear a bhindi (the dot) and parade around. Being brown myself, I felt this was annoying, and do feel the pain of my East Asian brothers and sisters. It doesn't seem very genuine, sorry Gwen
firstly - i dont think the issue is steroetyping. they are harajuku girls acting as harajuku girls. as steroetype would surely be portraying all asian women or japanese women as this subculture - which i dont think is hapenning. the whole attraction of harajuku is to be segregated (in terms of fashion and culture).also, i think many readers need to lighten up a bit - and need to focus on the bigger issue. is it so wrong for Gwen to cash in on something she loves - and for her 'business associates' to do the same?i find it more disturbing that people (black and white) are still using the 'N' word and (rappers especially) glamoring being a 'gangsta' - shown as being women haters and crime all - is it really that bad?? - just think before you protest so heavily.
Gwen rocks ! : D
"does it bother anyone that she has claimed the term "harajuku girl" as her own? Harajuku is a place in Tokyo that is well-known because it reigns as a fashion showcase. It is an amazing place where most people go to shop because it has the best clothing. Girls that hang out there are considered Harajuku girls. The term does not belong to Gwen Stefani."Mikhala? i dont think she is, and myself have never been lead to believe this. she's never subscribed to 'own' harajuku, and quotes both in media terms and artistically to be inspired by the culture, and admire/look up to this sub culture. she clearly identifies this as a japanese sub-culture, and portrays herself clearly as an italian-american. i respect both her and her music, but funny you never heard about her 'stealing' the 'ska'/'punk' subcultures from us Brits. and they say colour doesnt come into it....
I was furious when I saw Brad Pitt in a car commerical in Japan. The way the Japanese appropriate American culture is racist and fascist and horrible.
Well, I just checked out (the website of the Harajuku girls) and wow...disturbing. I agree that Gwen's use of these four women is incredible patronizing and even creepy. I'm glad to see it has spawned an active response.Now, I generally don't argue on the internet, because it's generally pretty pointless...BUT. I can't allow the below comment, by "a reader," to go unanswered:"well the point is, gwen just reminds me of those little blonde girls who are obsessed with anime and the japanese culture. why? obviously because theirs is so dull and lifeless.she is reminding me of those strange non-asians running around in cosplay costumes; it just looked absolutely stupid."I'm a 26-year-old ardent fan of manga and anime. Does it enrich my life? Well, yes. That's why I read/watch it. So, by your deinition, one must be Japanese to appreciate manga and anime? That's awfully restrictive of you. And while cosplay is not something I'm interested in doing, what the hell do you care if "other-than-Japanese" kids engage in it? So if you're white/hispanic/black can't dress up as your favorite anime character without being percieved as disingenunuous?What a dull world this would be if we all just stuck to our own cultures.
Have Gwen's Japanese mascots ever been interviewed?
I agree the bhindi-wearing phase was annoying as well. Her and Madonna both.I don't think Gwen is a bad person. But her entourage thing doesn't sit well with me. Am I going to protest? No. But yeah, I agree it doesn't feel genuine.Having 4 people of any ethnicity (if they are all portrayed as the same ethnicity) following you around when you are another race and having your entourage play up their ethnicity is kind of whack.I mean, if they were all Mexican and only allowed to speak spanish when they spoke (just like they are all "japanese" in this case and only alllowed to utter japanese phrases even though I'm pretty sure they can speak english), that would also weird and uncomfortable.
well the point is, gwen just reminds me of those little blonde girls who are obsessed with anime and the japanese culture. why? obviously because theirs is so dull and lifeless.she is reminding me of those strange non-asians running around in cosplay costumes; it just looked absolutely stupid.ok its good that theyre getting paid but their image is incredibly sterotypical. they laugh around and follow a humoungous blonde singing celbrity. ridiculous? yes. submissive-looking? yes.
After looking at that pic above, they do look sort of retarded
Ill be glad when she makes a new album and drop the Harajaku girls and find some other minorites to exploit. So this expired topic can cease. Which is ultimately will happen
sorry didn't mean to offend anyone. I'm just used to saying that word. Of course it's done for publicity too. And yes the girls are aloud to speak english. I've seen 2-3 interviews with them. All I know about them is that Gwen needed dancers and she chose them to be Japanese, because she was amazed by how advanced Japan is. Especially Harajuku. It's an amazing city. So she chose three girls from Harajuku and one from California because they were very talanted and she also got along with them very well. They are really friends that's what each girl says in the interviews and they go everywhere together, especially when touring. They do not get payed for walking with her. They get paid for dancing just like Gwen's other dancers and Gwen herself (for singing). But they go with her to the red carpet and other places because they want to not because she pays them. I don't see what's bad about it. I mean the girls are very talanted and deserve to be touring with her plus they love her and eachother. But it's just my opinnion. By the way Japan is a grea country. There are so many inventions anything you can imagine. It's amazing.They're gonna take over the world
They're so cute the four. I've read an interview too. The girls said they're all very happy and don't care what other think. I don't think it's racist, I mean most singers have only black dancers. It's just because they dance better and they're talanted, not cause it's racist. Anyways, I'd LOVE to be any of those girls places. Oh well.
Look, Gwen Stefani is a pop star. Regardless of whether her music sucks or not, it sells, (and made her rich) and that's what matters. That's capitalism for you. Isn't that the point of this American Conusmerist Lifestlye? Everyone, all of you, haters and lovers of Gwen, are all a part of it whether you like it or not.Yes, the Harajuku girls are probably lovin' being on tour with Gwen, and yes, it is Orientalism. The way we view those of the "Orient", the "East", and the "Other" as being exotic and interesting- This normalizes our understanding of another culture by filtering it through an American Lens and romanticizing the image to fit our Western mindset. (Come on audience--read up!)That's the truth. And it happens all over the media, always has- It's not just Gwen Stefani. Whether right or wrong, entertainment is not about morals. Again, it's about what sells. If Gwen's stuff was more realistic and less "imaginary" audiences would not watch/listen to her work. Consumers get what consumers want.
Hey I just saw this article and I tought it was a little weird people saying it's a stereotype for asians and japanese people.Well, first of all Gwen only sings about one thing: the CITY OF HARAJUKU (not the whole Asia) and she only says nice things about it (like how it inspires her,etc).Second of all, the CD is named after the 4 girls, not the other way around. So, when she's saying harajuku girls she means HER 4 harajuku dancers, not all the Harajuku population (altough they do have a killer style too). So there you go it's not a stereotype, she's singing about her girlfriends. :Pthanks for reading. ^_^