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Gwen's Harajuku hijacking

Gwen Stefani’s cooptation of the Harajuku subculture is old news, but I find myself still pondering it. Stefani first introduced…

By Amy Juschka , in Blogs Suffragette City: Gender and Pop Culture , on February 3, 2008

Gwen Stefani’s cooptation of the Harajuku subculture is old news, but I find myself still pondering it.

Stefani first introduced the Harajuku Girls to her audience in 2004, when she hired them as backup dancers for her album, Love. Angel. Music. Baby, and they have been shadowing her ever since. The Harajuku Girls tour with Stefani, dance in her videos and even accompany her on the red carpet.Gwen and the Harajuku Girls

Rumour has it that Stefani’s Harajuku Girls (four Japanese women who range between the ages of 24 and 30), are under contractual obligation to speak only Japanese, although all four are apparently fluent in English.

Regardless as to whether or not these women are indeed prohibited from speaking English, the idea of Stefani’s Harajuku Girls is seriously disturbing.

The Harajuku subculture is named after the Harajuku area of Tokyo, known for its fashion and Japanese youth culture. From what I understand, Harajuku is about individuality and personal expression.

Stefani, however, has appropriated this subversive style and, in the process, reinforced stereotypes that portray Asian women as weak and submissive, as innocent but oversexed.

The Harajuku Girls giggle and shy away from the cameras, they bow to Stefani when she enters a room. They exist solely for the male and female gaze. They are essentially human props.

There is no doubt that what Stefani is doing is exploitation. When asked about the Harajuku Girls, Stefani likes to describe them as figments of her own imagination.

That these women are getting paid for their services is irrelevant. What Stefani has done can only be described as cultural hijacking. The Harajuku Girls’ art is not signified here, instead they have become Stefani’s personal sex objects.

I could even point to Stefani’s exploitation of the Harajuku Girls as another example of U.S. attempts to dominate Japan. Hmm, too far maybe?


  • It’s just a stupid song about NOTHING.
    It’s pop art. Is this really something you have time to get your knickers in a knot about ?
    Lighten up !

    And yes, you are reaaaaaaaaaaallly reaching with that last thought.

  • I personally think your taking this a little to far. The harajuku girls are simply an entourage. Gwen is inspired by Japan and the Harajuku girls. And if they read and signed the contract, they must not be too offended by it. And never have I seen them bow to her. She seems to treat them with respect as human beings. And she said that having them felt like a dream, she always wished to have four harajuku girls following her around, and thats all they are doing other than dancing and being in her music videos. And I personally feel, following Gwen Stefani around to events, being in videos, and going on tour while getting paid to do so, isn’t that bad of a job.

  • Nobody ever really takes the time to try to see it from the girls point of view. As women between the ages of 24 and 30, I think they have enough common sense to know what they are doing. People are people no matter where they’re from. A side note, as a person who use to believe that mess(stereotypes) about Asians(specifically Japanese), now living in Japan, I realize that everyone isn’t running around Karate chopping, Kibuki dancing, and engaging in provocative WWII style sexual activities. Long story short, I believe that these girls had a chance to hang out with a major celebrity from America, go on tour to whereever they go, and dance(which is what they love to do). So what they have to bow and speak Japanese, its all about the money. I know I would of been like hell yeah.
    On the other hand explotation of culture is wrong, but I don’t think this is that serious. The only thing I see wrong with it is the reinforcement of the Asian stereotype, but thats the people problem not the girls.

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