Sunday, November 07, 2004What you waiting for?
It's been a varied ride for Gwen Stefani of No Doubt. She has been (in order) a tomboy icon, a pink haired glitter queen, a peroxide blonde mix'n'match glamour/bling icon, a starlet, an actress, a fashion designer and it would now seem she has incarnated herself as one of the most interesting modern pop icons of recent years. In 2000 she and No Doubt were irrelevant. Their excellent Return of Saturn album sold only 32,000 copies in the UK in its first year of release, but 2001's Rock Steady put the band back on the map internationally and Gwen's star was reborn. A singles collection released in 2003 confirmed No Doubt's status as a super group, selling millions worldwide and opening up to a wider audience. By this stage Gwen was well underway with her side project.
This side project (not a solo album), titled Love Angel Music Baby, has been one of the most hyped and anticipated pop albums this year. Gwen has collaborated with Linda Perry, Dr DRE, New Order, Andre 3000, Pharell Williams, Eve, Tim Armstrong, Mary J Blige, Dallas Austin, and some of the biggest names of those didn't even get their tracks on the album. The theme is 80s dance, the concept is fun, disposable but enjoyable. Security has been tight on the album and with only two weeks until its release, only one song other than the lead single, What you waiting for? has been leaked. So not even the journos really know if it will meet the expectations of everyone or whether it will be a victim of its own hype. What you waiting for? is a stonking, beat driven pop classic already and if the rest of the album is as exciting as it then there is no way it can be a disappointment.
The only album track to have been leaked, Harajuku Girls, however, suggests that Gwen may be beginning to lose it somewhat. It sounds like a Hollywood high school essay on why Gwen digs the style of the girls who hang out near Tokyo's Harajuku bridge. It is embarassingly self-referential with lines like "A ping pong match between East and West, and have you seen your inspiration in my latest collection, just wait til you get your little hands on l.a.m.b, cuz it's super kawaii, that means super cute in japanese". When Abstractboy was in attendace of her CD:UK performance, her whole backing band was Oriental and she had four Harajuku girl backing dancers who giggle and wear short tartan skirts and fluorescent colours and according to a recent interview on Capital FM, she has named them Love, Angel, Music and Baby. Though she is probably getting lots of brand new fans in Japan (as desired in you Waiting for?), it is hard to feel that this is the most sincere way of paying homage to Harakuju, but then again, this project is not neccesarily about sincerity.
One thing that is certain though is Gwen's ability to perform. She is definitely the most captivating and interesting performer Abstractboy has ever seen. She is a character of great contrast. On stage she can be lovely, warm, smiley. She waves at her awe inspired fans, she points at their home-made t-shirts, she is so full of love for where she is and those who support her. And it is genuine, undoubtedly. But in a split second she is a praying mantra, stalking madly around the stage in a pair of hotpants, ten inch platform heels, pouting, gyrating, squealing - she is a caricature, part Tank Girl, part Marilyn Monroe, part Betty Boop. She'd eat you for dinner, but you probably wouldn't complain. It is somewhere in this contrast from which the essence of her iconic presence derives. Like Madonna, she is painfully aware of her abilities, her sexual appeal, her toned body.
It will be interesting to see what the following few years holds for Gwen Stefani and No Doubt. Will her status as a global superstar change things for No Doubt? Will they be able to keep up with the wave of success? Will she have the baby she has always wanted and how will that affect the music No Doubt makes? Love Angel Music Baby will push Gwen into the superleague for sure and let's hope it lives up to its expectations.