by Mizuko Ito
A student from my Japanese Popular Culture class last term has a provocative rant about Gwen Stefani's chanponizing Love. Angel. Music. Baby. album.
"Na na na na na..."
Thus opens the song "If I Was A Rich Girl" on Gwen Stefani's solo album Love. Angel. Music. Baby. Artlessness and gratuitious Fiddler on the Roof-ripping off aside, Stefani (assuming she had anything to do with writing her own lyrics) touches, if shallowly, on the Japanese Pop movement (nouveau-of-the-moment). And it may be fitting that her addressing it is shallow, because it itself may not be much deeper than Stefani's art.
Obvious from the lyrics of "If I Was A Rich Girl" is an extraordinary, even caricatured, materialism that is of obvious Anglo/Western/American/etc. origin, but of Japanese tint given her reliance on J-Pop references to move the narrative of the song forward. There is an eagerness to traffic in material culture and not in ideas. There really is no idea present other than blind consumerism -- which is not an indictment of any sort. It seems rather a bland statement of a done-a-million-times reality. A wealthy and blase existence. One might compare the "mind in the sky" lifestyle of the proverbial celebrity-du-jour with the alleged mind-in-the-skyness of Japanese Pop youth culture.
I almost want to say that there is a touch of wanting to "Transcend the Hellish City of Los Angeles" into "A Purer Material Existence." The conflation of Japan, especially Harajuku, with the marketing symbolism of Vivienne Westwood perhaps speaks of and to the obvious: Gwen Stefani is conceptually constructing the omnibus of supermodern kawaii, J-Pop, etc., as a more idealized version of the shallow and material LA -- a cleaner one, and cuter, too.
Remember that this is Gwen Stefani, currently-ex-punk rock chick from The O.C., epicenter of hyperemotionalized rock 'n roll. How better to transcend whiney, permabaked, permabuzzed, permabored Orange County (the most Republican county in America) than to move to LA to be even more permamessedup, more materialistic, etc.? And then, all that's left is to leave the stratosphere and arrive in a hyperconceptualized Japanese Island In The Sky Of Supreme Consumerism. Never mind that it's actually a few hundred miles offshore China. Stefani would never reference China or the rest of East Asia as an epicenter of consumerist hyperevolution, even if it in some sense is. It is a semi-imaginary Japan which interests her.
The lyrics of the song "Harajuku Girls" make this trend more strikingly obvious. Here it is slapped out in front of the listener with no pretense of artistic veil: "Style detached from content / A fatal attraction to cuteness / Style is style / Fashion is fashion / Girl, you got style." There is a giddiness in the lyrics, a sense that "the world is spinning out to infinity, so indulge now," especially given the use of the concept of Shakespearean fatal attraction. Romeo and Juliet? Who is the Romeo and who the Juliet? Maybe it doesn't matter. More to the point may be fashion-as-poison, an addiction. Poison kills Romeo and a knife Juliet, but they both die. The lyrics and music of the whole song are like a steady march on to the end. A steady march that begins in LA and ends on the streets of Harajuku. And then it's over. If youth is the international currency she sings about vis-a-vis references to the Girls of Harajuku, and she's approaching 36, it may "be" a symbolic end. And if that is true, which given the also youthful culture of Los Angeles, Stefani is almost fingering Japan as the destination for those who "outgrow" LA, a foreign place where "We Americans" can be young forever. A land of total fashion fantasy. Of total fantasy, period.
I am taking a lot of license with my deconstruction, but my central point is that Stefani's music and lyrics, whether or not she had much of a hand in them, symbolically construct Japan as a sort of Neverland Nouveau, an LA that is even more LA than LA. Now here is the question: do "Americans" agree? I can't profess to know.
Posted by Mizuko Ito at 2005年07月13日 12:08