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Harajuku Girls (song)

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"Harajuku Girls"
Song by Gwen Stefani
from the album Love. Angel. Music. Baby.
Released November 12, 2004
Recorded 2004; Stankonia Recording
(Atlanta, Georgia)
Larabee Sound Studio East
(Los Angeles, California)
Sound Castle Studios
(Los Angeles, California)
Genre
Length 4:51
Label Interscope
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)
Love. Angel. Music. Baby. track listing
"Luxurious"
(6)
"Harajuku Girls"
(7)
"Crash"
(8)

"Harajuku Girls" is a song recorded by American singer and songwriter Gwen Stefani from her debut solo studio album Love. Angel. Music. Baby. (2004). It was released on November 12, 2004, along with the rest of the parent album by Interscope Records, the track was written by Stefani, James Harris III, Terry Lewis, James Quenton Wright, Bobby Ross Avila, and Issiah J. Avila, while production was handled by Jimmy Jam, Lewis and Mark "Spike" Stent. Musically, the song is a synthpop-inspired track, influenced by hip hop music.

Its lyrics serve as an ode to the Harajuku, a district in Shibuya, Japan, and the Harajuku Girls, a group of backdancers that originally performed with Stefani on multiple occasions. Upon release, the song was widely panned by critics for its composure and lyrical structure, with many critics finding the track racist. However, several reviewers were more positive to the track for being interesting. "Harajuku Girls" was performed live during the Harajuku Lovers Tour in 2005, where it served as the opening number. The singer wore a tiara and baby clothing, replicating a scene similar to the cover of Stefani's debut album, it was also sung live during her most recent concert series, This Is What the Truth Feels Like Tour (2016).

Background and composition[edit]

As described by J. Freedom du Lac of The Washington Post, "Harajuku Girls" is "a slinky synth-pop tribute to the wild sartorial sensibilities of Tokyo street culture".[1] Stefani was inspired to write the track as she has an "obsession with [...] Japanese Harajuku culture".[2] It serves as a "tech-infused tribute to Japanese fashion" and as an "ode to couture" for John Galliano, one of the singer's sources of inspiration for fashion, Hysteric Glamour, and A Bathing Ape.[3] The dance troupe of the same name also are a source of inspiration with the track; Stefani uses it to pay homage to the people who "help inspire and dress her".[4] According to Jason Damas of PopMatters, "Harajuku Girls", in addition to "Bubble Pop Electric" and "Luxurious", shows off Stefani's "hip-hop mode",[5] which in turn "yields a synthetic sheen that works well".[6] The A.V. Club's Andy Battaglia referred to the style: "'Harajuku Girls' sounds like demure would-be Japanese style".[7]

The song was written by Stefani, James Harris III, Terry Lewis, James Quenton Wright, Bobby Ross Avila, and Issiah J. Avila, with production handled by Jimmy Jam, Lewis, and Mark "Spike" Stent,[8] during the song's bridge, Stefani refers to Japanese culture as "A ping-pong match between Eastern and Western",[9] while simultaneously name-dropping fashion icons: "What's that you got on? / Is it Comme des Garçons? / Vivienne Westwood can't go wrong / Mixed up with second hand clothes".[3] The former lyrics were scrutinized by several publications, with a critic from Time calling the singer "racist".[9] When asked if she regretted her use of the Harajuku Girls, Stefani responded:

No. There’s always going to be two sides to everything, for me, everything that I did with the Harajuku Girls was just a pure compliment and being a fan. You can’t be a fan of somebody else? Or another culture? Of course you can. Of course you can celebrate other cultures. That’s what Japanese culture and American culture have done. It’s like I say in the song: it’s a ping-pong match. We do something American, they take it and they flip it and make it so Japanese and so cool. And we take it back and go, “Whoa, that’s so cool!” That’s so beautiful. It’s a beautiful thing in the world, how our cultures come together. I don’t feel like I did anything but share that love. You can look at it from a negative point of view if you want to, but get off my cloud. Because, seriously, that was all meant out of love.[10]

She also "fetishiz[es] Japanese fashion" through several lyrics: "Where the catwalk got it claws / All you fashion know-it-alls / With your underground malls..." and "When you dress up in your clothes / Wild hair color and cell phones / Your accessories are dead-on".[5] A "Japanese-styled flute riff" was created for the track, and is played alongside a "danceable beat"; several Japanese phrases are spoken in the recording, sung by the Harajuku Girls themselves. Stefani asks the ladies various questions, to which they reply and answer them in the lyrics.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

"Harajuku Girls" was heavily panned by contemporary music critics. Damas from PopMatters noted the song for being a "bizarrely homoerotic tribute to Japanese pop culture", he also stated that the collaboration with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who handled the track's production, "set expectations a bit high", referring to their previous work with Janet Jackson, confirming that it "sounds nothing like Rhythm Nation".[5] Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic agreed with Damas' claim of "homoerotic[ness]", and stated: "Stefani's dogged desire to cobble together her own patchwork style while adhering to both her new wave chick and urban goddess personas can be both fascinatingly odd and irresistible."[11] Eliana Dockterman of Time found the song full of "some extremely racist stereotypes", comparing the Harajuku Girls' mention in the song to puppetry, she concluded with: "The lyrics [...] aren't much better".[9] In his review of Love. Angel. Music. Baby., David Browne from Entertainment Weekly called it "a teeth-gnashingly cutesy tribute" and criticized Stefani for promoting her fashion line L.A.M.B. throughout the track. Browne further found "the ostentatiousness of it all [...] irritating".[12] Regarding the song's themes of Japanese fashion and culture, Slant Magazine's Sal Cinquemani found it "maniacal" for the singer "suggest[ing] she'd like to 'get' four of the girls and name them Love, Angel, Music, and Baby"; he described the action as "rife with subversive social commentary".[13]

In a generally positive review, Winnie McCroy from The Villager enjoyed the song and the Harajuku Girls' contribution, and thanked them for "add[ing] some international flavor to an already stellar track".[3] A critic from Sputnikmusic awarded "Harajuku Girls" four out of five stars, declaring it "one of the more interesting songs of the year", in addition to complimenting its "interesting, danc[e]able beat" and "rather brilliant" production,[2] as part of Renowned for Sound's "Record Rewind" column, Marcus Floyd also appreciated the track for "how fantastically poppy it is".[14]

Live performances[edit]

Color picture of singer Gwen Stefani
Stefani performing "Harajuku Girls" during the This Is What the Truth Feels Like Tour in 2016.

The singer included the song on the setlist for her 2005 concert tour entitled Harajuku Lovers Tour,[15] for the performance, she appeared on stage wearing a tiara and baby doll outfit,[16] sitting in a red velvet and gold colored throne, as seen on the cover of Love. Angel. Music. Baby..[16][17] Video images of the dancers simultaneously appeared on screens broadcast behind them.[18] Feedback for the performance was generally mixed, with Dockterman panning it and accusing Stefani of using the women as puppets, referring to a report where the ladies were "contractually obligated to only speak Japanese in public".[9] Referring to the outfits worn by the Harajuku Girls during the tour, comedian Margaret Cho issued the following statement:

Even though to me, a Japanese schoolgirl uniform is kind of like blackface, I am just in acceptance over it, because something is better than nothing. An ugly picture is better than a blank space, and it means that one day, we will have another display at the Museum of Asian Invisibility, that groups of children will crowd around in disbelief, because once upon a time, we weren’t there.[19]

However, Hazel Cills from Vice defended the singer's motives, stating: "Although no musicians had the gail to hire actual Japanese women as props, Asian fetishism and appropriation was rampant in 80s rock", while referring to Stefani's major influence for the parent album's entirety,[20] the live rendition at the aforementioned tour was used as the opening track on Stefani's debut video album, Harajuku Lovers Live.[21] At the promotional concert series MasterCard Priceless Surprises Presents Gwen Stefani, the song was performed as a part of a "Harajuku Medley", consisting of songs "Yummy", "Don't Get It Twisted", "Now That You Got It", and "Bubble Pop Electric". The medley contained J-pop and disco elements, and served as a "virtual sonic tour of Stefani's many stylistic identities".[22] Stefani performed "Harajuku Girls" during the 2016 This Is What the Truth Feels Like Tour in support of her third studio album This Is What the Truth Feels Like (2016), Stefani performed "Harajuku Girls".[23] Stefani sung the track during Act 2, immediately following "Luxurious", and wore jeans lined with multiple zippers and a sparkly, sleeveless top,[24] her wardrobe for the tour was designed by The Blonds, in addition to Mariel Haenn and Rob Zangardi serving as the singer's stylists.[25]

Credits and personnel[edit]

Management

  • Recorded at Stankonia Recording, Atlanta; Larabee Sound Studio East, Los Angeles; and Soundcastle Studios, Los Angeles.

Personnel

Credits adapted from the liner notes of Love. Angel. Music. Baby.[26]

See also[edit]

  • Harajuku Girls – the dance group that inspired the song of the same name

References[edit]

  1. ^ du Lac, J. Freedom (November 7, 2005). "Gwen Stefani's Patriot Center Fashion Show". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 13, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c Ryou–Neko (November 14, 2005). "Gwen Stefani – Love. Angel. Music. Baby". Sputnikmusic. Retrieved August 10, 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c McCroy, Winnie (January 5–11, 2005). "A sound that pops, and more". The Villager. 74 (35). Retrieved March 22, 2007. 
  4. ^ Haines, Lisa (November 29, 2004). "Review of Gwen Stefani – Love Angel Music Baby". BBC Music. Retrieved August 9, 2016. 
  5. ^ a b c Damas, Jason (November 28, 2004). "Gwen Stefani – Love.Angel.Music.Baby". PopMatters. Retrieved August 9, 2016. 
  6. ^ Sullivan, Caroline (November 18, 2004). "Gwen Stefani, Love Angel Music Baby". The Guardian. Retrieved August 10, 2016. 
  7. ^ Battaglia, Andy (December 13, 2004). "Gwen Stefani: Love. Angel. Music. Baby.". The A.V. Club. Retrieved August 10, 2016. 
  8. ^ "Harajuku Girls (Legal Title)". BMI. Retrieved October 26, 2015. [permanent dead link]
  9. ^ a b c d Dockterman, Eliana (October 20, 2014). "Before We Embrace Gwen Stefani's Comeback, She Owes Us An Apology". Time. Retrieved February 14, 2015. 
  10. ^ Feeney, Nolan (December 8, 2014). "Gwen Stefani: I Don't Regret the Harajuku Girls At All". Time. Retrieved August 10, 2016. 
  11. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Gwen Stefani – Love.Angel.Music.Baby.". AllMusic. Retrieved August 10, 2016. 
  12. ^ Browne, David (November 29, 2004). "Gwen Stefani: Love. Angel. Music. Baby". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved August 10, 2016. 
  13. ^ Cinquemani, Sal (November 20, 2004). "Gwen Stefani – Love. Angel. Music. Baby.". Slant Magazine. Retrieved August 10, 2016. 
  14. ^ Floyd, Marcus (December 21, 2014). "Record Rewind: Gwen Stefani – Love. Angel. Music. Baby". Renowned for Sound. Retrieved August 10, 2016. 
  15. ^ Stevenson, Jane (December 10, 2005). "Air Canada Centre, Toronto – December 9, 2005". Toronto Sun. Retrieved August 9, 2016. 
  16. ^ a b Williams, Rob (November 16, 2005). "Clothes minded singer offers more style than substance". Winnipeg Sun. Sun Media. Retrieved January 23, 2011. 
  17. ^ Moss, Corey (October 24, 2005). "Gwen Stefani Brings Solo Show To Hollywood 'Hometown' Crowd". MTV (Viacom). Retrieved January 25, 2011. 
  18. ^ Pareles, Jon (November 3, 2005). "A Fashionista Singing About (What Else?) Style". The New York Times. Retrieved January 25, 2011. 
  19. ^ Cho, Margaret (October 31, 2005). "Harajuku Girls". Margaret Cho. Retrieved August 9, 2016. 
  20. ^ Cills, Hazel (November 29, 2014). "Looking Back at Gwen Stefani's Racist Pop Frankenstein Ten Years Later". Vice. Retrieved August 10, 2016. 
  21. ^ "Harajuku Lovers Live". AllMusic. Retrieved February 13, 2015. 
  22. ^ Hampp, Andrew (February 8, 2015). "Gwen Stefani Plays First Solo Show in Six Years at L.A.'s Orpheum Theatre". Billboard. Retrieved April 10, 2016. 
  23. ^ Stevenson, Jane (August 2, 2016). "Gwen Stefani talks This Is What the Truth Feels Like tour". Toronto Sun. Retrieved August 10, 2016. 
  24. ^ Janes, Théoden (July 24, 2016). "Concert review: Gwen Stefani pulls fast one on security". The Charlotte Observer. Retrieved August 10, 2016. 
  25. ^ Karsen, Shira (July 19, 2016). "Gwen Stefani's Tour Couture: The Blonds Talk About Her 'This Is What the Truth Feels Like' Fashion". Billboard. Retrieved August 10, 2016. 
  26. ^ Love. Angel. Music. Baby. (CD liner notes). Gwen Stefani. Interscope Records. 2004. B0003469-02. 

External links[edit]