Gwen Stefani Claims to Be Japanese, Causes Controversy

Pictured: Gwen Stefani — (Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC)

The Voice coach Gwen Stefani recently launched a new beauty brand, GXVE, a vegan line that features lipsticks, eye shadow palettes, mascaras and eyeliners. While promoting the products, a reporter from Allure confronted her about an earlier beauty brand, her fragrance line launched in 2008, Harajuku Lovers.

The line was inspired by Japan’s Harajuku subculture, which manifested in its visuals and marketing, and the singer’s own personal style. The line included five scents, each bottle shaped into a doll caricature representing Stefani and her four “Harajuku Girls,” the Japanese and Japanese American backup dancers she employed and named Love, Angel, Music and Baby.

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The Allure writer, Jesa Marie Calaor, a Filipina American shared how she desperately wanted a bottle of the expensive fragrance, but couldn’t afford it. “I honestly didn’t question, or even really register, that the woman behind this Asian representation was white,” wrote Calaor, “As an adult, however, I have come to examine Stefani’s Harajuku era — and I have not been alone.”

Gwen Stefani Harajuku Girls

“My God, I’m Japanese and I didn’t know it”

When the Calaor asked Stefani–during the course of interviewing her about GXVE–what she learned from Harajuku Lovers, including from the backlash, she answered with a story about her father, who traveled to Japan as part of his work for Yamaha. But she also referred to herself as Japanese, twice.

“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, explaining how her father (who is Italian American) would return with stories of street performers cosplaying as Elvis and stylish women with colorful hair. Then, as an adult, she was able to travel to Harajuku to see them herself. “I said, ‘My God, I’m Japanese and I didn’t know it.'” As those words seemed to hang in the air between us, she continued, “I am, you know.” She then explained that there is “innocence” to her relationship with Japanese culture, referring to herself as a “super fan.” 

“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,” she told me. “I think it was a beautiful time of creativity… a time of the ping-pong match between Harajuku culture and American culture.” She elaborated further: “[It] should be okay to be inspired by other cultures because if we’re not allowed then that’s dividing people, right?”

According to the author, Stefani also said she was “a little bit of an Orange County girl, a little bit of a Japanese girl, a little bit of an English girl.”

Stefani also insisted that she also identifies with the Hispanic and Latin cultures she grew up around in Anaheim, California. “The music, the way the girls wore their makeup, the clothes they wore, that was my identity,” she said. “Even though I’m an Italian American — Irish or whatever mutt that I am — that’s who I became because those were my people, right?” 

What is cultural appropriation?

The writer contacted Fariha I. Khan, Ph.D., co-director of the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, who helped clarify the line between inspiration or appreciation and appropriation. “Simply put, cultural appropriation is the use of one group’s customs, material culture, or oral traditions by another group,” she said

“When a group has been historically marginalized and/or racialized by another group, the issue of power is central to cultural appropriation,” explains Dr. Khan. “The dominant group has the power to take (or appropriate) the marginalized group’s customs and practices and give these traditions meaning — without the original context or significance.” 

“They can put on those bits of culture sort of like a costume.”

Additionally, Angela Nguyen, MSW, a therapist at the Yellow Chair Collective, a psychotherapist group with an emphasis on serving the Asian American community noted that “A white person doesn’t have to face the racism, prejudices, or discrimination that a Japanese, Mexican, or El Salvadorian person would have to face. They can put on those bits of culture sort of like a costume.”

“We’ve had to fight to speak our languages at home and outside and say that our foods are good,” she says. “And then to see people paint us simplistically, that feels really painful.”

Also the writer addressed the rise of hate incidents against Asians in the United States, and mentions that while Stefani has spoken about her love and appreciation of Japanese culture to Allure’s knowledge, she has not publically made any statements of support during this cycle of anti-AAPI hate.

Of course, people on the internets have opinions. Check out a few tweets from Stefani’s trending hashtag:

The internet has thoughts

“Child, leave Gwen Stefani alone. I grew up in NYC. I’ve been inspired by many different cultures. If she loves other cultures too then that should be a positive, not a negative.” – @DivoAndTheCity

“Why does Gwen Stefani get a pass? Is it because she’s pretty? Is it because her fan base is older and in order to cancel her we’d have to pretend to not have liked her in her solo prime? Do we just have bigger fish to fry” – @ILove_CC

“Gwen Stefani has evolved not one bit since sporting a bindi in the 90s, and it’s frankly incredible that at a bare minimum a PR company hasn’t stepped in and put a muzzle on this.” – @BabsVan

“I don’t know who needs to hear this, but we not gonna cancel Gwen Stefani for any forms of cultural appropriation. She did it perfectly and actually included cultured in her music and gave it representation and she will forever be mother for that. Bye” – @luimacronne

“Gwen Stefani used Asian women as props to help her get rich, and her response is… “I’m Japanese????” – @iwatchIAm

“Well, I certainly didn’t have Gwen Stefani declaring, “I’m Japanese!” on my 2023 bingo card.” – @nickhautman

“People still giving Gwen Stefani s*** for the Harajuku girls is cringe. Holly hell it’s been 20 years, y’all need to touch grass.” – @SilverMASAKI

About mj santilli 34830 Articles
Founder and editor of, home of the awesomest fan community on the net. I love cheesy singing shows of all kinds, whether reality or scripted. I adore American Idol, but also love The Voice, Glee, X Factor and more!