I can’t relate to Gwen Stefani’s generic feminine ambitions – something she was not being the least bit ironic about, if her lifestyle choices are any indication – but I can relate to her personal style. Though, obviously, it’s always a bit disappointing to find that the coolest girl on the block only ever really wanted to settle down and have a bunch of babies, your teenage idols are still your teenage idols deep down inside. You can credit Gwen Stefani for inspiring a legion of impressionable middle-schoolers to dye their hair shades that previously only existed on cartoon characters. You can credit Stefani for all the now-thirtysomethings who still religiously stock up on the Manic Panic and Urban Decay and Hard Candy. Yeah, Gwen Stefani was visually everything 8th grade me aspired to become one day. I didn’t particularly care that she also made music. She was just the height of style. I might even debate you on whether the style actually holds up better than the music. I mean, did the world really need California Ska, or did the world need an enduring fashion icon with the power to make adult braces trendy?
Here for you dose of turn-of-the-century nostalgia, it’s No Doubt. If you remember gluing gaudy plastic “bindis” from Claire’s to your face in honor of Gwen Stefani, congratulations, you’re a 90’s kid. I myself never did that. I didn’t listen to No Doubt in the 90’s, because my adolescent “I hate everything” was really strong, and I could not permit myself, on my honor, to enjoy normal-people shit. That didn’t stop me from having a raging fashion-crush on Gwen, but, you know, in secret. In hindsight, I can admit that No Doubt was a pretty good band. Not a great one, by any means; Gwen Stefani’s style and charisma carried the day far more than her vocal talents. But so what, it was a great image.
Try as I did to filter out as much 90’s pop culture as I could, a few things still got through and No Doubt was one of them. No Doubt is definitely one of the touchstones for my generation, and unlike most of the other things kids my age were all agog about, No Doubt was actually somewhat decent. My reaction to their music was a tentative “Hey, I don’t hate this” and of course I couldn’t resist Gwen Stefani’s colorful sense of style. In fact, I enjoy No Doubt’s music a lot more now, since I don’t feel a guilty obligation to hate everything that’s popular anymore. (Their not being all that popular anymore kind of helps, though.) Their cover of Talk Talk’s It’s My Life is that rare case of a contemporary artist completely outshining the original. I thought the original was a bit dolorous, and let’s face it, Talk Talk was never one of the best or most original New Wave bands anyway. No Doubt’s version is spunkier, angrier, and has an awesome video in which Gwen Stefani makes prison orange look hot. Released in 2003, it was probably the last great thing the band did. After that came Stefani’s trying-too-hard solo career, Stefani’s growing family, and Stefani’s successful second career as a fashion designer (and also an embarrassing attempt at a comeback that was torpedoed by a racist music video – bad call, you guys!) I’m not holding my breath for them to take over the world a second time; they’ve done their part. Gwen Stefani’s blue pigtails will always have a place in the history books.
Ok, I’m not a huge No Doubt fan. They came from the nineties. They were a reasonably alright band. They made a few good songs. I like this song and their cover of It’s My Life. I’m just crazy in love with Gwen Stefani and her personal style. She is a fucking hero. She singlehandedly made neon hair a fashion statement. When she had braces it was cool. When she did bindi it was cool. So strong is her sway that when she showed up on the red carpet wearing what appeared to be the flayed pelt of Cookie Monster tied around her waist, fashion tabloids politely cropped her bottom half and focussed only on how great her hair looked. Since her mad surfer girl days she’s really matured gracefully and her retro-modern style is as influential as ever. Every starlet worth her salt today wants to start her own label, and seriously every one of them does. But Gwen Stefani is one of the very few who actually deserves to have her own label, and her L.A.M.B. line is successful and acclaimed, because she’s got a unique aesthetic that people want a piece of. Stefani is a true original.