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Gwen Stefani – Doing Well For Someone That’s Just a Girl

For many people, the 1990s were a dreary time.  Unlike the then misunderstood 1980s cultural scene that is currently being mined for inspiration, the 1990s seemed like a particularly drab time.  The early part of the decade was dominated by the explosion of grunge music, which was evident in the success of Seattle based acts like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains.  With their descending power chords, powerful drumming and angst filled frontman describing their struggles living in a time that was particularly bleak due to economic recession, grunge was considered the anthemic music of a generation.  However, due to the massive success that these bands dealt with (usually very poorly), grunge was a passing phase.  This left a musical void in the rock world that many people weren’t sure was going to be filled with anything good.  Neo grunge bands tried to recreate the power of these earlier bands with much less success and there was a brief time where hard rock bands tried to merge metal and rap to create angry testosterone fuelled statements.  However, it would be an unlikely band from Anaheim, California that would charm the nation’s hearts.

If there was any band less likely to have massive popular success, it would have to be No Doubt.  However, if you look past the fact that they were inspired by ska (a marginal musical genre at the time) and that they seemed like pretty happy people, the makings of success could easily be seen.  While there songs were of course good, No Doubt was powered by its charismatic front woman: Gwen Stefani.  With her blonde locks and indulgence in girly style, Gwen Stefani spoke for people that just wanted to have some fun.  While No Doubt achieved massive popular success in the mid-1990s, Gwen Stefani continues to reach new heights of critical and commercial success.  Possession a chameleonic quality that allows her to work with musicians from a wide pastiche of styles, Gwen Stefani has undoubtedly charmed the hearts of people all over the world.

The co-author of such anthems as “Just a Girl,” “Hollaback Girl,” and “Don’t Speak,” Gwen Stefani is arguably the country’s most respected pop star.  Additionally, Stefani has taken a page out of her pop star peer’s page by using her creativity to enter new fields.  Her L.A.M.B fashion label is one of the most successful musician designed fashion lines right now.  Additionally, she has dabbled in the acting world with a notable cameo as 1930s film actress Jean Harlow in Martin Scorsese’s Howard Hughes bio-pic, “The Aviater.”  However, behind the talent and charisma lies a self-described funky, simple Southern California girl; one that has done the remarkable and become a genuinely respected, non-manufactured pop star.  The question remains, how exactly did this happen?

On October 3, 1969, Gwen Renee Stefani entered the world.  The daughter of Yamaha marketing executive, Dennis Stefani and Patti Flynn, Gwen Stefani was introduced to culture at an early age.  She is named for the stewardess character in the best selling novel, Airport, and her middle name was chosen because of the song, “Walk Away Renee.” Unlike many of her younger pop star contemporaries, Gwen Stefani was not thrust into the spotlight at an early age.  Her early working experiences such as scrubbing floors at Dairy Queen and selling makeup at a department store may be one of the biggest keys of the relatable persona that she has developed.  A member of Loara High School’s swim team and marching band, Stefani was inspired by the nascent Californian ska and reggae scenes that would produce respected acts like Sublime and Reel Big Fish.

In 1986, Stefani would form No Doubt with her brother Eric Stefani and their friend John Spence.  This early trio featured Spence as the main vocalist, Gwen Stefani as co-vocalist, and Eric Stefani on the keyboards.  This early incarnation of No Doubt would begin to play small shows around Orange County where they slowly gained a gathering.  At one of their early shows, Gwen Stefani met future No Doubt bass player, Tony Kanal.  Besides playing an active role in Stefani’s musical development, Stefani and Kanal would embark on a relationship that would last eight years.

The early years of No Doubt’s career were not easy.  In 1987, Spence committed suicide, thrusting Gwen Stefani into the spotlight as the group’s sole vocalist.  As the band carried on by tourist California incessantly, they would eventually attract the attention of Interscope Records.  However, their gleaming pop sound was completely ignored due to the public’s love affair of grunge.  Their 1992 self-titled debut album was considered such a flop that their record label refused to support the band’s future tours or recordings.  To add further salt to the wound, Eric Stefani would leave the band in 1994 to pursue a career in animation by working on “The Simpsons.”  Adding to Gwen Stefani’s troubles was the fact that her relationship with Kanal was coming to an end.  Still the band showcased its plucky reserve by self-releasing their sophomore album, “The Beacon Street Collection” in 1995.  This new four piece had done enough to convince their record label to support them again, a decision that Interscope Records will never regret!

One of the most common reasons why people love Gwen Stefani is because she seems so normal.  Unlike teen pop stars like Britney Spears, wealthy socialites deciding to give music a go like Paris Hilton, Gwen Stefani seems to be singing about her actual life and experiences within the music.  This diary quality to Stefani’s lyrics would make No Doubt’s third album, “Tragic Kingdom” an unqualified success.  With songs that explore the breakup between Kanal and her, it was easy to see why so many people gravitated to such a personal album.  After all, who hasn’t dealt with the heartbreak of a relationship ending?  The album would go on to reach diamond status, representing over 10 million albums sold.  Additionally, the album’s anthem, “Don’t Speak” would set a record for being number one on the Billboard airplay chart for sixteen weeks.  While the band was happy with its success, the extensive tours and the high expectations for their follow up record were a bit of a strain.

While she was touring to promote “Tragic Kingdom” with No Doubt, Gwen Stefani would meet her future husband, Gavin Rossdale.  The singer for British neo-grunge band, Bush, and Stefani felt an instant attraction.  The two would begin a long distance relationship that would inspire the new lyrics to No Doubt’s fourth record, “Return of Saturn.”  The long awaited album was finally released in 2000, nearly five years after “Tragic Kingdom” was released.  While critics praised the band for creating an advanced and darker sound, the public was not so happy.  Four years is an eternity for a band to release a follow-up record, especially one that has had only one successful album.

However, much to Gwen Stefani and the rest of No Doubt’s credit, the band shook off this temporary misstep and quickly worked on a follow-up album.  Shaking off their previous writing experience of spending a lot of time crafting “Return of Saturn,” the band’s fifth album, “Rock Steady” was released a scant eighteen months later.  The 2001 album highlighted a band that was collaborating with their heroes including Prince, Jamaican dancehall producers Sly & Robbie, and The Neptunes.  This easy going writing process resulted in a popular album that included hit singles, “Hey Baby” and “Underneath it All.”  The album was a big success and more importantly, introduced Stefani to a new way of writing.

Following the triumphant tour to support “Rock Steady,” No Doubt decided that this was the perfect time to take a well deserved break.  While the other members focused on family and other projects, Gwen Stefani decided to work on some solo material to create an up tempo dance record.  Although Gwen Stefani had achieved some solo success with her collaborations with Moby on “Southside” and Eve on the Dr. Dre produced, “Let Me Blow Ya Mind,” going solo is always a bit of a risk.  However, much like “Rock Steady,” Gwen Stefani was collaborating with a number of accomplished artists including The Neptunes, Andre 3000 from Outkast, and songwriter/producer Linda Perry.  Feeling free of pressure, Stefani crafted a dance pop record that reflected the type of 80’s dance pop she loved as a teenager.  Her debut album, “Love Angel Music Baby” was released in November 2004.  The album was a smashing success and featured the hit single, “Holllaback Girl” that became the first American digital download to sell over a million copies.

The last few years have been a liberating one for Gwen Stefani.  Firmly established as a cutting edge pop innovator, Stefani has found peace in her personal and professional lives.  In 2002, she and Rossdale married twice in ceremonies in America and England.  The couple would have their first child on May 26, 2006.  Additionally, Stefani found an outlet for creative fashion ideas with the launch of her clothing line, “L.A.M.B.” in 2003.  The style maven also actively pursued beginning an acting career and auditioned for “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”

While she may not have found as much success on the big screen as she does on the music charts, Gwen Stefani continues to have a successful career.  On December 4, 2006 she released her sophomore solo album, “The Sweet Escape.”  With “The Sweet Escape,” Stefani continued to collaborate with other notable musicians including Muse singer Tim Rice-Oxley and r&b singer Akon.  The album’s singles “Wind it Up” and “The Sweet Escape” have done well on the music charts.  Although the album may not have met the same commercial and critical success that her previous album had, Stefani has firmly established herself as a top notch celebrity and respected musician.  With No Doubt writing for their long awaited next album, L.A.M.B. continuing to do well, and a happy family waiting at home, it’s truly impressive to see what Gwen Stefani has done despite her earlier song about being “Just a Girl.”