Before They Were Famous: Gwen Stefani
She’s the woman with a sunny disposition and a teenager’s look. In 2005, she was no “hollaback girl”. The term was not well known outside of US culture but means that she isn’t a doormat, hanging on people to socially accept her for their own selfish purposes, like a casual root. She’s a role model for teenage girls without drawing attention to it; her fashion sense doesn’t include G-strings and miniskirts, or so much side boob that you might as well be watching someone have a mammogram. She can rock a pair of sweat pants and a beanie and still shine with sex appeal. She is Gwen Stefani.
Born Gwen Renee Stefani in 1969, she was raised in Southern California. Her father was an Italian man working in marketing for Yamaha and her mother was a housewife looking after four kids. Her mother was a seamstress, constantly making fifties style clothes and dressing her kids in elaborate costumes, especially for Halloween. Stefani copied her mother and began to style and create her own clothes to wear at school.
“I couldn’t stand to have the same thing as everyone else. I always made my own clothes—and had many disasters.”
Her father was the first person to recognise her talent and would often give her words of encouragement. Stefani made him a demo tape to listen to. She took inspiration from The Sound of Music, which she said: “changed her life”. She made dresses like the kind that Julie Andrews wore in the film and would sing to show tunes. Her father listened to the tape in his car every day and would make his friends and colleagues listen to it.
“I remember two things he said to me. One was ‘Everybody’s saying that your songwriting is really good and you should just keep going.’ And the other was ‘Don’t ever take lessons, because your voice is really unique. There’s just something about it.'”
Stefani followed this advice and continued to perform, taking inspiration from the records her brother would play, like Madness and Selector. In fact, Stefani loved Madness’ lead singer, Graham Mcpherson, so much that she admitted to crying, as a little girl, when she heard he got married.
Taking those records and practicing her vocals in tune to them, she joined her brother’s band, No Doubt. She was co-lead singer, performing in small local venues, but then moved to lead singer as their previous lead singer, John Spence, committed suicide. Stefani started dating No Doubt’s bass player, Tony Kanal, shortly after filling the role of lead singer.
“At first it was my brother’s songwriting and I was just doing what everyone told me. I was completely passive, no goals. I was in love with Tony and just happy to be in the band.”
No Doubt moved into the house of Stefani’s deceased grandmother and practised with each other every day, forming a tight group. They were starting to establish a fan base in Southern California and after seven years of performing, the bass player for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Michael Balzary, recorded a demo tape of them. Jimmy Lovine, of Interscope Records, heard the demo and immediately signed them.
After their unsuccessful debut album, No Doubt sold 16 million copies of their second album, Tragic Kingdom. They were topping the charts with songs like: ‘Just a Girl’ and ‘Don’t Speak’. The media was becoming obsessed with Stefani, disinterested with the other band members. After their fifth album, Rock Steady, the band broke up. Stefani was becoming swamped by her career with No Doubt; even turning up to her own wedding with her new boyfriend and even newer fiancé, Gavin Rossdale.
Stefani was striding lightyears ahead of No Doubt’s other band members as she released Love. Angel. Music. Baby.; the only exception being her brother who went on to work as an animator for The Simpsons. Ever since her debut album, Stefani has grown in her image and has become an independent woman likened to Madonna. Just not as trashy. And we appreciate that.