I know, The Harajuku Girls are, like, old news. And I'm probably not going to say anything new or profound here. But because the Harajuku Lovers Fragrance Solid Coffret has been included in what seems like a bajillion giveaways and gift guides for the holiday season, the subject feels relevant again. I feel like I've been seeing Gwen Stefani's cute little minions everywhere! Because I have! And, as fun and adorable as they are, I've still got some issues. (Plus, I got into a car accident last week, which has made me cranky and a bit rant-happy. Effing Minnesota.)
I used to love Gwen Stefani, back when she had braces and pink hair and danced around singing “I’m Just A Girl,” all the while refusing to become the standard “video girl.” So when she kicked off her solo career, rife with microscopic shorts and her awkward attempts at booty dancing, I felt betrayed. It was as if she’d secretly wanted to be a hot video girl all along, and she’d finally gotten her wish. Time to ditch that fun spunky attitude! Maybe my feelings of disappointment were unfair (after all, it isn’t her job to cater to my every whim), but I felt so let down on a personal level. And when I saw her entourage of silent Japanese Harajuku Girls (Love, Lil’ Angel, Music and Baby—named after her clothing line, of course!), my disappointment increased.
True, her schoolgirl-attired back-up dancers are cute and eye-catching. And I’m sure that when Ms. Stefani came up with this “art project,” she meant it as a celebration of Harajuku style. But I still felt as if she’d recklessly played into stereotypes of Asian fetishism that portray Japanese women as silent, subservient geisha girls. And when Margaret Cho made this statement, I thought it was a pretty fair (and un-aggressive) reaction to Stefani’s potentially offensive marketing ploy. To which Stefani responded: “The truth is that I basically was saying how great that culture is. It pissed me off that [Cho] would not do the research and then talk out like that. It’s just so embarrassing for her. The Harajuku Girls is an art project. It’s fun!” Cho emailed this response to Entertainment Weekly: “I absolutely agree! I didn’t do any research! I realize the Harajuku Girls rule!!! How embarrassing for me!!! I was just jealous that I didn’t get to be one! I dance really good!!!”
That was when I started to hate Gwen Stefani. Not because of her choice to parade around with four female accessories who are contractually prohibited from speaking English in public, but because her reaction to Cho’s statement was dismissive, defensive and condescending. If Stefani had responded by acknowledging that Cho had a right to her feelings, but that the intent of the project was not to encourage racial stereotypes, I would have thought Stefani was, at worst, a bit naïve. Instead, Stefani’s reaction left me feeling that although she’s very beautiful, stylish, and talented, she isn’t particularly thoughtful or self-aware. I don’t have a problem with controversy, but I feel that when someone puts something into the world that is potentially offensive (like a gun-heeled shoe which didn't offend me personally, but is definitely worth some discussion), that person has a responsibility to acknowledge the situation and be a willing participant in the resulting dialogue. So even though I think the Harajuku Lovers perfume bottles and the new Solid Coffret are freaking adorable, and even though I saw a gorgeous and insanely discounted LAMB bag at Nordstrom Rack last weekend, I can’t bring myself to invest my money in her empire.