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Interview BuzzFeed.News

Buzzfeed.News Interview July 18, 2018
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Part 2

Its hard to adequately reconstruct the gravity that accumulated around No Doubt over the course of 1995 and 1996. They had been around for years first as a high school band and then, as the members transitioned to college, as a ska band trying to make a dent in a music scene dominated by grunge. Even getting signed by famed producer Jimmy Iovine, then at Interscope, couldnt shoot them to immediate stardom. When the band started work on Tragic Kingdom, they were barely holding on to their dream so much so that Stefanis brother, Eric, who had first brought the band members together, quit to take an animating job with The Simpsons.

But Tragic Kingdoms release scratched an itch. After all the gray dismalness of Seattle-based grunge, No Doubt felt like a sunny California reprieve. The album was boppy yet emotional in a way that felt less toxic, less wounding than other music from the era that gave us damaged icons like Kurt Cobain and Chris Cornell. The album was denigrated by critics as unfashionably pop, as Spin put it. But reviews didnt matter when you had someone like Stefani front and center. For residents of Orange County, Stefanis platinum-blonde retro hair, red lips, pencil-thin eyebrows, and mix of crop tops and punk pants might have been familiar, a reflection of the skater, rockabilly, and chola aesthetics that infused the area. But for millions of viewers who saw her on MTV, she felt like something entirely new. In his 2004 profile of Stefani for Vogue, Jonathan Van Meter encapsulated the feeling of seeing her for the first time onscreen: She had rock-hard abs, was dressed half like a boy and half like a cheerleader, and stomped around like a bad-ass rocker chick. I thought: I have to talk to her.

When Iovine first met Stefani in 1991, he told her: Gwen, youre going to be a huge star in six years. Later, Stefani recalled thinking, Im not going to be in this band six years from now. Im going to be having fourteen children and be married. Stefani would repeat this story numerous times over the course of her career as a means of illustrating Iovines sense of her star potential, but also to highlight just how distant her ambitions were from the life of a full-time rock star. It was one of the many ways that early profiles set the foundation for Stefanis image: a sex symbol with eyes still trained on a future domestic life.

That image was reinforced by Stefanis dating choices. When it comes to the men in her life, there havent been many, Details pointed out. There was her longtime bandmate turned boyfriend turned best friend, Tony Kanal, and then there was Gavin Rossdale, who she met when No Doubt opened for Rossdales band, Bush, in 1995. At the time, I remember feeling that Stefani was the luckiest woman in the world Rossdale was hot in a way that was incredibly accessible to a teenage girl. But I had little sense of what a perfect pairing it actually was: Like No Doubt, Bush were viewed as unwelcome posers at the grunge party. Bushs hit song Glycerine might have evoked the grunge sound, but it had none of the edge and little of the artistry. Yet teens adored it much as they adored Stefani. For teens who loved grunges sound and aesthetic, but had nothing in particular to be mad about, they were a perfect fit.

When Rolling Stone compiled a list of The Ten Worst Bands of the Nineties, it explained Bushs placement at No. 7 this way: Imagine how frustrating the grunge revolution must have been for the major labels. They suddenly had this new generation of rock bands selling millions of records, but none of them were easy to manage. They were too busy doing heroin, refusing to make videos or launch proper tours and generally bemoaning the fact that they were popular. ... By 1994 the labels were sick of putting up with the nonsense. Enter a band like Bush. Gavin Rossdale was happy to tour all year round, pose for the cover of Rolling Stone with his shirt off and generally do whatever it took to sell records. He was friendly, docile and looked like a model. This was the kind of rock star they dreamed about.

The same could be said for Stefani. Sure, there was turmoil over the way the media flocked to her, often at the expense of the rest of the members of No Doubt, but the band was good-spirited about it and even poked fun at it in the video for Dont Speak. When No Doubt first went on a world tour, Stefani, then well into her twenties, admitted her favorite drink was a Shirley Temple. Im totally a goody-good, I have to admit, she said. Im learning how to drink beer. I think I like Corona a little bit. Years later, Vogue underlined just how innately poised and well-mannered she was from the start: As rough-and-tumble as she gets onstage, Stefani leaves that attitude behind when the concerts over. There are no Courtney Love histrionics, no Janet Jacksonstyle wardrobe malfunctions, no J.Lo diva routines. Shes a rare rock star who has it both ways.

Both marketable ways, that is. And Stefani and Rossdales burgeoning relationship only made them more so more interesting, yes, but it also ensured there was, at least for the time being, less drama and less gossip about her love life. Before their eventual marriage, the two never even lived on the same continent, let alone in the same house. They gradually became more and more private about their relationship, yet in the beginning, Stefani was open about her devotion to Rossdale. When a Rolling Stone writer followed No Doubt on tour, he described Stefani buying glycerine soap for him. Around her neck, she wore a silver Gwen necklace paired with another marked simply G, for Gavin. Later, she called Rossdale on tour to tell him, You are so *bleep*ing cute.

If Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love had been the forcefully ambivalent king and queen of grunge, then Stefani and Rossdale were their Disneyfied heirs.

If Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love had been the forcefully ambivalent king and queen of grunge, then Stefani and Rossdale were their Disneyfied heirs, the ones who would eventually pass the throne to Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. Stefani never pledged to stay a virgin until marriage, but a certain sense of purity was a fixture of early profiles. She had grown up in a devoutly Catholic home, which, over the years to come, she would describe as the Brady Bunch family, church every Sunday. Her mom got mad when she used the f-word onstage, but took solace in the fact that she didnt have any tattoos or piercings. Her dad was thankful that Stefani spent her teen years playing piccolo in the school marching band. Her family had once taken a trip to the Vatican on which Stefani, then age 21, was forbidden to talk to boys. She told Details, I believe that sex is a sacred, private thing.

None of this was framed as ridiculous it was just another aspect of what made Stefani cute, a means of quietly positioning her, again and again, as a safe-sex alternative to her man-repeller antecedents. Same for the way she became a part of No Doubt. She didnt recruit fellow feminists to create countercultural, patriarchy-smashing music. Instead, she emphasized that shed been completely passive, no goals, when she was first convinced to join the band by her brother. It was Iovine who encouraged her to take a much more central role in songwriting, including for No Doubts breakout single, Just a Girl. She found the phrase just a girl hilarious and surveyed her girlfriends for everyday examples of when girls were patronized. The resulting lyrics were intended to be read as sarcasm: Im just a girl, all pretty and petite / So dont let me have any rights.

Songlist

No Doubt & Gwen Stefani Song Details

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