Gwen Stefani is known worldwide as a singer, fashion designer, and now a judge on NBC’s The Voice. Over the years, she has conquered many genres — dance, pop, alternative, and ska. Stefani is one of the most recognizeable artists from the past twenty years, and she has a number of classic songs that we are still listening to today.
In 2005, Gwen Stefani released her debut solo album Love. Angel. Music. Baby.. The album was a mix of many genres including pop, dance, new wave, rock, and R&B, and was a musical departure from her earlier works with No Doubt, who had a signature ska/alternative sound that made them a staple of music in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Love. Angel. Music. Baby. was a commercial and critical success worldwide. It sold over seven million copies, and garnered six Grammy Award nominations in 2005 and 2006 — including Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album.
What You Waiting For? is the first track on the album, and was the lead single. Famous songwriter Linda Perry co-wrote this song with Stefani, and the making of What You Waiting For? had an unconventional process. After Stefani finished a world tour with No Doubt she immediately met Perry in the studio. She was exhausted and worn out from the tour, and had an emotional breakdown because she was now writing tracks without her band mates. Later, Perry tried to motivate Stefani by playing her a track and asked her, “What are you waiting for?” Stefani took the question as a dare, replying, “You’re totally challenging me, right?” The two then created this new wave pop masterpiece.
The song opens with heartfelt lyrics and piano keys that pay tribute to her band mates, and then explodes into a sensational new wave beat. The verses talk about Stefani’s insecurities as a solo artist, but she has two different personas within the song. One that is nervous, and another that is encouraging. “Naturally I’m worried if I do it alone. Who really cares ’cause it’s your life , you never know, it could be great. Take a chance ’cause you might grow.” Gwen then shows off her stellar vocals and sings “What you waiting, what you waiting, what you waiting, what you waiting for?!” The insane beats, out-of-the-box lyrics, the everpresent “tick tock, tick tock, tick tock,”. and Gwen’s voice all combine to make one of the most aggressive pop songs of the past decade. What You Waiting For? was nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 2005, and was a commercial success worldwide.
André 3000 makes an appearance under the alter ego Johnny Vulture on Bubble Pop Electric. This song sounds like a new wave version of something off of the Grease soundtrack. This song is irresistibly cute and fun, but with a title like Bubble Pop Electric would you really expect anything less? This song is explicit, but neither artist swears. The lyrics describe having sex at a drive-in movie theater. Stefani sings “Tonight I’m gonna give you all my love in the back seat…. Gonna speed it down and slow it up in the back seat… Uh oh in the back seat.” She then playfully sings “Bubble pop electric,” in between these lyrics. Bubble Pop Electric is one of those special songs that has explicit lyrics, but it is so upbeat and fun that one does not notice them initially. This is hard to do, so hats off to Gwen Stefani and Johnny Vulture (André 3000).
On Long Way To Go, André 3000 makes another appearance, and this song is one of the most interesting out of any on Love. Angel. Music. Baby.. Almost all of this song is a harmonization between Stefani and André. It opens with a spoken statement from the two “We’ve got a long way to go. When snow hits the asphalt, cold looks and bad talk come. We’ve got a long way to go. It’s beyond Martin Luther, upgrade computer.” The topic of this track is interracial love, and the negative feedback couples receive from some people. One of the most dynamic parts of this song is when these two sing together André 3000 will say “she” or “her” and Stefani will say “he” or “his”. The two of them sing “His/Her skin wasn’t the same color as mine but he/she was fine, he/she was fine. If all men are made equal then he/she was fine, he/she was fine. Up until the time we went out on a date, I was fine, I was fine. Now I’m getting dirty looks I wonder what they’d say if we were blind, we were blind people.” The outro of this song was quite controversial because it samples Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech I Have A Dream in between unsynchronized M.I.A. like beats.
In 2001, Stefani was featured on Eve’s smash hit Let Me Blow Ya Mind. These two women had great chemistry together, so another song seemed like a good decision for both of these artists. Rich Girl has Stefani and Eve singing about money and riches, and this keeps with the theme of luxury on Love. Angel. Music. Baby. Legendary hit-maker Dr. Dre produced the song, and gave Rich Girl a dancehall/hip-hop vibe. This song samples English reggae duo Louchie Lou & Michie One’s 1993 song Rich Girl, which itself interpolated If I Were a Rich Man from the 1964 musical Fiddler on the Roof.
Dr. Dre encouraged Stefani to portray a character on this track, and she had never done this before as a vocalist so she went to Broadway for inspiration. She then came up with the idea that even if you’re poor and you have love, you’re rich. This song incorporates so many different elelments that it could have turned out messy, but it is a great song and Stefani and Eve have a real chemistry. Rich Girl received a nomination for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 2006 Grammy Awards, and peaked at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100. Stefani also solidified her status as a style icon with the pirate themed music video.
Harajuko Girls talks about one of Gwen’s biggest inspirations in the fashion world. Harajuko Girls is an ode to Tokyo street culture. “Harajuku Girls you got the wicked style. I like the way that you are, I am your biggest fan,” Stefani sings on the chorus. This song is synth-pop, and a little out there. This whole track is sort of awkward because it has an odd flow, and vocal delivery from Stefani. She may have missed the mark on this one.
Cool is the most romantic track on the album, but not for a reason you would expect. This song talks about the relationship between Gwen Stefani and Tony Kanal, the bassist of No Doubt. Before the band made it big in the 90’s these two dated, and later had a bad break up. Many of the songs Gwen wrote for the album Tragic Kingdom were inspired by their relationship, and this turmoil almost broke up the band. No Doubt stuck it out though, and Stefani and Kanal are still making music today. The basic premise of Cool is “I am so happy for you, and I am glad we are still close friends.” Cool is simple production wise, and Stefani has a laid back vocal performance, she sings “After all the obstacles it’s good to see you now with someone else, and it’s such a miracle that you and me are still good friends. After all that we’ve been through, I know we’re cool.” Cool is one of the most perfectly executed pop songs of the 2000’s, and it is one of the best tracks on Love. Angel. Music. Baby..
Danger Zone is the track that is most reminiscent of Stefani’s previous work with No Doubt, and it shows that she can still handle a great rock track. Lyrically this song deals with adopting your lovers secrets, and realizing it is worse than you thought. “Are your secrets where you left them? cause now your ghosts are mine as well. I think it’s time I met them and I think it’s time you tell,” Stefani sings over a pop/rock beat, and this track has a certain build through out that makes it a suspenseful experience.
Another alternative track was the final single off the album, Crash. Stefani sings loudly on this track, and she really displays her killer voice. Crash has several metaphors to cars throughout, and the banging production makes it a real treat. “Don’t forget to make a U-turn. I see you left your blinker on, got it rolled and ready here to burn. Meet me back at home… Drive back baby to me fast in your car! ‘m here waiting, crash into me real hard!” are just some of Stefani’s metaphors in this song
Riches and an expensive lifestyle are the theme on the R&B track Luxurious. Stefani shows off her diva style on Luxurious, and it works great. She has breathy vocals on the verses, and on the bridge where she repeatedly sings “Cha-ching!” Stefani has a rap like part on the chorus where she says “Working so hard every night and day, and now we get the pay back. Trying so hard saving up the paper, now we get to lay back.”Luxurious was released as a single from Love. Angel. Music. Baby. with rapper Slim Thug, and it saw moderate success. This song is over-indulgent, sparkly, and it definitely does a good job about describing the finer things in life.
The Real Thing is a midtempo ballad about love. It is simple, but very enjoyable. The whole song Stefani describes how deep her love is for her partner. “You’re the one I want and it’s not just phase. You’re the one I trust, our love is the real thing… Don’t go away. My love (my love), I want you to stay in my life. Don’t go away, my lover (my love.) I’m happiest when we spend time (it’s only you and I). The Real Thing is a track that brings a smile to your face, and is a sweet declaration of love.
One of the most iconic songs of the 2000’s is Hollaback Girl.. The backstory to this song is the best of any track on the album. Stefani was about to leave New York after several recording sessions with Pharrell Williams and The Neptunes, but Pharrell called her back into the studio before her flight left. Love. Angel. Music. Baby. was nearly complete, but Stefani felt it was missing an attitude track.
During a recording session, Stefani was inspired by a derogatory comment grunge musician Courtney Love made about her to Seventeen Magazine. Love said “Being famous is just like being in high school. But I’m not interested in being the cheerleader. I’m not interested in being Gwen Stefani. She’s the cheerleader, and I’m out in the smoker shed.” Gwen responded to this at the time of the release of Hollaback Girl in an interview with NME with “Y’know someone one time called me a cheerleader, negatively, and I’ve never been a cheerleader. So I was, like, ‘OK, fuck you. You want me to be a cheerleader? Well, I will be one then. And I’ll rule the whole world, just you watch me.’”
Gwen Stefani took this derogatory remark and turned it into one of the most successful tracks of the decade. Hollaback Girl is a mix of old school hip-hop and dance, and Stefani shows off her rapping skills on the verses. She really knew how to take an insult and spin it into a cheerleading anthem. Her voice brings this track to the never forgotten bridge of “This shit is bananas! B-A-N-A-N-A-S!” Hollaback Girl is the most successful single off of Love. Angel. Music. Baby.. It shot straight to #1 on the Hot 100, and was nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Record of the Year at the 2006 Grammys.
After Love. Angel. Music. Baby. Gwen Stefani released The Sweet Escape in 2007. Her sophomore effort had the hit singles Wind It Up, 4 In The Morning, and the title track. After the release, Stefani became pregnant with her second child. She then took a few years off to focus on her family.
Tours, pregnancy, and fashion lines followed Stefani throughout the years after The Sweet Escape. In 2012, No Doubt released their first album in almost a decade. Push and Shove was a great album because it stayed with No Doubt’s signature sound, but it also incorporated modern elements of popular music.
Recently, Gwen Stefani has had a major comeback. She accepted a position as a coach on NBC’s The Voice, and is now on the TV screens of millions of homes across the US. She is also featured on the duet My Heart Is Open on Maroon 5’s new album V. Calvin Harris has also enlisted Stefani as a vocalist for his new album on a track called Together. Stefani has also released two new singles for a third album rumored to be due in the first part of 2015. The lead single, the Ryan Tedder and Benny Blanco penned Baby Don’t Lie has a dancehall reggae vibe reminiscent of 2000’s No Doubt. The second song, Spark The Fire, was co-written by Pharrell and it sounds like an updated version of Hollaback Gitl. She raps “OMG OMG I’m back again! Originally feel good is what I defend!” and it makes Gwen fans scream in excitement.
Gwen Stefani has been around for almost twenty years. From being a teenager in an Orange County ska band to selling out arenas worldwide, she’s proven herself to be one of the most iconic artists of the last two decades — and with her new music, features, and coaching position, Stefani is only going to get bigger.
Key Tracks: Cool, What You Waiting For?, and Bubble Pop Electric (feat. Johnny Vulture)