Most young women of a certain age have always wanted to be Gwen Stefani. We grew up with her music, her lyrics and her rad, badass style. We all wanted to be her. We played the shit out of “Tragic Kingdom,” “Return of Saturn” and her two solo albums. We still reach for them on the reg, whenever we need a dose of Gwen’s wisdom or vulnerability.
In her lyrics, Gwen battles the same things all young women do. She struggles with the way she looks, how she feels about herself, feeling trapped in the world because she’s a woman. She reconciles her desire for a career with her desire to settle down, get married and have a family. She scolds herself and embraces her selfishness. Whatever you need at that point in your life, you can probably find it in Gwen’s lyrics. I’ve been listening to No Doubt since I was about seven, though it wasn’t until I hit my teens that I realized how much I identified with what Gwen was singing about. As I get older, it’s “Return of Saturn” that I come back to again and again. I get something new out of it every time I listen.
So in light of Gwen’s tragic divorce from longtime love Gavin Rossdale (sniff, sniff, just eliminate love from my vocabulary already), I made a playlist of the essential Gwen songs to get you through the hard stuff. I promise it works.
From “Tragic Kingdom”
“Just a Girl”
“Just a Girl” has been a touchstone of the girl-power movement since its debut. Remember watching Gwen do push-ups in the video? If you’ve ever felt patronized, talked down to or trapped by people because you’re a girl, this is the song you’d turn to.
Gwen’s magnum opus, and one of the best pop songs ever written, is the ultimate breakup anthem. She wrote most of “Tragic Kingdom” after her breakup with bassist Tony Kanal, and “Don’t Speak” became the band’s most massive hit.
“Happy Now?” and “End it on This”
Both “Happy Now?” and “End it on This” are anthemic breakup screamers, perfect for yelling to in your car when you’re past the down-in-the-dumps heartbreak of a breakup but still stinging.
From “Return of Saturn”
Have any of us gone through a nasty breakup and not blasted this song? No.
“Magic’s in the Makeup”
When you think Gwen Stefani, you probably think dark brows, platinum hair and red lipstick. We all do. It’s her “look” and she’s committed to it, but she explores the effects in “Magic’s in the Makeup.” Gwen sings, “If the magic’s in the makeup, who am I?”
Gwen was exploring her complicated feelings about adulthood, love and marriage on this album, and no song is as indicative of this as “Marry Me.” She knows that she wants to get married (to Gavin) and settle down, but it’s complicated. “I can’t help that I like to be kissed/and I wouldn’t mind if my name changed to Mrs./this is one side, my conventional side/my attraction to tradition/my vintage disposition/my sincere architecture/but I want to cook him dinner/I’m more indecisive than ever, and who believes in forever?” Sigh.
“Simple Kind of Life”
One simple line in this simple song always slays me: “I always was the one with all the love.” Romantic relationships don’t always work out in the fairytale manner, and the simple kind of life and love is harder to come by than you think when you’re young.
“Too Late” has long been one of my favorite Gwen-penned songs. Sure, it’s a little dramatic, but what Gwen is feeling about this relationship is very real. “I just want to take you away from everyone and keep you stashed under my pillow/and then I’d take you out simply for my own pleasure and wear you in/the occasion special then/I’d put you on like a diamond so I could sparkle and be the envy of my friends.”
From “Rock Steady”
“Underneath it All”
One of the most prevalent themes in Gwen’s writing is her obsession with how she looks. She’s been very frank about it, telling magazines she’s basically starving herself all the time to look the way she does. We never see her without her trademark red lips and platinum hair. Gwen never goes out looking sloppy or with roots peeking out. Songs like “Underneath it All” touch on this theme. All Gwen wants is for someone to tell her she’s really lovely underneath it all.
In hindsight, we should have known that things weren’t all flowers and romance in Gwen and Gavin-land. “Early Winter” is a New Wavey weeper about a relationship that begins and ends over and over, much like the change of the seasons.
“What You Waiting For?”
Gwen’s first solo single has her grappling with the decision to try something new. Whenever you feel trepidation about a new opportunity or taking the chance on something kind of scary, give this a listen. “Take a chance ‘cause you might grow!” sings Gwen’s inner voice.
Can you be friends with an ex? Gwen says you can. She’s a pretty good example; after all, she’s still in a band with her ex. There comes a point in your adulthood where you can be “cool” with someone who broke your heart, and Gwen details this change of emotions beautifully. Hopefully she and Gavin take it to heart.