Deconstructing a cultural icon: A case study of Gwen Stefani

Karen Woodward Syracuse University

THESIS June 2006

Copyright 2006 Karen Woodward All rights reserved

Abstract A textual analysis of singer Gwen Stefani, and in-depth fan interviews revealed that the way Stefani presents herself is often very different from how the press presents her and how audiences receive her. First, Stefani is analyzed through textual analysis of magazines and television appearances. Analysis revealed that she presents herself as a real person who worked hard and got lucky. She attempts to convey that she is a traditional woman with feelings and a longing for family. The press focuses on her image, presenting her as either the girl-next-door, a tough chick, or, later in her career, as a glamorous icon. Next, fan interviews reveal various reasons why audiences like the singer. Most importantly, fans have a love/hate relationship between the two incarnations of Gwen Stefani: Stefani as she was when she first entered the mainstream (“old Gwen”) and Stefani as she is now (“new Gwen.”) Fans appeared suspicious of the press, and determined to make their own decisions. While Stefani, the press, and her management team/label have worked to create the iconic figure “Gwen Stefani,” fans don’t see her as an icon (yet). This thesis suggests that an icon should be someone who stands for something and sticks by her convictions, and that fans want to be treated with respect, not as consumers. I also suggest that society has become more interested in celebrity culture in general then in celebrities in particular, something worth further research. Future research should include the role of social networking sites in creating stars and in music consumption.

Table of Contents Chapter 1 Introduction………………………………………………………………………5 Chapter 2 Literature Review……………………………………………………………….10 Cultural Studies………………………………………………………….10 Political Economy……………………………………………………….16 Textual Analysis…………………………………………………………18 Reception Studies………………………………………………………..23

Chapter 3 Method…………………………………………………………………………..30 Chapter 4: Results…………………………………………………………………………...36 RQ 1: How is Gwen Stefani a cultural icon?……………………………38 RQ 1a: How does she present herself?…………………………………..40 RQ 1b: What are her contradictions?…………………………………….50 RQ 1c: How is she presented in the media?……………………………..54 RQ 1d: What is ignored?…………………………………………………62

RQ 2: How do fans view her as a cultural icon?…………………………65

RQ 2a:What do fans ignore?……………………………………………..81

Chapter 5 Discussion………………………………………………………………………..82

References………………………………………………………………………101

“All I ever wanted to do was get married and have babies, have a house. So it’s weird that I’m in a rock group.” – Gwen Stefani, (The Washington Post, 1997)

Chapter One: Introduction Gwen Stefani has experienced a phenomenal rise to fame within the last decade. She went from a complete unknown to one of the best-known pop icons of today's music as the lead singer of No Doubt. Her popularity has transcended music - she has had an impact on popular culture that is on par with Madonna’s in the 1980s. Additionally, she is respected within the music industry– a multi-platinum artist with whom other artists are clamoring to work; she has her own fashion line; and she had her first movie role in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator. She is ubiquitous and covered extensively by the mainstream media, and yet, unlike Madonna, she is not controversial. What is it about Gwen Stefani that makes her so popular? This question guides this inquiry.

Why study celebrity? Media shape our view of the world, providing symbols, myths and resources (Kellner, 1995, p. 5). Modern America is obsessed with media culture, particularly celebrities; no other society has ever had as many celebrities or revered them as intensely (Gabler, 1998, p. 7). But talent is not necessarily a reason for fame anymore; people like Paris Hilton and reality show contestants are famous just for being famous (Wilson,

2000, p. xvi). Celebrity has become a big business, a mass- produced product that the public consumes with a passion, treat like royalty, and use as idealized self-images (Boon & Lomore, 2001, p. 435). Since we live in such a celebrity-obsessed culture, examining fame as a cultural artifact helps to understand our society and ourselves. Essentially, studying a cultural icon is studying the values, ideals, and needs of a society. The purpose of this case study of Gwen Stefani is to deconstruct a cultural icon – Gwen Stefani the person, Gwen Stefani the media construct, and Gwen Stefani through the eyes of her audience. A textual analysis of Stefani was used to create a portrait of a cultural icon, and then in-depth interviews explored the various ways her fans relate to her as a cultural icon. For the purposes of this study, icon is defined as “someone well known for their well- knownness,” (Boorstin, 1964, p. 57); a celebrity who has impacted a culture simply by being him or herself, and not for the genre that made him or her famous in the first place. Modern studies of celebrity argue that audiences are becoming overly obsessed with fame and celebrities. Culture critics Neal Gabler and Cintra Wilson are irreverent in their assessment of celebrity – describing it as a disease that is taking over American culture. In his 1998 book Life: The Movie, Neil Gabler describes society’s bottomless appetite for gossip, glamour, and melodrama, which results in life itself as a form of entertainment (p.6). He discusses events such as the O.J. Simpson trial, Princess Diana’s death, and the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal as examples of society’s obsessions. Gabler presents celebrity as something that infiltrates everyday life; he believes that ordinary people will do anything in the pursuit of fame, and claims that celebrities are now a selfcontained entertainment that is rapidly exceeding film and television. “Movies have stars, life has celebrities” (p. 9).

Cintra Wilson criticizes modern celebrity culture in her book A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-examined as a Grotesque, Crippling Disease (2000). She believes that talent is not a reason for fame anymore. No one is interested in art for art’s sake, now one only does “art” as a necessary part of the equation, as a means to the end of getting famous. The end result of this drive for fame is that it creates false expectations (p. xvii) and causes society to treat celebrities like royalty, while “[the rest of us] act like dribbling serfs despite the value of our individual lives” (p. xix). But the ability of a celebrity to plug into the zeitgeist says just as much about society and its culture as it does about the celebrity. Although some celebrities are thrust upon the public (and often quickly fade away) via heavy marketing, there are some who, irrespective of marketing, strike a chord in the culture, and are almost worshipped. Gwen Stefani is one such entertainer. She is one of a string of female pop performers who have impacted modern culture. Female entertainers were the first women in the century to be visible, successful and independent, but a female star usually operates within pre-existing values and ideals, while bringing her unique perspective and personality to her “roles” (Sochen, 1999). In the mid 1960’s “girl singers” such as Marianne Faithful and Dusty Springfield began to appear in the UK. They enjoyed independence and longevity but still had to work within the male establishment. Yet women have frequently been at the forefront of new formats (O’Brien, 2002). The end of the 1960s and the 1970’s brought us tough, independent Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin and Carly Simon (Raphael, 1995); the late 1970s and 1980s brought sex symbols Debbie Harry, Stevie Nicks, and Madonna. Alanis Morissette ushered in “angry female rock” in the early 1990s. Perhaps the most written about pop

icon has been Madonna. The press focuses on her twist on the blonde sex goddess, her style, her music videos, and her outrageous behavior even more than her music. She was also one of the few female icons who could be “read” in a multitude of ways. Her image became a model for young girls’ resistance to patriarchal control while at the same time she used the media to her advantage to further her own celebrity (Fiske, 2001). The late 1990s and the new millennium has brought us the era of Gwen. Gwen Stefani Born on October 3, 1969, Gwendolyn Renee Stefani was raised in Anaheim, California. When she was 17 years old, her brother Eric recruited her to sing back-up in his band No Doubt that he had co-founded with his friend John Spence. Base player Tony Kanal soon joined the band, and he and Gwen started dating - her first boyfriend – a relationship that would last for seven years. In 1987 John Spence committed suicide, which thrust Gwen into the role of lead singer and songwriter. Guitarist Tom Dumont and drummer Adrian Young joined the band two years later, and the band evolved into a solid 5-piece unit, although their 1992 self-titled debut album bombed. 1993 was a hugely transformative year; the band recorded their album Tragic Kingdom, Eric Stefani left the band to pursue a career in animation, and Tony broke up with Gwen. She went on to write the mega-hit song “Don’t Speak” about the break up, which appeared as a track on Tragic Kingdom. That album became a multi-platinum success, catapulting 26-year-old Gwen on the cultural radar. In 1999, No Doubt released Return of Saturn, which also topped the charts, and in 2002, Rock Steady was released, which solidified the band as a force in pop music, just as it reinforced Gwen’s status as a pop icon. She had always displayed a tomboyish sense of style, but it was in this era that she began wearing high heels and couture clothes. In 2004, Gwen married longtime boyfriend Gavin Rossdale

(lead singer of the band Bush); she began her clothing line LAMB; she appeared in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator as Jean Harlow, and she released a solo album, Love, Angel, Music, Baby (Haynes, Jane, 2002; Nodoubt.com). As of this writing, Love Angel Music Baby has grossed over $3 million in the United States alone, and was on the Billboard top 20 for 35 weeks (billboard.com). In December of 2005, 36-year old Stefani revealed she was pregnant, and she gave birth to son Kingston on May 26, 2006. Gwen Stefani has risen to a phenomenal level of fame over ten years. She began as an insecure, quirky backup singer dragged into an Anaheim-based band. By the early 1990s she had become a fan favorite admired for her style, cool factor, and ability to relate. By the new millennium, she’d crossed into iconic status with a solo career encompassing a seemingly endless array of artistic ventures. In doing so, she has lost some of her original fan base while gaining fans from a new, younger, generation. Whether one likes her not, Gwen Stefani is fast becoming a household name. Why has Gwen Stefani struck a chord with this culture, and how did it happen? Research Questions This study addresses the following multi-part research question: How did Gwen Stefani become a cultural icon, and what does that say about our society? RQ1: How did Gwen Stefani become a cultural icon? RQ1a: How does she present herself? RQ1b: Are there contradictions that belie the way she presents herself? RQ1c: How do the media present her? RQ1d: What aspects of Stefani do the media not cover? RQ2: What do fans think of her? RQ2a: Are there aspects about her that fans do not like, or ignore?

In the next chapter I review relevant literature on cultural studies and celebrities. In the third chapter methodology will be discussed. I then present my results and conclusions.

Literature Review This review first defines cultural studies and provides an overview of studies on celebrity as a cultural phenomenon. Sections two and three discuss the role of a capitalist economy in creating and distributing celebrity, and the role the celebrity may or may not play within that system. The final section addresses the audience’s reaction to celebrity and how they “use” celebrity. Cultural Studies Stefani is textually analyzed through a cultural studies lens, which is a relatively new approach to studying culture and society. Originally, media were studied in terms of their effects on society. Cultural studies takes for granted that media is a form of culture that has a place in everyday lives (Kellner, 1995, p. 2). It is the analysis, interpretation, and criticism of cultural artifacts and the audience’s response to them. With its roots in Marxism and Neo- Marxism (which place a prominent emphasis on the commoditization of culture), cultural studies theory does not deny capitalism, but believes that the audience is a prominent part of the equation. One way of using a cultural studies lens is through the analysis of “texts” – tangible commodities in the form of entertainment (Hall, 1980; McKee, 2003), and then the analysis of the audience, to see how the text was used and interpreted. Within a cultural studies framework, the audience is active in how they interpret and use cultural texts, challenging the notion of cultural texts as transparent bearers of meaning (see Radway 1983; Ang, 1985; Fiske, 1989; Morley, 1989; Kellner 1995). Audiences don’t necessarily accept a text at face value; instead they used it as a “jumping off point” to define their own values, by accepting or rejecting the text. In that sense, the

cultural artifact is more of a symbol of what the audience believes in or desires. Douglas Kellner (1995) breaks cultural studies into three components: First is the political economy aspect, which is the need to study a cultural artifact within the social system in which the artifact is produced and distributed. Capitalism has to ensure its stability and its growth, and that is done through the selling of products. Second is textual analysis, an educated guess at some of the likely interpretations of a cultural text. Textual analysis demonstrates the variety of possible ways to interpret our culture, and this in turn helps us better understand our own culture (McKee, 2003, p. 1.) The idea that messages are encoded and decoded according to the audience member’s frame of reference leads to reception studies, the audiences’ interpretation and use of the cultural text.

The Celebrity Phenomenon Cultural studies provides a framework in which to study celebrity as a reflection of a society’s needs, desires, values, and behaviors, thus leading to an understanding of fame as a general cultural phenomenon (Gamson, 1994, pp.3-5). Some of the early contributors to modern celebrity study are Richard Schickel, Daniel Boorstin, Max Weber, Richard Dyer, and Alexander Walker. Fame itself is not a new phenomenon, although referring to famous people as “celebrities” is. Prior to the 1940s, celebrity was a condition, not a person - “fame” and “greatness” were considered two different things. Famous people were those involved in production and were called “successful” or “someone well known for their well- knownness” (Boorstin, 1964, p. 57). The graphic revolution in the early 1900s provided the means of fabricating this well knownness, publicizing it, and making money. Post World War II, the United States changed from being a culture of production, into a culture of consumption (Cullin, 2001), and that change contributed to the

commoditization of celebrity as symbols of greatness. Daniel Boorstin calls these fabricated celebrities “human pseudo- events” (p. 47-57), cultivated from America’s need to satisfy its extravagant expectations. In an attempt to justify these expectations, celebrities were elevated to a level of greatness where they remain today. Celebrities and Icons In order to study celebrity and cultural icons it is first necessary to define the terms. Is star quality something innate in an individual or can it be manufactured? Max Weber (1968) defined celebrity as “a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least superficially exceptional qualities” (p. 329). Richard Dyer adds to this definition in his 1991 essay on celebrities. He believes that these “supernatural” qualities are actually the indefinable thing known as “charisma,” and it is this charismatic appeal combined with an uncertain social order that brings certain celebrities to iconic status. For example, the actor Douglas Fairbanks was worshipped in his era because he came across as someone who knew all the answers, and that was important to an America on the brink of war. Marilyn Monroe’s sultry image was effective in the era of the 1950s when the concept of sexuality was still in flux, and rebels such as James Dean and Marlon Brando were popular due to the relaxation of censorship in the wake of television (p. 58). Weber’s definition may be true – celebrities are treated as if they have supernatural abilities – but the definition does not address the how or why of celebrity worship. Dyer’s definition is more interesting, because he believes that stars have something that sets them apart, and yet he also acknowledges society’s role in creating celebrity. Alexander Walker believed that society played a major role. In his 1970 book

Stardom: The Hollywood Phenomenon, he profiles celebrities who have had an extraordinary impact on their art, industry, and society at large (p. 13). Walker, along with Dyer, was one of the first to theorize that celebrities are the “direct or indirect reflection of the needs, drives, and dreams of American society” (p.13) and that an icon is an “enduring cultural symbol that exemplifies some set of values, beliefs or norms in a society” (see also Rogers, 1999). He analyzes celebrities such as Greta Garbo and Clark Gable, discusses and critiques their films, their image, their comments to the press, and theorizes why these aspects would have appealed to the culture at the time. Weber, Dyer, and Walker’s definitions tap into the sense of “otherness” that a celebrity embodies, and explains why audiences may latch onto certain celebrities; however, the definitions ignore some important aspects. The fact that a celebrity is a real human being is overlooked, as is his/her talent and intellect. Also glossed over is the role a capitalist economy may play in creating a celebrity. Gwen Stefani is a real person. But that person has become the brand “Gwen Stefani,” and it took more than charisma for her to achieve that status. Business and the economy play large roles in creating a celebrity. Richard Schickel, in his autobiography of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, identifies the years 1915- 1925 as the period when the perception arose that people could be made well known and that there was great value in doing so. Irving Rein, Philip Kosler and Martin Stoller, in their 1987 book High Visibility, describe some of the necessary steps to creating celebrity such as building a “character,” and a “story,” and they believe that talent is not necessary in order to achieve celebrity. They declare it a myth that some people are born with charisma and others aren’t. Stating that charisma can be created simply by understanding the needs of the audience, they point out that without audiences

to define and perceive charisma, there would be no such phenomenon. This theory may be true, but it is somewhat pessimistic and also ignores what innate personality traits or skills a celebrity brings to the equation. Gwen Stefani has always been known for her eccentricity and energy (which has more often been called “charisma”). These qualities certainly helped her achieve celebrity, but they were qualities that she had before a record label and marketing team became involved in her career. Indeed these very traits may have been what interested the label in the first place. How is an icon different from a celebrity? John Ellis, in his 1992 book Visible Fictions: Stars as Cinematic Phenomenon, defines an icon as “a performer in a particular medium whose figure enters into subsidiary circulation, and then feeds back into feature performances” (p. 91). This definition feels simplistic and dated. “Subsidiary circulation” is similar to Boorstin’s “well known for their well knownness” definition, but technology has allowed for numerous – almost too many - areas of subsidiary circulation, rendering this an unwieldy measuring stick. Also, the reality television craze has made stars of many ordinary people, who get fed through “subsidiary circulation” in the form of talk shows, game shows, and magazines, but that does not make them icons. It only makes them the most popular celebrity of a given week. Rein et al. also discuss “celebrity duration” which breaks down the various levels and staying power of celebrities. First, there are “one day celebrities” that are living his or her “15 minutes of fame,” as Andy Warhol predicted. Second, are “one-week celebrities,” usually people who have become part of an unfolding real-life drama that the public wants explored, then “one year celebrities” that hold the public interest for about a year before peaking and reverting to obscurity. Next are “one generation celebrities,” people who were famous in their own generation, but did not cross over well into future

generations. Lastly, there are legends, people who have remained famous beyond their time. Gwen Stefani could have been simply a one year (or less) celebrity, but instead became a one-generation celebrity angling foe legend status. In her 1999 book Barbie Culture, Mary Rogers defines an icon as, “a piece of culture… a cultural object that exemplifies some set of values, beliefs, and norms in a society…who gets a strong grip on a sizable portion of the population” (p. 6) Rogers makes a good point that in order to be an icon, the celebrity must reflect the values of a large part of the population, because otherwise the celebrity would melt into obscurity. But Rogers overlooks the fact that an icon’s well known-ness has to remain constant for at least a generation. Also, the idea that the “cultural object” exemplifies the needs and values of a society is both understating and overstating the reality. If a celebrity achieves cross-generational appeal, he or she may not necessarily be exemplifying the values and needs of the current culture. Also, when one considers factors such as talent, charisma and marketing, the fact that someone is an “icon” may say nothing at all about a society. The term “icon” can also be used as a marketing tool. In a special 2003 edition, People magazine featured 200 of the “greatest pop culture icons.” The issue is divided into sections such as “The Divas” and “The Visionaries,” suggesting that there are mutually exclusive categories of icons. Included is a photo and brief bio of the star, including why s/he is an icon. The magazine features such celebrities as Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, Tom Cruise, John F. Kennedy Jr., Jennifer Lopez, and Stefani (as a “style icon”). This is a powerful example of the commoditization of icons (discussed below), and of the self-reflexivity of popular culture, as well as Daniel Boorstin’s idea that a celebrity is a celebrity simply because s/he is manufactured as such. Since society is seemingly oversaturated with celebrities (which People profiles every week) special

editions are devoted entirely to icons, defined as “God and Goddesses of pop culture…so utterly unique that we know them by their first name alone” (p. 9). Indeed, Stefani is commonly referred to in magazines as simply “Gwen” or even “Gwennie.” As mentioned above, for the purposes of this study, I draw on Boorstin’s definition of icon as a celebrity who has reached a status level where he or she is famous for being themselves, and not for the genre that made them famous in the first place. I also borrow from Rein et al., and add a caveat: in order to achieve true icon status, the celebrity must be either a “one generation celebrity” or a legend. Stefani has struck a major chord in this current culture; it remains to be seen whether her popularity will cross generations. It certainly appears to be her goal to do exactly that. Political Economy The rise of capitalism turned culture into something to be bought and sold. In some sense, society clings to the notion that people become famous because they “deserve” it – that fame is a reward for some talent or accomplishment. But traditional definitions of fame no longer encompass what fame has become. High visibility has become an accomplishment in itself, because there is strong commercial value in being famous. A capitalist economy forces cultural production to be dictated by the rules of the market – commodities are created on the basis of their exchange value. Society either validates the commodity through consumerism, rejects it to languish in obscurity, or creates its own purpose for it (Fiske, 1989). In accepting, rejecting or repurposing the commodity (in this case, the celebrity) society has created a material form for the current ideology. Therefore, an icon reflects a society’s ideology, and a capitalist society will find a way to monetize that ideology. Stars were born with the expansion of cinema in the 1920s when

exhibitors realized that some performers resonated with the audience more so than others. Exhibitors then took advantage of this fact – promoting a star’s image via the radio, news, and magazines; sometimes they were promoted as “stars” and sometimes it was as ordinary people: “as ordinary and extraordinary, available for desire and unattainable” (Ellis, 1982, p 91-92). Rein et al. define fame as “a person whose name has attentiongetting interest-riveting, profit-generating value” and the power lies with the producer of the commodity. (p.15). The “Gwen Stefani” brand is a profitable industry; not only does she make money, but so does her record label, agent, publicist, make-up artist, T-shirt sellers, etc. Joshua Gamson in his 1994 book Claims to Fame, studies how the audience understands celebrities, and the role of marketing. “When the public reads about or takes snapshots of celebrities, how are these celebrity watchers interpreting the celebrities and their claims to attention?” (p.3). He believes the fabrication and marketing of a star is everything, and that stardom is a business with celebrities as the commodity (p.45). In this case, celebrity industry practitioners – the agents, producers, managers, publicists, and others who treat celebrity manufacturing as a trade have a good deal of power, and a huge role in creating a celebrity. As mentioned above, Gwen Stefani’s personal industry practitioners – her “people” –make a lot of money off her, and have unabashedly admitted that their intention was always to make her an icon. In their 1987 book High Visibility, authors Rein, et al. break down the creation of a celebrity into stages, and one can pinpoint when Stefani hit each stage. First is the cottage stage, when people are just discovering a new talent and encouraging it along. This would be when No Doubt was developing a cult following in Anaheim, CA. Second is the industrializing stage, when specialists become involved, in the form of agents,

publicists, lawyers, etc. The release of Tragic Kingdom ushered in this stage for Stefani and No Doubt. Next is the factory stage, when the celebrity becomes an organized industry. “Every brand of expertise necessary to spot, develop, market and sell celebrities is brought under one centralized roof” (p. 34-44). This is accomplished through “product improvement” or “market fulfillment,” which is the changing of a celebrity in order to meet society’s needs or desires. Stefani as an individual entered the factory stage fairly early, when the press focused on her to the exclusion of the other band members. She appeared alone on magazine covers and the press focused on her sex appeal and manic energy. She reached a higher level of this stage when she released her solo album. This time the press focused on her glamour, success, and girl-next-door qualities. Lastly, manufacturing and maintaining celebrity requires the cooperation of other industries – entertainment, media, legal, publicity, coaching, grooming, etc. The celebrity manufacturing industry aids in the factory stage and then never really goes away. As long as Stefani is famous she will be surrounded by people who want to profit from her fame. Textual Analysis Cultural studies dictates that we cannot analyze a text based on political economy theory alone, because we don’t live in a strictly capitalist ideology. Indeed, as technology progresses, we are becoming more of a consumer-driven society. Thus, it is also important to look at the message of the celebrity (through his/her actions) and the values of the current society. So although Stefani’s solo album was the 8th highest grossing album of 2005, selling over 3 million copies in the United States alone, and the single “Hollaback Girl” became the most downloaded song of all time, it is essential to look beyond the numbers to see what she means to a society. In order to investigate that, it is necessary to look at the messages and ideals that Stefani emits.

British cultural studies scholar Stuart Hall pioneered the idea of texts as something to be interpreted. A cultural text must be looked at in two ways – first by what the author’s intent was, the meaning that s/he wanted to convey (“encoding”), and then by how the meaning was interpreted by the audience (“decoding”) (Hall, 1980, p.127). But there are other ways to “encode/decode” celebrities besides studying the celebrity. Media producers may deliberately produce texts that will fit in with a society’s current values (McKee, 2003, p. 43). Judy Sochen studies the images of women in popular culture. She believes that there are dominant ways that society treats women and that these “underlying premises, themes and images shape women’s treatment in the movies or on television…all forms of popular culture” (p.1). In her 1999 book From Mae to Madonna: Women Entertainers in 20th Century America, She describes women entertainers as: Multiple texts: biography is one text, and the stars work…in addition, two contexts intersect with her bio and her work: the history and culture of the film, television, or musical genre in which she performs, and the society in which she lives …by placing the women entertainers in their historical contexts, they will also offer understandings of American women’s experiences. (p. 3) In this case, both the star and historical context “encode” the celebrity, and the current culture “decodes” her. Gwen Stefani “encodes” herself through her actions, and is aided by the female icons before her. Society interprets Stefani vis a vis the current cultural climate and their own personal values. This is a transformative time in music. Traditional female rockers like Madonna and Alanis Morissette have given way to pop starlets such as Britney Spears, Christina

Aguilera, and even Paris Hilton, a hotel heiress/socialite with no musical background. Though few, there have been other case studies of celebrity. One of the most popular is John Fiske’s study of Madonna, which I discuss later in the chapter. Richard Dyer, in his 1998 book Stars, textually analyzed Jane Fonda. In studying the actress in terms of her family, films, sex appeal, and activism, he demonstrated the way media texts come together to form a particular star image. He called this image a “structured polysemy.” Certain aspects of Fonda reinforced each other, and some were a contradiction, “in which case the star’s image is characterized by attempts to negotiate, reconcile, or mask the differences between the elements” (p. 64). I argue that this structured polysemy is what makes Jane Fonda interesting, and adds to her appeal. It is something that Gwen Stefani has as well – aspects that shouldn’t fit, and yet somehow do. In Chadwick Roberts’ 2003 study on 1970s icon Farrah Fawcett, Roberts explores the meanings of Fawcett as a feminine icon, and focuses on the star as a “cultural negotiator and mediator in shifting social and political climates” (p. 83). Often desired and emulated, Fawcett’s body offered a comfortable pop culture venue to mediate the issues and concerns of a feminist and post sexual revolution America (p. 86). More recently, Phillip Vannini interpreted music fans’ reviews of the pop star Avril Lavigne. After analyzing these consumer reviews, Vannini discusses both Lavigne’s image and music, and defines her public persona as “interpretive acts that decode practices of production, distribution, and consumption of her alleged subcultural authenticity” (2004, p. 48). In other words, he believes that her angry slacker persona is all an act designed to appeal to a particular fanbase. However, he finishes by stating that Lavigne’s persona is different from her contemporaries (Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Mandy Moore, Jessica

Simpson) “because she represents innovation in a market saturated with copycats” (p. 52). Lavigne’s persona may be an act, but it’s an act that works. Stefani is but one female singer in a long history of female sensations. She is a “character” (“girl-next-door,” “tough chick,” “glamorous icon”) with a “story” (“rose from nothing to achieve huge stardom,” “heartbroken girl finally found love”). Her ubiquity, success, and seemingly universal appeal, positions her as a perfect case study of a popular culture icon Validity – The role of the researcher My role plays both a strength and a weakness in this study. Having worked in the entertainment industry for ten years, I have a good understanding of the industry and the publicity process. I’ve learned that journalists interviewing celebrities has shown me that they often record interviews in addition to taking notes, making sure to quote the celebrity in proper context. Also, it is my experience that most entertainment journalists are jaded, making it hard to find one who is still a gushing fan. My experience has been that journalists reach to find the “real person” behind the celebrity, not only because it makes a better story, but because it is more interesting to the journalist. However, my knowledge of the entertainment business may influence my interpretations. When can a writer/editor be trusted as having kept quotes and meanings in context, and when should that be questioned? For the purposes of this paper, I am working under the assumption that if Stefani is directly quoted in a respected publication (i.e. not a tabloid) that she is being quoted in context. According to a personal publicist, “a magazine like Vogue, [has] its own reputation on the line. They don’t want to screw up their access to that celebrity again, so they will be careful how they write their story… I’ve never seen something in a magazine that didn’t sound like something that my client would have said,” (Woodward,

personal communication, June 13, 2005). Simply, it is in the magazine’s best interest to report as close to the actual context as possible. This is confirmed by a reporter for Entertainment Tonight online, “usually [quotes] may be off by a little, but more often than not the context remains intact” (Weiner, personal communication, June 16, 2005). However, it should be noted that this assumption provides a weakness in this thesis. Additionally, I acknowledge my own admiration of Gwen Stefani. While only a moderate fan of her (and No Doubt’s) music, I am fascinated with the trajectory of her career, and her seemingly universal appeal. Reception studies: The audience’s role Whereas traditional Marxism reduces a cultural text to its socio-economic context, a cultural text cannot be viewed solely through a political economy lens. Media culture supports capitalist values, but it also is a site of conflict by races, classes, gender, and other social groups; a site of production and reproduction (Fiske, 1989; Storey, 1996). As stated above, audiences either accept, reject, or repurpose the commodities. Arguably, celebrities need the media to promote themselves, but without an audience there would be no need to promote them in the first place. Richard Dyer discussed this chicken and egg scenario in context of how and why film stars became film stars. Are they stars because they are in films? Or are they in films because they are stars? It is a question of production vs. consumption. Once political economy has been investigated and texts (both the star as text and media as text) have been reviewed, cultural studies looks at consumption, namely the audience and how they interpret cultural texts. Society tends to label people, and then think about themselves and others, differently because of that (McKee, p. 40). Celebrities provide role models, fashion hints, lifestyle images and icons of personality (Jhally, p. 1), and analyzing a celebrity reveals the sense making

practices of the culture that created the celebrity. Fandom We are all fans of something. Most academic studies treat fans as passive and controlled, and the popular press stigmatizes fandom by emphasizing the abnormality and silliness. Lisa Lewis, in the introduction to her 1992 book The Adoring Audience, states, “perhaps only a fan can appreciate the depth of feeling, the gratifications, the importance for coping with everyday life that fandom represents” (p. 1). According to popular culture critic John Fiske, by participating in fandom, fans construct coherent identities for themselves; fans essentially create popular culture (1992 [italics in original]). It is necessary to define “fan.” There are many levels of fandom. Rein et al. (1987) developed an “audience intensity ladder” for the purpose of breaking down each level. At the bottom of the ladder are the invisible consumers, those who are indifferent to the celebrity. Second are the watchers, who are passive observers of celebrity. Seekers occupy the next rung – these are fans who seek out their favorite celebrities by going to a concert or book signing. Next are the collectors – seekers who purchase something, like a t-shirt, to commemorate the seeking of a celebrity. Higher up the ladder are the fan club members, who are not fanatics per se, but see their club membership more as a way to connect with others who share a passion or interest. Near the top of the ladder are the groupies – those fans who need to communicate with the star directly, and lastly the insiders, those who know and work with the star, and the exploiters, such as the press, whose livelihood is based on exploiting and distributing celebrity. (Rein et al., p 16.) Each level has their own values, needs, and agenda, and together make up the “sizable part of the population” (Rogers, p. 6) that is a fan of the celebrity. For the purposes of this study, the Stefani fans I interviewed were on the audience

intensity scale between watchers and fan club members; those who acknowledge liking Stefani, and buying her (or No Doubt’s) CDs, but have not reached “groupie” status. Understanding fans perceptions of the entertainer provides a glimpse into society’s current values since people admire or reject a celebrity based on their own value system and sense of identity. Thus, the media blitz surrounding Stefani may play a huge role in her iconic status, or perhaps it is Stefani’s “everygirl” image that has caused her to become such a phenomenon. The audience may take Stefani at face value, or they may “use” her in other ways. Stuart Hall separated viewers reception into three categories: the dominant view, where audiences accept the text at face value and use the text consistent with the dominant ideology; the oppositional view, where audiences take the opposite viewpoint of what the text is seemingly expressing; and finally, the negotiated view, where they take a little of each. In his 1992 essay, “Is there a fan in the house: The affective sensibility of fandom,” Lawrence Grossberg explores the question, “What makes popular culture popular?” and offers two approaches to studying popular culture. The first is simply that what makes something popular is its popularity; it is a matter of taste. The second approach begins by characterizing the sort of people who become fans, and the basis on which their relationship to their idol is formed. He believes that the relationship between the audience and the text is an active and productive one, and that fans are not “cultural dopes,” (a term he borrowed from John Fiske’s 1989 study on Madonna.) Grossberg concludes that people are constantly seeking pleasure, and their relationship to popular culture is determined by the cultural production of pleasures (p.51- 55). Among those pleasures is material wealth; Richard Schickel, in his 1986 book Intimate Strangers: The

Culture of Celebrity, writes that part of the modern sense of the term “celebrity” is prosperity. Society equates fame with money and envies that (p. 21). At the same time, audiences also internalize celebrities, so that they almost become friends (p. 5). This study validated Schickel’s beliefs. Identification with Celebrities Identification is a common theory in the examination of celebrity, particularly the examination of credibility or attractiveness in terms of message effectiveness. In his 1992 essay, “The Cultural Economy of Fandom,” John Fiske writes that fans focus on popular culture because industrially produced texts encourage the audience’s identification and participation. Certainly that is even more true today as the Internet provides numerous ways to participate in fandom. Joli Jensen, in her essay, “Fandom and Pathology” (1992) characterizes modern life as having brought technological progress, but also social and moral decay. This absence of community makes audiences more open to identifying with a celebrity (p. 14). She laments that fans are seen as a passive response to the modern celebrity system, and that in identifying with certain celebrities are reflecting their own shallow values and frames of reference. In his 1986 book The Frenzy of Renown, Leo Braudy argues that it is the desire to be unique and to resonate with the culture that has led to the obsession with fame (p. 8). This obsession leads individuals to identify with celebrities, and drives society’s need to be famous. Michael Basil (1996) researches the effects of celebrity endorsers on consumer behavior, and suggests, “viewer identification with celebrities may determine message effect” (p. 478). Basil bases his study on three theories of identification: first, Herbert Kilman’s (1961) theory of opinion change and social influence – compliance, identification, and internalization. Identification occurs when an attitude or behavior is

associated with a “self-defining relationship” with that person (p. 479). Second, Basil reviews Albert Bandera’s (1977) social learning theory; “the identification process is based on the viewer’s perception that the model is similar to him-or-herself” (p. 479). Lastly, Basil discusses the theory of parasocial relationships, where individuals who are exposed to media personalities are believed to develop a sense of intimacy and identification with that celebrity (p. 479). Basil’s findings that identification with celebrities does indeed determine message effect, places a lot of importance on the effectiveness of media campaigns. Gwen Stefani is a role model; her celebrity status has placed her in that position. She also comes across as approachable and identifiable, which enhances her appeal and her ability to influence others. Susan Boon and Christine Lomore (2001) found that celebrities play a huge influence on identity among young adults. They found that young adults foster a perceived intimacy with their favorite celebrity; the more heavily invested they are, the more they will believe that their idols have played an important role in shaping who they are and how they feel about themselves (p. 438). In short, celebrities have a tremendous amount of influence, especially in the modern climate where the power of the mass media is increasing. Madonna Volumes have been written on Madonna, her position in popular culture, and the meanings that society has made from her. With the possible exception of Marilyn Monroe, no other female performer has had such an impact in popular culture. There is no room for an exhaustive literature review of Madonna in this thesis, but it is necessary to touch on a few studies. John Fiske studied the Madonna phenomenon by conducting a textual analysis of

the star, then an ethnographic study of how her fans perceived her and identified with her. The outcome of his study demonstrated that the subculture of teen girls “read” Madonna quite differently than how she was portrayed: The simple view of her success would attribute it to her skill in manipulating her sexuality to make as much money as possible, largely from one of the most powerless and exploitable sections of the community – young girls… But such an account is inadequate…because it assumes that Madonna fans are…‘cultural dopes’ able to be manipulated at will and against their interests by the moguls of the culture industry. (1989, p.246) Cathy Schwichtenberg, in her 1993 book The Madonna Connection: Representational Politics, Subcultural Identities, and Cultural Theory, provides a broad overview of the Madonna Phenomenon. She examines Madonna as a barometer of culture that directs our attention to cultural shifts, struggles, and changes. Santiago FouzHernandez and Freya Jarman-Ivens examine the Madonna phenomenon on a global scale in their book Madonna’s Drowned Worlds: New Approaches to Her Cultural Tanformation. They discovered that Madonna’s influence expands not only to other countries, such as Japan and Mexico, but to other subcultures ranging from the gay community to teenage girls. Each culture “reads” Madonna differently; this provides a powerful justification for studying celebrities, because they provide a common frame of reference for different cultures. The different ways of interpreting a celebrity is therefore a reflection of the culture. The Changing Nature of Celebrity “Celebrity” began as a condition, not a person. Famous people were those

involved in production and were successful in their chosen field. But celebrity has turned into a big business. This culture has learned the value of high visibility, and what passes as modern day celebrity has perhaps gotten out of control as “regular people” compete for their 15 minutes of fame. In a society dominated by the mass media, audiences are given very little choice in the celebrities they see, although the internet is quickly causing that to change. Certain celebrities strike a chord with a culture, rising above one-day or oneyear celebrity. The audience comprises the culture, and they are not made up of “cultural dopes.” Despite what media practitioners and social critics think, modern society is an active audience. Gwen Stefani initially rose to stardom the old-fashioned way – through skill, hard work, and determination. The marketing machine used that “story,” combined it with her charismatic girl-next-door image, and elevated her to icon status. But she would not be a celebrity without an audience to appreciate her. The audience’s role is not to be underestimated and their part in the equation is equally as important as marketing and as the star herself.

Chapter 3 Method I chose a case study as the best method to deconstruct an icon because it allowed me to study Gwen Stefani holistically. Since I wanted to explore why she is so popular and how her audience views her, I needed to look at her from many different perspectives. A case study provided the structure in which to study a phenomenon such as celebrity. In looking at various aspects of Stefani, I searched for patterns that might explain how she is unique in her status as a cultural icon. This case study adopted the methods found in John Fiske’s 1989 textual analysis and ethnographic study of Madonna, where he applied Stuart Hall’s theory that texts must be encoded and decoded. Hall believed that texts were meanings and messages in the form of signs that the audience translated through their individual lens (Hall, 1980, p.127). In order to study how Madonna was “encoded,” Fiske textually analyzed her appearance and personality through song lyrics, music videos, broadcast interviews, magazine features, and photo spreads. Next, he focused on the “decoding” of Madonna through an ethnographic study of her fans. By interviewing them, and analyzing letters to the editor in magazines, he interpreted how Madonna’s fans were “reading” and making sense of the star. I applied a similar method. Gwen Stefani hit the cultural radar in 1996, and there has been a wealth of interviews and articles about her ever since. It would be impossible to study everything published on Stefani in the past ten years, so I focused on major publications, both print and online. For simplicity’s sake, I refer to interviews and articles as “press” or “media.” A media blitz precedes every album release, so there were plenty

of interviews from the years 1996 (Tragic Kingdom), 1999 (Return of Saturn), 2001 (Rock Steady) and 2004-5 (Love, Angel, Music, Baby). Stefani went on tour in OctoberDecember 2005, and later announced her pregnancy in December of 2005, which also produced an abundance of media attention. Current magazines and newspapers were simply bought where I could find them. Old magazines where Stefani (or No Doubt) was the cover story were obtained from www.ebay.com (when possible); all other articles and interviews were obtained from the lexis/nexis database. It is important to keep in mind that Gwen Stefani is a real person, and therefore cannot be entirely a construct of the media. Part of this study focuses on the separation of Stefani as a real person, and Stefani as a product of marketing. Since Stefani is usually viewed through the media (unless one has had a chance to meet her in person) I searched for the best way to view her as a “real person” – to separate Gwen Stefani the human being and Gwen Stefani the media construct. To analyze the “real” Stefani, I studied song lyrics, concert footage and television interviews. Stefani writes or co-writes her own song lyrics, and they are frequently very personal. Lyrics are deliberate word choices – almost journal entries - and therefore add to a textual analysis of Stefani as a real person. I analyzed all songs written by Stefani on No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom, Return of Saturn, Rock Steady, and all songs from Stefani’s solo CD Love, Angel, Music, Baby looking for recurring themes. Song lyrics were obtained from the website www.songlyrics.com or www.yousingit.com. Music videos, concert footage, and personal appearances provide insights into Gwen Stefan the person. Not just with her clothes and overall style, but also body language, word choice, and interactions with other people. Personal appearances of Stefani on talk shows such as Oprah and Access Hollywood, awards shows such as the

Grammy’s and the Teen Choice Awards, as well as “red carpet” footage were taped. These appearances were as close as I could get to view Stefani in context, while still bearing in mind that such content can be edited. Personal information on No Doubt and Gwen Stefani were found primarily on www.nodoubt.com, (run by the band) and www.gwenstefani.com (run by her label, Interscope Records.) Www.billboard.com was used for tracking album sales. Through a cultural studies lens I textually analyzed these magazine interviews, photographs, song lyrics, music videos, concert footage and personal appearances. I then compared and contrasted the ways in which Stefani presented herself (“Stefani the person”), versus the way the media presented her (“Stefani in the media”). I differentiated between the two by counting anything that Stefani said, whether it was in quotes in a magazine or in a personal appearance, as “Stefani the person.” Also, clothing, body language, and music lyrics were placed in this category. Commentary from any third party in the media, such as a writer, interviewer or label representative was counted as “Stefani in the media,” as were headlines, captions and art direction in any forms of media. But analyzing a celebrity through her work and the media emphasizes the producers of the media text and ignores the audience. The audience may be a more determining force, for without consumers, there is no way to determine popularity. Fan Interviews I interviewed Stefani fans and former fans in order to gain perspectives that I might not otherwise have had. Obviously, it was important to interview fans to see why they loved her. But I also was curious to talk to people who didn’t like her. As mentioned in the previous chapter, I interviewed a variety of fans – from watchers to fan club

members. In this sense, I moved away from Fiske’s model, whose audience were primarily groupies, and sought a wider array of opinions. As long as they had strong feelings about the singer (determined by their willingness to talk to me) I was interested in talking with former fans. Interviews were both inductive and deductive. I looked for commonalities in aspects of Stefani that fans liked or disliked, and what they noticed in general. They were also deductive, in that after asking their general thoughts and opinions, I questioned interviewees about elements and patterns I had noticed in my textual analysis. Most of these interviews took place from June – September 2005 on the campus of an east coast college, others took place on the west coast at homes or offices in early June 2005. When Stefani announced her pregnancy in December 2005, I reconnected with those I had interviewed to get updated thoughts. Stefani gave birth as I finished writing; I did not re-connect with fans after her son was born. I began with a convenience sample by sending an email to two listservs stating that I was looking for Gwen Stefani fans to interview. The first was my personal email address list of about 100 people from all over the United States; the second was a listserv of communications graduate students at a mid-sized eastern university. I chose this method because it was a quick way to jump start the process and get responses. Snowball sampling was used from that point, as people forwarded my email and spread the word that I was looking for fans. I received replies not only from true fans but also from those who said they hated her music but loved her, as well as from those who claimed to hate her (but really ended up being disillusioned fans.) This worked out even better than I had originally anticipated, because now I had an audience that was made up of people who simply had a strong opinion about Stefani, and not just potentially biased fans. (For

simplicity I refer to all interviewees as fans except where noted.) I interviewed 21 fans, 8 males and 13 females, most between the ages of 22 and 30. (For legal reasons I did not interview anyone under the age of 18.) Interviews took place wherever was most convenient to the interviewee. Many took place in the student lounge on campus, others at coffee shops or restaurants, or the interviewee’s apartment. Interviews were audiotaped and transcribed; observational notes were taken after the interview. I wanted to make my interviewees as comfortable as possible, and felt that taking notes during the interview would be intrusive. My goal was to create a fun atmosphere where interviewees felt at ease talking about someone that they admired. Many people interviewed were students studying film, television or journalism, since I used a university listserv to find some interviewees. I thought their being media scholars might affect their answers, but I did not find this to be the case. The media students’ answers were similar to those I received from interviewees not involved in media. Interview questions focused on opinions of Stefani as a person, and as an artist, but frequently segued into feelings on the media and celebrities in general. Topics covered: 1. Stages of Stefani’s career and style. I went through a series of pictures of Stefani taken in the past decade (starting when she first hit the mainstream in 1996), and had the fan comment on them. As I hoped, this frequently led to tangential discussions about Stefani. 2. Music and other artistry – i.e. fashion line, acting. 3. Personal life. 4. Personality.

For analytical purposes, I ended with a “quiz” to judge their level of fandom, asking trivial questions such as: Where is she from? When is her birthday? Who are the other members of No Doubt? My purpose was to see if their knowledge of Stefani affected how they make sense of her. After initial hesitation, most fans/former fans enthusiastically voiced their opinions on Stefani, the media, and celebrity culture. Fans/former fans came from all backgrounds and parts of the United States; many were from the east coast, and mid west, three were from the south, and three from California. Their age range was 19-41, with an average age of about 24; the gender split was a bit off, with about 60% being women. Most interviewees had very strong personalities and opinions. Perhaps this was to be expected since they had volunteered to be interviewed, but I purposely did not offer an incentive, so I found their willing enthusiasm interesting. Some were huge music consumers, but most were simply fans/former fans of Stefani as a person.

Chapter 4: Results There are three ways of looking at Gwen Stefani – through how she presents herself, how the press presents her, and how audiences receive her. Textual analysis revealed that perhaps the key to being an icon is to be multifaceted and media friendly. Although it is expected that Gwen Stefani will be multifaceted, since she is a real person, what is interesting is that she willingly presents these many – and oftentimes conflicting sides of her personality to the media. She presents herself as a real, artistic person who is amazed at her own success, and yet she also appears to be aware that she is the commodity. As a commodity Gwen Stefani is dependent upon the media and upon her fans. She is distributed through the press which in turn has its own agenda (to sell magazines/newspapers, or to receive high ratings). That agenda determines the aspects of Stefani that the media will focus on – i.e. whatever sells. Results show that while Stefani does present many dimensions, there are only a few that the media focus on, and others are ignored. The media focuses on one aspect at a time, usually dependant on the story they are choosing to tell. But the fans are the bottom line, the consumers that Stefani needs to impress. Along with the media and Stefani’s managerial and marketing team, it is the fans that made her who she is, and they aren’t paying nearly as much attention to the media as the press (and her label) would probably like to believe. Undeniably fans view Stefani via the media, but they are seemingly aware of this fact. Indeed, they question most of what they see because they are an active, media savvy audience with their own perspective. Fans borrow a little from both sides – Stefani the person and Stefani the media construct, and

then view her through their personal lenses. Although it’s doubtful that they would put it in such academic terms, they are aware that there is a dominant reading and an oppositional reading. The interesting result of this study is that there seems to be disagreement on what the dominant and oppositional readings are. This is primarily because they see two very different Gwen Stefani’s. When Stefani first hit the mainstream music scene in 1996, she had her soon-tobe-signature platinum blonde hair and red lips; she wore sporty, comfortable clothing, indeed perhaps ushered in this trend – a sports bra, with baggy pants and Doc Martens. This Gwen – fans called her “old Gwen” - jumped around the stage at concerts and made goofy faces for the camera in music videos. “New Gwen” is the glamorized version, introduced somewhere around the 2002 release of Rock Steady, who wears couture clothing and high heels, and who has her own clothing line, solo album and movie career. The transition from “old” to “new” was perhaps sparked by Stefani’s role as Jean Harlow in the film The Aviator, she began wearing 1930s/40s inspired clothes. This was also the year that she started her LAMB clothing line consisting of “girly-punk” clothes, and she incorporated her clothing line into her 1930s-inspired clothes, creating a very different look compared to the sporty Gwen of the early 1990s. She was also married in 2004, and her more ladylike clothing may have been a symbol that she was growing up, and wanted to be taken more seriously. No matter the cause, “new Gwen” moved front and center when she was promoting her solo album Love, Angel, Music, Baby. While fans accepted that Stefani is a real person, and acknowledged that celebrity and the music industry is a business, Stefani’s latest transformation left them somewhat disillusioned and they questioned her motives. This might imply that audiences want someone they can respect; a genuine person that they can relate to, and perhaps look

up to as a role model. When Stefani first became popular she was viewed as such a person; however fans are began to change their minds as they questioned the values and motives of “new Gwen” – the hugely famous, glamorous, couture-wearing version. No longer does she seem to be “one of us.” RQ1: How did Gwen Stefani become a cultural icon? Stefani has clearly moved beyond what made her famous in the first place – music. She has a huge appetite for other artistic ventures, such as clothing design and acting. She appears on talk shows, awards shows, and in magazines (often on the cover). She is multifaceted, almost a contradiction, and provides identities one can relate to. Stefani brings the mutually exclusive together – glamour and punk, tomboy and girlygirl, everywoman and rock star, insecurity and empowerment. In doing so, she comes across as a real person, a buddy, the “girl next door,” and yet, of course, she is clearly more than that. She has opportunities that many of us would never have. Most women could be a girly girl and a tomboy, but don’t have the option of also being “rock star” to their “everywoman.” Seemingly realizing this, Stefani’s openness, excitement, and appreciation for her success and celebrity allow the masses a peak into her celebrity life. She appears determined to remain excited as she explores her artistry while also remaining aware that she has a role to play in the business side of music. In early interviews, Stefani denies being an icon, and considers herself more of an everygirl, an outsider who just wanted to get married and lead a traditional life. “All I ever wanted was to get married, and have babies, have a house,” she told Alona Wartofsky of The Washington Post in 1997, “So it’s weird that I’m in a rock group.” Although in interviews from late 2005, she seems to like the idea of being an icon, appearing happily stunned at having achieved her current status. “I’m sitting on the

Oprah show right now. It’s crazy,” she told the talk show host in 2005. “I feel like I’m in this Alice in Wonderland trip.” Sometimes she credits her good fortune to luck, other times to hard work (something the press echoes). She likes the attention and perks that go along with celebrity life but she doesn’t come across as arrogant. For example, on Oprah, she gushes about her “insane life,” thanks her “people who help me look good,” and then credits her fans, even taking one to the Grammys. During a Vogue interview, she expressed impatience at having to wait for a table, but once inside, she was friendly and giving to teenage fans (Van Meter, 2004). It is the press that calls her an icon – in articles, reviews, and quotes from her “people”– her manager, her label, etc. This hype is exemplified by describing her as, “The biggest female rock star of the last decade”(Lewis, The LA Times, October 2005), “A hip, slightly edgy, not threatening, sexy but not slutty, girly-girl, tomboy, businesswoman, normal and unaffected…pop culture juggernaut “(Varga, The San Diego Tribune, October 2005). The press focuses on her everygirl image as well, in two disparate ways: they infantilize her or call her a “tough chick” (sometimes both are mentioned in a single article). Mainly they emphasize her insider status by labeling her a “pop princess,” “rock star,” or more recently, “glamour queen,” which I discuss later. Some publications position her as a role model for young girls, focusing on her empowering messages about appreciating oneself and embracing girlyness. As to how she got to this level of fame, media are split – they either claim that she is extremely savvy, or very hardworking. But media are not just reviews, interviews, and stories. Other people use the media to further their own agenda for Stefani. Her label and management use the media to construct a portrait of Stefani as an icon and role model. It is in their best financial

interest to represent and work with an icon, since financial success and icon status tend to go hand-in-hand. A 1996 article in Billboard exemplifies this, as top level executives from MCA (which owns No Doubt’s and Stefani’s label, Interscope Records) are quoted describing No Doubt as a huge moneymaker that will be a force in pop music: “Gwen Stefani is a charismatic artist who has the power to touch a mainstream public,” “Gwen Stefani could be our next Madonna,” “No Doubt is the closest to breaking wide…we’re going to sell a ton of records,” and the hype only continued throughout the decade and to Stefani’s solo career. RQ 1a. How does she present herself? Textual analysis revealed five dimensions that Stefani maintains the most in interviews: Everygirl, Outsider, Love and Family, Empowerment, and Amazement/Appreciation. Everygirl “I’m just like you except I write songs,” Stefani says in a 2004 Billboard article (Paoletta, 2004). Frequently described as the girl next door, or a buddy you could go drinking with, Stefani’s openness does project a certain approachability. A self-described “girly-girl” she often talks about her love of makeup, dressing up, and “all things associated with being a girl” (Sullivan, The Boston Globe, 1996). She also readily admits to insecurities such as feeling fat (“I love these jeans, they look good even if I’ve put on a couple of pounds” [Eaton, Bazaar, 2005]), feeling as if she didn’t fit in at school and in the music scene, and that she is really “a dork. A total geek” (Harrill, 944 Magazine, 2004). She often admits to being very emotional and “crying all the time” especially when she is having her period. (This is an interesting topic to mention in an interview. Perhaps she enjoys bringing up her menstrual cycle as a way of playing into her everygirl

image, normalizing the fact that even a celebrity of her caliber gets her period, another way of saying “I’m just a girl.”) As Stefani got older, and wrote the album Return of Saturn and Rock Steady, another everygirl dimension emerged: Confusion and insecurity over who she is and where she is going. On writing the album Return of Saturn, she says, “It’s more about the confusion of what I thought I’d be and what I’ve become” (Gunderson, USA Today, 2000). She continues to address this insecurity on the 2004 Love, Angel, Music, Baby album, especially in the song “What You Waiting For”: What if they say you’re a climber? Naturally I’m worried if I do it alone, Who really cares because it’s your life You never know it could be great… Why are you standing in one place? The song continues, “You’re still a superhot female/ You got your million dollar contract,” which could be construed as arrogant, but put in its context with the rest of the lyrics, displays a sense of paralyzing fear at worst, and artists block at best. Outsider Somewhat related to the Everygirl dimension, Stefani describes feeling like she doesn’t fit in. When the band first hit it big, she says she was amazed that “a dorky band like us” could become successful (Gunderson, USA Today, 1996). Her songs “Just a Girl” and “Hey Baby” address her feelings of being different because she is the only girl in the band, which in turn makes her think about what it means to be “just a girl”: I’m just a girl, little ol’ me, Don’t let me out of your site.

I’m just a girl, all pretty and petite, Don’t let me have any rights. She tells Alona Wartofsky of The Washington Post about backstage life, “I was like, where do I fit into this? I’ll just stay in my dressing room and be depressed and not have any friends” (1997). Her lyrics on “Hey Baby” describe this: I’m the kinda girl that hangs with the guys, Like a fly on the wall with my secret eyes, Takin’ it in, try to be feminine, With my make-up bags watchin’ all the sin, Misfit, I sit. She speaks of feeling like an outsider in the music scene, both when she was growing up in Southern California and now. “There was all this pressure to be cool and to be angry at guys and I never felt that way,” she tells Jonathan Van Meter of Vogue in a 2004 cover story. Regarding the current “boy bands” and “macho band’s” (Stefani’s phrasing) she says, “I feel like these bands are pushing me away, like ‘You’re not welcome in our club.’” She also admits to feeling insecure as an artist, especially when she was writing her solo album. “It’s really intimidating,” she tells Randy Lewis of The Los Angeles Times. “Everybody I was working with was from outside my world” (2004). She told Nick Duerden of The Independent: I was in the studio with all these great people and I just felt naked before them, totally exposed. All these incredible ideas were flying around, and none of them were mine! I couldn’t wait to get home to my husband every night and cry because I hated myself. (August, 13, 2005)

In interviews from 2004-2006, she hints at feeling like an outsider because she is a celebrity. Although she will readily admit to enjoying being a celebrity, she finds it surreal, “I’ll be at an autograph signing, and that’s great, but then I have to go buy tampons” (Wartofsky, The Washington Post, 1997). The Outsider theme has changed a bit on the Love, Angel, Music, Baby album. While “What You Waiting For” addresses Stefani’s typical insecurities, the song “Rich Girl” provides an ironic twist, as Stefani sings of her desire to have so much money that she can buy out a Vivienne Westwood store and have mansions in both Hollywood and “London- town.” These are somewhat maddening lyrics since she surely can buy out an entire store, and she does have mansions in both Los Angeles and London. But this song is really an homage to the song “If I Were a Rich Man” from the musical Fiddler on the Roof, a fact the press has ignored. Stefani has said that she loves musicals, and this re-working of the song puts Stefani in the position as the outsider, the fan -- albeit a fan who has the ability to write and perform hit songs. “Rich Girl” provides an ironic twist, placing Stefani outside of her own celebrity. Love and Family Heartbreak is a topic that Stefani often discusses in interviews; she talks fairly openly about her relationships with No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal, and future husband Gavin Rossdale. Many of her songs are inspired by the two men; notably the hits “Don’t Speak” (about her break up with Kanal) and “Ex Girlfriend” (about her temporary break up with Rossdale). Love, Angel, Music, Baby contains the track “Cool” which provides closure to her relationship with Kanal: It’s hard to remember how it felt before Now that I’ve found the love of my life…

And after all the obstacles, It’s good to see you now with someone else, It’s such a miracle you and me are still good friends, After all we’ve been through. I know we’re cool. Stefani is open about wanting to fall in love and have a family. “I grew up a good Catholic girl. A total Brady Bunch family,” she tells Jonathan Van Meter in Vogue (2004). Since the beginning of her career, she admitted to “only” wanting to be a wife and mother, telling Jenny Elliscu in The Observer, “All I ever did [when I was younger] was look at Tony and pray that God would let me have a baby with him” (2005). She even went so far as to say to Interscope chairman Jimmy Iovine, after he insisted he’d make her a star in six years, “I won’t even be in this band in six years. I will be married with 14 kids” (Van Meter, Vogue, 2004). Clearly family continues to be important to Stefani, both immediate family, and her band as family. She even wrote the hit song “Simple Kind of Life” on this theme: All I ever wanted was the simple things, A simple kind of life. And all I needed was a simple man, So I could be a wife. That wish came true when she married longtime boyfriend Gavin Rossdale in 2004. In interviews promoting her solo album she talks frequently of having children (see Lewis, Los Angeles Times 2004; Boucher, Los Angeles Times; Duerden, The Independent; Eaten, Bazaar; Eliscu, The Observer; Eliscu, Rolling Stone; Oprah Winfrey Show, 2005) and in December 2005, she announced she was pregnant. She confirmed her

pregnancy on stage on the closing night of her Love, Angel, Music, Baby tour by calling out to the crowd, “I want you to [make noise] so loud that the baby hears you!” (Boucher, Los Angeles Times, 2005). She also speaks of her band members as if they were a family, or even a spouse, telling Los Angeles Times writer Geoff Boucher, “Going on tour without them, I felt like I was cheating” (2005). She clearly sees herself as part of a unit with her band: “I’m really proud that this band has been committed to each other for 13 years” (Hay, Billboard, 2000) and she looks out for them, especially when she received all the attention, telling Alana Wartofsky of The Washington Post in 1997, “At certain interviews people were so rude to them.” The omnipresent “Harajuku Girls” surrounding her while she promotes Love, Angel, Music, Baby may be a new version of family. Empowerment Empowerment is an aspect of Stefani that has developed and changed as she grew older and more successful. While she has always embraced the message to “be yourself,” she has grown more confident in that message. During her media blitz for her solo album, she mentions several times that she is trying things she’s never done, such as the album, her fashion line (LAMB), and acting. She also seems to have accepted herself and owned her success. As she tells Terry Iacuzzo of Seventeen, “I’ve been around the track and I’m not gonna make any excuses. This is who I am – and it’s pretty powerful” (2005). But she has always appeared willing and eager to share her empowerment with others, especially teen girls. In concert, she has called out, “Ok girls, it goes like this: Fck you, I’m a girl!” (Wartofsky, The Washington Post, 1997). ADD FROM BOOK The song “Hollaback Girl” from Love, Angel, Music, Baby provides a modern chant for empowerment. The word “hollaback” is slang for “holler back, ” and Stefani

told Seventeen that the song is her way of saying she refuses to yell back at those who criticize her. Again, similar to “Rich Girl” the actual lyrics are somewhat ironic. While the chorus states, “I ain’t no holla back girl,” other lyrics are along the lines of: I heard that you were talking shit, And you didn’t think that I would hear it… So I’m ready to attack, Gonna lead the pack, Gonna get a touchdown, Gonna take you out. In essence, she’s saying she won’t holler back at those who criticize her, she’ll beat them up instead. She certainly doesn’t mention that in interviews, but it was noticed by Greg Stacy, a writer for OC [Orange County] Weekly, who did a tongue-in-cheek breakdown of the song. In his analysis, he decides that “Gwen” (as the character in the song) is clearly a bully, and that “Gwen suffers from profound self-esteem issues…she is a complex anti-heroine for an age of changing gender attitudes and expectations” (2005). MOVE TO MEDIA SECTION? Perhaps Stefani knows that she is a potential role model for young women. “It blows my mind that I could be a role model. It’s a little scary, because you think, ‘I’m just myself. I don’t have any answers to any problems’” (Wartofsky, The Washington Post, 1997). But when asked, she says that while she finds it hard to believe someone might consider her one, she thinks she is a good role model because she is from a conservative, Catholic family, and she doesn’t talk about sex a lot. Here is an example of the Stefani contradiction, since she may not talk about sex a lot, but she admits to Oprah Winfrey in 2005 that she “acts naughty” onstage. She also swears in nearly all of her

print interviews, although she is aware that what she says matters more now that she is famous. She tells Edna Gunderson in a 2000 USA Today article, “I know that I have a big mouth and a big opinion, so I try to consciously shut up.” This is interesting, coming from the 2000 Gwen incarnation (“old Gwen”) who is usually very apologetic about herself. This Gwen is very different from Stefani in 2004, when she spoke to Randy Lewis of the Los Angeles Times, “I don’t really have a lot to hide. Sometimes I feel good, sometimes I feel bad, and I’m not afraid to say how I feel.” Amazement/Appreciation Stefani seems to enjoy herself and wants to share that with others. She appears genuinely excited about her success. Indeed, the first lines from “What You Waiting For,” the first song released from 2005 solo album are “What an amazing time/What a family.” Her giddiness at being on the cover of Vogue, or on a billboard on Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles, seems genuine. She often talks about how lucky she feels to have reached her current level of success. She is candid, open, and friendly in her interviews, willing to share the benefits and pitfalls of celebrity. She also has a sense of humor about it, telling Nick Duerden in a 2005 interview for London’s Independent: Fame is such a strange thing isn’t it? You never quite get used to being public property. Take our conversation now. You have just walked into this room and started telling me shit about myself, and that’s like, weird, it’s crazy, because we’re strangers. I should get somebody to escort you out of the building! Her amazement stems from an initial defeatist attitude. Even before she achieved her current level of fame, Stefani still displayed amazement and appreciation at whatever success she had thus far achieved. She presented the vibe, “why are you interested in

me? I’m not special or interesting.” This is an element of Stefani that is most prevalent when she talks about her teenage years, and when she first started singing with No Doubt. She claims she was lazy, that she had no goals other than to be a wife and mother, and that she actually became the lead singer by default, since the other lead singers left. “I was very passive,” she tells Jonathan Van Meter of Vogue magazine, “my brother did everything. I was just like, ‘I’m just the sister’ and then after that I was ‘Tony’s girlfriend’ and that was good enough for me! I never really had any ambitions and goals and dreams” (2004). Again, the lyrics from “A Simple Kind of Life” address this. There is a sense that she is inoculating the audience, as if she is saying, “Don’t expect too much from me.” This presents itself when she talks about the band’s rise to stardom, laughingly calling No Doubt a “dorky band” and that her song lyrics from the early days were about “the little issues that I’ve dealt with in my small, little life in Anaheim” (Gunderson, USA Today, 1996). For a while, she came across as fatalistic in her personal life too. The lyrics to her song “Ex-Girlfriend” exemplify this side of her nature: I kinda always knew I’d end up your ex-girlfriend For someone else to take… Why’d you have to go and pick me?... I hope I hold a special place with the rest of them. Here she demonstrates passivity, in that she was the one “picked” and now she is someone’s ex-girlfriend. She has relegated herself to the masses of other ex-girlfriends, instead of being a strong individual. However, it is this very passivity and pessimism/realism that makes her appear more of an everygirl than a cultural icon. Her amazement has grown into a maturity and ownership of herself and her celebrity. One

she seems happy to share. Stefani is very respectful and giving to her fans, and appears willing to share her celebrity with others. On February 22, 2005, she appeared on Oprah to meet a young fan who wrote Oprah that all she wanted was to meet Stefani. Stefani ended up taking the fan to the Grammy’s. Articles about Stefani describe fans approaching her, and she always has time to talk to them. She lets them hug her, take pictures with her, even sit on her lap. Stefani also uses her celebrity for charitable causes. She appeared on the cover of Marie Claire (June, 2005) in a t-shirt emblazoned with “What Color is Love?” on the front. All proceeds went to recovery efforts for the December 2004 Tsunami victims in Thailand. Additionally, No Doubt and Stefani as solo artist often participate in concerts benefiting various causes. EXAMPLE FROM BOOK RQ1b: Are there contradictions that belie the way she presents herself? Stefani’s actions and words don’t always match. This isn’t terribly surprising, since she is a real person, and many people have contradictions between their words and actions. However, in a thesis about celebrity, any discrepancy is worth studying. If Stefani is aware that she has a character and story to sell, one would think she would stick to the script. But Stefani’s actions are often very different from her words. There are three primary areas where Stefani often displays contradictions: confidence, sex, and her feelings being famous. Stefani is more confident and sexual than she claims to be in interviews. Concert footage, lyrics, and music videos show a very comfortable and self-assured woman. “New Gwen” in dresses and high heels looks a little less confident, but the sexual lyrics on her new album certainly make up for that. In fact, she seems to sneak in controversy

through her lyrics, but neither the press nor her fans have noticed. Perhaps the biggest disconnect occurs when Stefani discusses fame. On one hand she says she never intended to be famous; she was just going to be a wife and mother. On the other hand, she says she always felt famous to a certain degree, and she loves her life now and couldn’t imagine it any other way. The Stefani story and character veer in two different directions. Is she insecure and traditional, or confident and sexual? For someone who claims that she never intended to be a singer, she has a very commanding presence on stage. She has a unique way of moving – almost masculine, certainly unselfconscious - when she is wearing her “old Gwen” attire of boots and pants. When she is dressed as “new Gwen” in skirts and heels, she appears more hesitant and nervous. Unsurprisingly, she appears more comfortable when performing with No Doubt. She also has an interesting chemistry with the band, almost flirtatious, and this comes out especially in concert footage and music videos, when the male band members are often “cast” as Stefani’s love interests. Perhaps Gwen Stefani may have been that naïve, “who me?” girl at some point, but that’s not evident in any song lyrics, music videos, or concert footage. Even an early video for the song “Trapped in a Box,” filmed in the early 1990s, shows a peppy Gwen having fun as she prances around the band playing their instruments. BETTER DESCRIPTION IN BOOK There is no arguing that “new Gwen” is more sexual than the old. She dresses more provocatively in short skirts and heels, the better to show off “new Gwen”s toned figure. Her lyrics are more suggestive, as are her music videos. Indeed, in the video for “What You Waiting For?” – which is a play on “Alice in Wonderland” – she is lying in a bush with her arms and legs spread, seemingly having an orgasm. Also, as mentioned earlier, her song lyrics – especially from the Love, Angel, Music, Baby album – don’t

always reflect what she says in interviews. As noted above, the lyrics of “Hollaback Girl” are actually a lot tougher and perhaps violent then Stefani describes. The lyrics of “Bubble Pop Electric” belie Stefani’s assertion that she is a good role model since she doesn’t talk about sex a lot. She may not discuss sex in interviews, but the lyrics in this song are positively risqué: You might want to hurry, because tonight is theeeeee night. I'm antsy, I need fulfilling… I'm gonna give you all my love in the back seat, Bubble pop electric, bubble pop electric. Gonna speed it down and slow it up in the back seat… I'm antsy, Bubble pop I like your pansies. My sweet tooth, I want your candy, The Queen of England would say it randy… I'm itchy, I wish you would come and scratch me. The mothers of Stefani’s teen fanbase might be a little shocked to read lyrics about a lustful Stefani having sex in the backseat. MORE Stefani appears to enjoy attention, which (iconic or not) doesn’t necessary contradict her claims that she is shy. However, her claims to passivity and subsequent hogging of the limelight add to her enigmatic appeal, even as it makes her appear hypocritical. Even though Stefani claims that she never intended on becoming a famous singer, she is quoted in the British newspaper The Independent, “I’ve always felt famous,

at least in Anaheim” (Duerden, 2005, August 13). She does go on to confess that worldwide fame “is just plain weird. I’m a very private person, and so getting used to the limelight wasn’t going to be easy was it?” But Gwen Stefani hardly seems shy and retiring. She is a game participant in publicity blitzes, and when photographed by the paparazzi, she either looks at the camera and poses or smiles, or she looks down. She never gives the impression that the photographer is invading her personal space, not even in recent pictures where she is holding her infant son. This is a good example of the Stefani paradox. She partly is “just the sister,” “just Tony’s girlfriend”; the woman who only wanted to get married and have kids and is uncomfortable with fame. But she is also the woman who always felt famous and even likes it to a certain extent. This is the type of discrepancy that has lead to the “you either love Gwen or hate her” factor. Although she claims to not be controversial, she really is. People can talk about her outrageous outfits, or limited musical ability, but what really makes her controversial is the discrepancy of “old” and “new” Gwen. Is she one of us or one of them?

RQ1c: How do the media present her? Stefani certainly provided good stories for the media. She is a beautiful, charismatic female lead singer of a successful band, but she also was just the girl next door who had her heart broken. She was an enigma: tough and opinionated, yet also passive and insecure. She was a dream subject. Publications often explain the secret of Stefani’s success as being her “tough chick” attitude and style. By the time the video for “Don’t Speak” was released she was officially media royalty, often dubbed “pop princess,” occasionally substituted by “rock

star,” “star” or “icon.” With her solo release Love, Angel, Music, Baby, she had become a “glamour queen’ by the time she debuted her fashion line and film role, she was hailed an icon. But despite her new found status, Stefani still can’t escape being described as girlish, or as a tough chick, although she seems to have shed the tomboy role. As her success in both music and other ventures continues, she is often described as “savvy.” Other times she’s given credit as a “hard worker.” While the infantilizing and “tough chick” descriptions continue, the press, beginning around the release of 2002’s Rock Steady, began to focus on her insider status. The press embraces Stefani’s everygirlness, but it manifests itself in two ways: by infantilizing her, or taking the opposite approach, and dubbing her a tough chick. As she morphed into “new Gwen,” the media started to embrace her insider status, calling her a Pop Princess, Glamour Queen, or Icon. At first, the media docused on her outider status, infantilizing her or describing her as a tough chick. At the beginning of her career, her outsider-ness was the crux of the Gwen Stefani story. Infantilize This theme exists on many levels, depending on what magazine is profiling her. She is frequently described as “giggling,” “chirping,” “squeaking” and other adolescent descriptions. Her speech patterns and slang tend to be emphasized as well, as exemplified in a 2004 article by Jonathan Van Meter for Vogue, “Gwen Stefani can seem much younger…beginning sentences with ‘Dude’ more often than not.” Of course, one can’t ignore direct quotes where Stefani really does use such slang, but it is interesting that it is mentioned in a women’s style magazine. Does this make her more approachable/less intimidating? Possibly, since the readers of Vogue are arguably too sophisticated to use such slang. Her “girlishness” is played up in Vogue as well. “Her girlishness seems to be

the direct result of the fact that she has lived in the protective bubble first of her family and then the band.” But why stop there? Why not add, “and then her husband”? However, it is not just the women’s style magazines that play up her girlishness. Edna Gunderson, in a 1996 USA Today article describes her as a “coquettish bottle blonde,” John La Briola of The Denver Westward in 2000 calls her a “pop tart,” Jenny Elliscu of Rolling Stone in 2005 states, “Stefani’s stories involve her either crying or nearly crying,” and Alona Wartofsky of The Washington Post in 1997 writes, “the teenage girls who adore Stefani do so because she acts like them. She talks like them…Stefani has ordinary interests: makeup, boyfriends, pizza – and ordinary concerns such as the size of her rear end.” This is somewhat alarming, in that it basically states that teenage girls don’t think about anything important, and neither does Stefani. But the Post doesn’t stop there. Wartofsky also writes, “Does it really matter if [No Doubt’s] music has been dismissed as bubble gum pop and its front woman is regarded in many quarters as a videogenic ditz?” The writer continues, “The pop music universe has become so fragmented and fickle that Stefani’s ascendancy should not be interpreted as meaning too much.” In one sentence, the writer has completely dismissed Stefani. Several articles compare her to cartoon characters: “Her Betty Boop-ish vocals” (Macias, Sacramento Bee, 2005); “her Madonna meets Betty Boop vocal style” (Lewis, Los Angeles Times, 2004); “Her voice is sugary and almost Betty Boop” (Wartofsky, The Washington Post, 1997); “the sex goddess with the Minnie Mouse voice” (Duerden, The Independent, 2005); “[A]n albino Snow White” (Vaziro, San Francisco Chronicle, 2005); although at least each of these cartoon characters is an icon herself. Since Stefani does admit to a “girlyness” and does use slang such as “Dude” and seemingly has a love for the adjective “super” or “superduper” one could argue that she

has set herself up for these kind of criticisms. Yet it seems ridiculous to infantilize a woman who has become so successful, and insulting to suggest that she doesn’t deserve it. Tough chick Not all the articles focus on Stefani’s girlishness or Valley Girl slang. Early articles from 1996-97, when No Doubt first burst onto the music scene, frequently call Stefani a tomboy, or “in your face,” (Sullivan, The Boston Globe, 1996) and play up her wild energy in stage shows and her “just one of the guys” image (which was poked fun at in the song and video for “Just a Girl”). The tough chick motif has returned in articles publicizing her solo album. “She had a vision of the record that she wanted to make and she wasn’t about to budge,” writes Terry Lewis of The Los Angeles Times (2004). While the pictures in women’s magazines and teen magazines focus on Stefani’s glamorous style, Rolling Stone’s photos are of Stefani in “ghetto chic” – hoodie sweatshirts, skullcaps, and giant gold necklaces, playing up her streetwise image. However, any descriptions or images of her as tough usually come with a caveat: “street-wise good girl,” (Elliscu, Rolling Stone, 2005), “Streetwise Cinderella,” (Elliscu, The Observer 2005) (emphasis mine) and in the Rolling Stone photos she is wearing stiletto heels and showing a bit of lace panty. In fact, the early idea of Stefani as Tough Chick has morphed into two non-exclusive themes – the pop princess/rock star, and the savvy hard worker, which I discuss later. While the press dutifully quotes Stefani as saying she feels like an outsider,, very little emphasis is placed on her feeling like an outsider. On the contrary, the press (especially since 2002’s Rock Steady) focuses on her insider status – calling her a pop princess, rock star, and glamour queen.

Pop princess/ Rock star Although one would think that a pop princess is therefore not a rock star, Stefani is described as both, depending on what medium is profiling her. In fact, Judy Rosen, in online magazine Slate (2004), devotes the entire article debating whether “the charming, hyperactive kook could be our next pop queen.” (Verdict: “She may not be able to summon up the gravitas that we demand of our queens of pop …but she’d trounce them all in a poetry slam.”) Stefani is also called an “MTV darling” (Wartofsky, The Washington Post, 1997), “pop celebrity” or “pop diva” (Rosen, Slate, 2004), “ska-pop ‘Just A Girl’” (Sullivan, Boston Globe, 1996) “pop’s reigning goddess” (Lewis, USA Today, 1996), and “pop tart” (La Briola, Denver Westward, 2000). In most cases the pop princess/rock star theme manifests itself in comparisons to another pop princess (and icon) - Madonna. This comparison is usually blatant: “Madonna filtered her Hollywood starlet persona through the prism of pop; Stefani has done something very similar in rock and roll” (Van Meter, Vogue, 2004); “Stefani has an instantly recognizable voice, an inimitable sense of style, and an impact on popular culture on par with Madonna” (Elliscu, Rolling Stone 2005), “[Gwen] has inspired at least as many ‘Gwenabes’ as Madonna sparked ‘Madonna-bes’ in her heyday” (Lewis, Los Angeles Times, 2004). Additionally, Stefani is quoted in a 1997 article in The Washington Post saying she believes she sets a good example because “I just never felt the need to discuss my sexuality,” and it is the writer who adds, “She’s not very likely to emulate the aggressive professional sexiness of performers like Madonna.” Sometimes the comparison is not as obvious, such as a photo in Vogue very similar to the cover of Madonna’s True Blue album. The caption, “Material Girl” (the title of one of Madonna’s biggest hits) proves that this was intentional.

It is worth noting that Stefani herself has admitted that she and Madonna have a lot in common, both professionally in terms of their rise to fame, and personally, in that they both married British men and spend a lot of time in London. Another noteworthy fact is that in No Doubt’s 2002 Rock Steady promotional tour, Stefani wears her hair almost identically to the way Madonna wore hers in her Blonde Ambition tour – tightly pulled back into a ponytail with hair extensions. Although this could be simply a matter of practicality; a way to keep her hair out of her face. Occasionally Stefani is upgraded to “rock star” in the media. Jonathan Van Meter of Vogue, for example, while comparing her to Madonna, says that Madonna filtered herself through pop, and Stefani did the same through rock and roll. Jenny Elliscu of Rolling Stone (2005) says Stefani is one of two women played on rock radio (the other being Amy Lee from Evanescence). Other alternatives are “fashion’s favorite rock star” (Elliscu, Observer, 2005), or “The First Lady of Rock” (Van Meter, Vogue, 2004). In sum, the press hasn’t quite decided how to describe her. Online magazine 944 calls her a “seductive punk goddess,” a bar-setter for “anti-bubble gum pop” and a star who has “ascended to pop status” all within the first paragraph. But the fact that she is hard to classify only adds to her mystique, making her more press worthy. Glamour queen With the release of Love, Angel, Music, Baby, the press began fixating on Stefani’s glamour. Articles that focused on her glamour also tended to focus on her style (especially the couture that she now wears), her fashion line, and her glamorous role in the The Aviator. Randy Lewis from the Los Angeles Times, writes, “ the past two years has seen her launch her LAMB fashion line, formalizing her status as a font of streetsmart couture” (2004). A photo spread in Bazaar (2005) features Stefani in several 1940s

style gowns, and the interview begins with a description of a Stefani photo shoot. Although not terribly surprising since it is a fashion magazine, Vogue that focuses the most on glamour, beginning with the cover blurb, “Gwen Stefani on Glamour, Gavin, and Going Solo” (2004). But the mere fact that she appears on the cover of Vogue is itself an indication of Stefani’s new status. This glamour queen title bestowed on “new Gwen” would never have been used to describe “old Gwen.” Savvy/ Hard worker Some publications actually credit Stefani for having a hand in her own success. This is done in one of two ways – she is depicted as either savvy with a master plan, or as a hard worker who deserves her success. Judy Rosen, writing for online magazine Slate, describes Stefani as “undeniably pop-savvy,” and called her 2005 promotional blitz for her solo album the “rebranding campaign” (2005). Randy Lewis of The Los Angeles Times asserts, “Stefani’s move into the world of high style is more a savvy way to diversify her portfolio” (2004). Fashion magazines such as Vogue depict her as savvy and determined, describing her as having “cannily laid the groundwork for her solo career in 2001 when she collaborated with Moby on the ghetto-fabulous ‘Southside’” (Van Meter, 2004). Conversely, some magazines emphasize that she has worked hard to get where she is, and that she continues to work hard. Seventeen, a magazine geared towards teenage girls, focuses on her strengths and talents. “In 2002, she married Gavin Rossdale, next year launched LAMB, and is now making her acting debut,” suggesting that actually accomplished this all on her own (Iazucco, 2005). Additionally, Stefani says of her solo album, “this was not fun and easy, it turned into a really hard, ego-busting experience.” Mainstream publications, such as USA Today in 2000, demonstrate that she

has knowledge of the music business. “In the past year we were the only female fronted band on [popular Los Angeles radio station] KROQ.” She tells Nick Duerden of the Independent, “I understand how the game works,” (2005). The Los Angeles Times, in a cover story on Stefani in their Calendar section, includes a picture of members of No Doubt accepting their Grammy Awards. Another picture is from No Doubt’s very early days, demonstrating how long the band has been together, with the caption, “No Doubt, the alternative rock band she has fronted for 17years…” All this leaves the impression that she has worked a long time for her success, and the Grammy her is reward. The Los Angeles Times quotes, “I was 26 before I got on the radio. I think it was great coming to success gradually.” The publication continues, “She personifies the DIY [Do It Yourself] credo of the punk rock scene that spawned No Doubt, but she substituted a traditional American work ethic of enthusiastic hard work and fair play for old-school punk’s ‘no future’ attitude…she carries a paid-my-dues resume” (Lewis, 2004, brackets added). Star/Icon As soon as Stefani hit the cultural radar in 1996 the press dubbed her a “star” or an “icon.” In 1996, the Hollywood Reporter wrote, “’Just a Girl?’ Don’t you believe it. Gwen Stefani is a star,” Billboard magazine (2004) called her “a pop culture icon,” Details dubbed her “the leading white female pop icon of our time” (Dumenco, 2006), London’s Independent labeled her “a global pop superstar,” Duerden, 2005), and the San Diego Tribune called her a “certifiable pop-culture phenomenon” (Varga, 2005). Additionally, almost all the No Doubt interviews and articles, from Rolling Stone to The Boston Globe, focus primarily on Stefani, excluding other members of the band. (The band itself addressed this in the video for “Don’t Speak.”) A 1997 article in The Buffalo News, features an interview with the bassist, Tony Kanal, with the headline, “The Ex-

Files; Gwen Stefani’s former boyfriend – and No Doubt’s Bassist – talks about: Love, loss and making music after the break up.” Kanal gave the interview, and yet his name doesn’t even merit a mention in the headline. As Alona Wartofsky of The Washington Post stated in 1997, “both the media and the band’s audiences are fascinated with Stefani.” So, if we were not fascinated with her before, or have no idea who she is, the media are telling us that she is someone we should know. To feed the press machine, her label, Interscope Records, calls her a star or an icon, perhaps knowing that the press will likely take their lead. In Vogue magazine (and other magazines reported variations) Interscope Records chairman Jimmy Iovine said, “You are truly great when you can move that culture meter, when you can make the needle jump. [Gwen] is that kind of artist.” Jurben Grebner, VP of Marketing for Interscope Records International, is blatant in his assessment of Stefani and her new solo album, “We will position her as the next pop icon” (Paoletta, 2004). Critics It would be interesting to know what journalists are truly thinking when they dutifully quote assessments like Grebner’s above, although most critics and journalists appear to genuinely like Stefani. Especially in reviews for her new solo album, critiques that begin with a negative tone, end up praising her. For example, Judy Rosen in online magazine Slate calls Stefani’s media blitz for her solo album a “rebranding campaign” and finds the album “gleefully overcooked,” and yet goes on to say that while the album “is a mess – for the most part [it is] a delightful mess.” The article wraps up by comparing her favorably to other female pop stars, “Stefani may never capture the zeitgeist of Madonna, nor sing like Beyonce, nor move a line of track suits like J. Lo, but she’d trounce them all in a poetry slam,” thereby giving only Stefani credibility as an

artist. A writer for the Toronto Sun described Stefani’s solo concert, “Stefani commanded the audience from the opening note, even if the hour-and-20-minute performance was definitely of the lightweight variety” (Stevenson, 2005). Los Angeles Times writer Randy Lewis excused her solo effort, saying: Having established her credibility not only as a singer in a maledominated genre, but also as a song writer and full creative partner…she’s reached the point where it’s safe to indulge herself and embrace her inner girly-girl, the one who likes to play dressup. (2005) But perhaps writer Greg Stacy of OC Weekly summed it up best: “She is simultaneously one of the best and worst things to happen in modern pop music… we kinda hate Stefani even as we breathlessly await her next move” (2005). RQ1d: What aspects of Stefani to the media not cover? There are a few elements that the press tends to ignore. With the exceptions of album reviews and music magazines (Rolling Stone, Billboard) Stefani’s ability as a singer/songwriter are rarely mentioned. Instead, her style, body, success, and lifestyle perks are emphasized. Perhaps a nitpicking detail, but her clothing line LAMB, is very expensive. Ranging from $185 for a blouse to $295 for a pair of pants (www.l-a-m-b.com) this is hardly fashion designed for teenagers, who could never afford it. The press never mentions the cost, but in an interview for Glamour magazine in 2005, Stefani does admit that her LAMB line is too expensive for teenagers. She then went on to announce a more affordable, limited-time-only clothing line called “Harajuku Girls, ” (also the name of her tour, a perfect example of marketing cross promotion.) However, she refutes this earlier

admission in an August 13 2005 interview for the UK paper The Independent, saying that she doesn’t think that $250 for a pair of pants is expensive. (Stefani says a lot of odd, seemingly out of character things in this interview. She claims “magic” gave her the ability to write songs, she “snaps” at the interviewer at one point when he asks her a question about having children, and dares the interviewer to bring up the latest news about Gavin Rossdale’s daughter. This is the same interview where she says she always felt famous.) While there was a lot of media attention on Stefani and Kanal’s relationship (probably because it was a good way of promoting the single “Don’t Speak”) Stefani and Rossdale’s relationship is rarely under the same scrutiny. The couple is often photographed together, and there was a brief flurry of press over Rossdale’s recently discovered “love child” with a former girlfriend, but for the most part, Stefani’s relationship with her husband is left alone unless Stefani brings it up herself. The occasional exceptions are with magazines geared towards women, such as Jane, which titled a 2002 Stefani cover story: “Gwen Loves Gavin” and a Vogue cover story “Stefani on Glamour, Gavin, and Going Solo” (2004). Of course a major exception occurred when Stefani announced her pregnancy and later gave birth. Media outlets then gave Rossdale his due as the father. Stefani’s interest in racial equality comes out in the lyrics “Long Way To Go” (on Love, Angel, Music, Baby) but does not come ou tin interviews. The lyrics for the song are much deeper than pervious songs written by Stefani: His skin wasn’t the same color as mine but he was fine… Up until the time we went out on a date, I was fine… Now I’m getting dirty looks…

We’ve got a long way to go… Beauty is beauty whether it’s black or white…

Perhaps this song is written about Tony Kanal, who is Indian; perhaps Stefani was inspired by the African-American music scene that is currently popular. Either way, Stefani and racial equality are frequently intertwined and yet something the press rarely addresses. There is one high-profile exception. In the January/February 2005 issue of Details magazine, the writer Simon DuMenco points out that “Gwen has made a career of suggesting at every turn that she’s totally black.” And tongue planted firmly in cheek he continues, “Gwen is all gangsta and shit, yo! That blonde hair and milky-white skin? Technicalities – totally irrelevant!” The writer finished with a quote from author and cultural commentator Scott Poulson-Bryant about Stefani and (white) Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie: It’s the white girl’s way of what I call ‘blacking up’…these women get to be sexy and vixenish in a way that it’s still not completely okay for white girls to be…The funny thing is that as Gwen and Fergie black up, the Beyonces and Mariahs of the world are not windswept blondes…it just goes to show that so much of what we think of as ‘race’ is just some social construction – race as fashion statement. (p. 79).

Both Stefani’s lyrics and this interesting cultural commentary have gone virtually ignored by most media. Perhaps this is an example of color-blind reporting, or because

many of the top stars and producers today are African-American, or simply because as of this writing, the song “Long Way To Go” is not a hit single. Or, perhaps it is ignored because it doesn’t fall into Stefani’s girl-next-door gone glamorous “story.” Stefani doesn’t present herself as someone seriously concerned with racism or world affairs. She is our neighbor or friend who had her heart broken, and got revenge by writing a hit break-up song and becoming famous.

Chapter 5 RQ2: What do fans think of her? The final part of this study focuses on Reception Studies theory; how Stefani’s fans feel about her. The media continue to depict fans as, “nerdy, obsessive social misfits,” (Cech & Beatty, 2004, p. 3) who are passive and controlled. Several articles made fans sound like robots mindlessly mimicking Stefani. But in person, talking to fans one-on-one, I found the opposite to be true. Fans formed their opinions from Stefani’s self-presentation, combined with the media’s perspective, and then used their personal experiences and knowledge as a filter. This audience does seem aware that there is a dominant and an oppositional message in “Gwen Stefani” (or any celebrity). What has fans perplexed is that Stefani has seemingly changed her dominant message, and this has caused fans to change the way they feel about her. Fans view her in two very specific, very separate ways: “old Gwen” and “new Gwen,” which equates to outsider and insider respectively. “Old Gwen” represented the outsider, the everygirl, the tomboy, and the girl that fans could trust. Fans understood that as the dominant message, and took Stefani at face value. But “new Gwen” gives

conflicting messages. Although she says she is still that everygirl outsider, her actions actually seem to be saying something else. Now she is wealthy and successful, married, with a fashion line and a budding movie career. She has gotten very skinny, wears couture clothing and hobnobs with the famous. Given all this, some fans have taken an oppositional view of Stefani, calling her a sell-out who sees fans only as consumers. Others have taken a negotiated approach, acknowledging that she has changed but accepting it as Stefani growing up, or as having reached a level of success where marketing is a necessary evil. The change in Stefani was the primary topic among interviewees. All other aspects of Stefani were discussed within these parameters. However, despite their concerns, fans (even “former fans”) were similar to critics in that despite any initial reservations, they like Stefani – both “old” and “new” versions. Everyone I interviewed believed that Stefani was a good person who deserves her success because she’s worked hard and “paid her dues.” First, I will discuss the four primary themes that emerged in interviews: Old Gwen/New Gwen, Personality and Style, Sell out, and Music. Then I address the audience’s responses to my results of research question #1. Old Gwen/New Gwen Almost everyone brought this old/new Gwen idea up themselves, but if they didn’t, they knew what these nicknames meant when I used them. Most fans believed that this turning point of old to new came with the 2002 release of the Rock Steady album. “That’s when she started wearing heels,” said Josh, a 26-year-old aspiring writer, “and she couldn’t really balance in them as well, so she moved differently.” He then mimicked the way Stefani teeters in her high heels. 23-year old Emily, a media student, was more

specific, believing the turning point came with the second video off the Rock Steady album, for the song “Hella Good.” “That’s when she started going all glamour.” Most fans preferred old Gwen to new. Gwen in her early days is considered iconoclastic – her tomboyish ways, everygirl attitude and roots in punk and ska were very different from the then popular grunge movement, and later “boy bands.” Fans loved “old Gwen” because they saw her as “one of us.” The modern Stefani (“new Gwen”), who the media classify as iconic, is someone her fans can’t relate to; they see her as a product of marketing. They resent her being modeled – or modeling herself – after other icons, such as Britney Spears. While textual analysis reveals that she is modeled after Madonna, fans didn’t think so. Some fans grudgingly accepted the “new Gwen” incarnation, passing it off as art, or as growing up. “I look at Gwen the way a parent looks at a troubled teenager,” said Josh. “I hope that this is a phase and she’ll grow out of it.” Personality and Style Both Gwens are perceived as approachable, although “old Gwen” was overwhelmingly more so. “She has energy, spunk, she’s humble and down to Earth,” said 28-year-old Maya, an executive assistant. “I like her because she goes beyond being good looking,” said 34-year-old Matthew, a systems analyst. “She seems to be someone you’d want to know and hang out with.” Fans viewed her as someone with style and substance whose empowering message is “just be who you are.” “I love that she’s a dork,” said Jennifer, a software trainer. “She’s crazy and herself and she doesn’t care if it’s trendy.” “She’s accessible...she’s your sister,” said 22-year-old Lily. “Or your whacky next door neighbor who comes out wearing a big funny hat.” A few fans noted Stefani’s tendency to insert different cultures into her style. (Something reminiscent of Madonna, although again, no one noted that.) Greg, a 24-year

old aspiring writer, was interested in her tendency to bring a new type of culture to the mainstream with each album. Tragic Kingdom introduced Indian culture with the Hindu bead on her forehead); Return of Saturn incorporated punk; Rock Steady featured Jamaican themes, and Love, Angel, Music, Baby includes Japanese culture in the form of the Harajuku Girls, named for the Japanese fashion district. Many fans assumed it was Stefani’s way of showing appreciation to her muse, which is how the star herself explains it. She may have been appropriating these cultures for her own purposes, although in various interviews Stefani has explained where the inspiration came for each style. (The Indian style was borrowed from Tony Kanal’s heritage; punk came from her roots in Anaheim, California; and the Jamaican influence came from No Doubt’s recording Tragic Kingdom in Jamaica. The Harajuku style, Stefani told The Independent, “came about because of a line in one of my songs [“What You Waiting For”] that went, ‘You Harajuku girls you got some wicked style!’ So of course I had to get myself some” [2005].) 26-year-old Nora was one of the few who noted Stefani’s tendency to duet with African-American singers (usually rap artists). “I like that she’s been open culturally and [I like] her interracial collaborations.” (Although it should be noted that rap and R&B, typically associated with African Americans, is currently the most popular genre of music among youth cultures.) Others who noticed Stefani’s tendency to try on cultures found it shallow and insulting. Kim, a 22-year-old media student, referred to the Harajuku Girls as Stefani’s “accessory.” Sell out Continuing the “old Gwen”/ “new Gwen” theme, enthusiasm fell off when fans viewed pictures of “new Gwen,” or when they discussed her music from 2005’s Love, Angel, Music, Baby. Many fans felt betrayed, that she was allowing herself to become

homogenized, and in so doing was losing the very fans that made her popular in the first place. “She sold out,” said Kim. “I liked it when she seemed to be doing her own thing.” “Original Gwen was authentic, strutted, she didn’t move like anyone else,” said Hutch, a 40-year-old father of two. “Now she’s a cookie cutter.” “I feel like she dropped fans and got new ones,” said Katie, 19, the youngest of the interviewees. “She’s a fraud,” said graphic designer Jack. 26-year-old film student Tina concurred, “She’s transformed into ‘I want to be sexy, more feminine, this sex symbol. ‘I’m going for the male response, and I really don’t appreciate that.” Indeed, fans’ biggest concern was that “new Gwen” is being marketed as an icon, causing her to lose touch not only with herself, but also with her original fan base. This concern is an example of an active, media-savvy audience. Ironically, when asked what Stefani should do next, about half answered that she should continue doing what she’s doing, since “she must be doing an awful lot right! I guess I would tell her not change a thing!” said Amy, a CPA. Others felt she should go back to her roots, not trusting the way Stefani was being marketed, or how she was allowing herself to be marketed. This lack of trust was expressed in disappointment to outright skepticism. “She’s rented herself out to the merchants of cool,” said Hutch. 29year-old Heather was definitive: She’s caving in to what ‘they’ want. She used to be in your face, ‘I’m not going to be who you say I have to be. I’m me.’ And now she’s doing what she’s told to be. Yeah, she’ll get in that glamorous make up and glamorous dress because they tell her to. She’s falling for it and she said she wouldn’t earlier. Their marketing savvy has fans questioning who Stefani really is and where her values are. “She’s dropping weight to show that the music is secondary now,” said 22-

year-old Nathan, who also believed that her being in the spotlight demonstrates “her need to be loved and adored. So she’s become a Britney Spears and all that.” Josh believed, “her new look makes it look like she’s trying, which is the definition of uncool.” Music Many fans believed that Gwen’s devotion to glamour has put her music in the backseat. Indeed, her music was brought up only after descriptions of her personality and style. Once her music was mentioned, most fans admitted that they were not fans of her latest effort – her solo album, Love, Angel, Music, Baby. Some even went so far as to say they hated it and the general feeling was that Stefani (a “pseudo-rapper,” according to 23year-old Patrick) really slipped on this album. “Her stuff is so vapid now,” said 24-yearold Elena. “I don’t even know what it means.” Amy believed, “her videos, and her, are so juvenile. I am not sure who she is trying to appeal to. Her lyrics are certainly not praise-worthy. ‘If I was a rich girl, nanananananana, then I would have all the money in the world’ [from “Rich Girl”]? Now, how deep are those lyrics?” Very few fans actually loved the new album. Among the few who did were Xavora, a 30-year-old food service worker, and Maya, a 29-year-old administrative assistant. Xavora mentioned her favorite songs, pointing out that her ring tone is “Hollaback Girl” (“I’m on a Hollaback kick right now, so whenever someone calls me I can hear it!”) Maya said it was fun to dance to: “It’s got an 80s hip hop feel to it” said Maya who proceeded to go through the entire album, explaining why she liked each song. Former fan Kim, who said she now hated Stefani, admitted, “She came out of left field with new music…so that’s sorta cool. That’s someone doing their own thing and being very successful at it.” Nathan, the most cynical interviewee, sheepishly admitted, “If you can have a group of guys – and guys only – singing [“Hollaback Girl”] , clearly there’s

something to the music. It’s catchy.” Some fans felt they could forgive her for this lapse, writing it off as simply trying something new. PR executive Patrick said, “It's catchy and I get that she’s trying to explore new avenues with her music. But it’s way too experimental for me to really like it.” The song “Hollaback Girl” was the one brought up most often. Many people asked me if I knew what a “Hollaback Girl” was. I explained that it was slang for “holler back” and Stefani has been quoted saying the song means that she won’t pay attention to people who criticize her; that she will be her own person (Iazucco, 2005). Although, as mentioned above, the lyrics are actually a bit harsher, it doesn’t matter, because no one understands the song anyway. (“Oh, I thought it was a bootie call thing,” said Nathan.) Interestingly, while most people claimed to hate the song - “It makes me want to tear my hair out!” said Amy - almost everyone mentioned it, and about half sang the lyrics out loud: “This shit is Bananas – B-A-N-A-N-A-S!” particularly the ones who professed to hate the song. Some, such as Nathan, admitted they found the song a guilty pleasure; Maya enthused, “I love singing to it in the car, and it cracks me up. It’s such an energetic song.” Others admitted they liked to dance to in clubs: “One of my friends has this ridiculous dance he does to it, “said 21-year-old Hayley, who just graduated from college. “We always say, ‘Ty, do the dance!’” (Although Matthew pointed out that, with it’s slow, irregular beat, it’s actually a hard song to dance to.)

Fans and the media: Marketing as a necessary evil Fans all brought up “being marketed to” and discussed Stefani’s “persona,” oftentimes wondering aloud if that’s the way she really is, “or if that’s how they’re

marketing her,” (Tina, Jack, Heather). Marketing was seen as a necessary evil, perhaps even a game. Indeed, some of these fans sounded so enthusiastic in their “understanding” of the game that they sounded like future marketing executives. Many dismissed marketing as something necessary in this culture. This idea came up most often when discussing Stefani’s recent weight loss. Elena said, “I watched her get thinner and thinner, and it’s sad, but [she’s] doing it to keep [her] job…ya gotta sell records.” “She’s really pretty and doesn’t need all that,” said Kim. “But Hollywood says you have to.” Another aspect that came up was the idea of marketing as a game. Procommerce Lily said, “We live in a capitalist society and I think people should do whatever they want to make money.” Greg brought up Stefani’s propensity to pair up with other performers: “It’s savvy because you get double your marketing for it. Because you’re not only tapping into your fans, but you’re tapping into Eve’s fans.” Without actually calling Stefani a media construct, there were several fans who expressed hesitation over whether the persona that we see is who Stefani really is. “She’s portrayed as this very independent woman. I don’t know if that’s really true or not,” said Jack. “I read in a magazine that she changed her image so she could get more movie roles,” said Kim. (I never read anything like that during my textual analysis.) Others wanted to believe that the Gwen they saw was genuine. Tina said, “I don’t know how manufactured she is…how much she’s doing now is her own or someone saying ‘this is going to sell records.’ [But] if she said ‘this is really me’ I’d believe it.” For the most part, fans lamented the fact that marketing had turned Stefani into someone they don’t like, or should be wary of at the very least. “I’m a little skeptical of a publicity photo,” said Elena. Despite being a huge fan, Lily said, “I mean, Gwen Stefani – you can’t not be skeptical.” Yet fans saw Stefani as having agency, simply because she

achieved this level of success. They believed in the media’s power to manipulate, although they saw themselves as immune. Overexposed? Since fans deemed marketing a necessary evil, and since they believed that others were affected by a media construct, this led to the question of whether Stefani was overexposed. Unanimously, the answer was no. Heather said, “I’m not seeing her on the cover of all the magazines.” Tina said, “She’s not shelling for diet Pepsi.” (Ironically, at the time that I was performing interviews, Stefani was in an advertisement for Pepsi’s iTunes promotion.) Some mentioned that they don’t find her to be overexposed since they liked her music. “I definitely think she is on the limelight a lot, but I wouldn’t say that she’s overexposed,” said Maya. “I guess the test for me would be to ask myself, ‘Am I annoyed by all the media attention?’ The answer to that is no.” Some fans compared her to other celebrities. Kim, one of Stefani’s disillusioned fans said: The attention she’s getting is for the work she’s doing, as opposed to someone else like Jennifer Lopez, who gets attention for being married five times. I think that her people are doing a good job. They’re getting her out there for the new CD. I think it’s fine.

Josh said he appreciated the lack of any controversy surrounding Stefani, “She doesn’t get in the tabloids, which is [good.] Because if she had troubles all the time, then that would really contribute to overexposure.

Fans Response to Textual Analysis Results

For the second part of the interview process, I brought up patterns that I had noticed in my textual analysis to see what the interviewees thought. The fans and I both noticed the Everygirl and Outsider/Insider aspects, but fans didn’t really didn’t know that many details about Stefani. They knew that “Don’t Speak” was about Tony Kanal, and that she was now married to Gavin Rossdale. Only two people could name the other members of No Doubt; very few knew the bands history, or where they were from, or Stefani’s own personal history. No one noticed the press infantilizing her; in fact, many had no idea what the press thought of her. Everygirl Her fans love the everygirl element. “I think people – especially women – can really relate to her songs,” said Maya. Overwhelmingly, fans gravitated to “old Gwen” as their everygirl. Fans loved pictures of Stefani from her early days, sighing with relief or breaking into big smiles. “Ahhh, that’s the Gwen I know and love,” said Jack. Emily, a 23-year-old media student, stated, “That’s how we were all [introduced to] her. Believing that she was one of us and someone we could trust.” Fans prefered Stefani paired down and simple. Hutch described “old Gwen” as “the girl in the hall that you notice because she’s pretty, but she could just as easily slip right by you.” Shown pictures of Stefani with no makeup and pictures of Stefani fully made up, almost all fans chose the lack of makeup. Fans’ media savvy was evident here as well. A number of people mentioned that the shot without make-up was “clearly a paparazzi picture.” Elena, one of the biggest fans of Stefani’s music, noted, “No [celebrity] should ever be photographed without their makeup. That’s just how it is.” Love & Family While heartbreak is a theme in many of Stefani’s interviews and songs, fans

claimed to have no interest in her love life. However, fans knew more about her love life than any other aspect of her (such as her history, or her music) and seemed to feel pretty strongly about the subject. Most agreed that they liked to see her happy with her husband, and most of the females sighed, “ahhh Gavin” at a picture of the handsome rocker. (Most men agreed with Jack, who said, “Where the hell has he been the last few years? Not making music.”) And nearly everyone knew that the hit song “Don’t Speak” was about her breakup with Kanal. Indeed, any interest in her love life was regarding her relationship with Kanal. Josh said that Kanal made the “single stupidest mistake a guy has ever made” by breaking up with Stefani, and Lily speculated that Kanal was more interesting because he had broken up with Stefani. “He knows something about her that we don’t.” Some fans were concerned that she had gotten married. “I was bummed when she married Gavin…because next is a kid and then we’ll never see her again,” said Josh. I found it amusing that after a lengthy discussion on Stefani’s love life, many fans (especially the males) finished with some version of “I’m so glad we don’t we have to read about it all the time,” or “but I really don’t know that much about it.” Empowerment/Role model Ironically, Stefani claims to feel more powerful now and less when she was younger, but her fans see her in the opposite way. They view “old Gwen” as representing empowerment and “new Gwen” as a passive puppet being used by her “people.” Elena even suspected that she doesn’t even design the LAMB clothes. “It doesn’t look like anything she would wear.” Josh dismisses her movie role, “did anyone go see it because it because she was in it? I don’t think so.” Amy, a computer programmer, dismissed her entirely: “What does she stand for?” Still others said that they did see her as embracing empowerment. And many saw

her as a good role model, although not necessarily for her message of empowerment. Frequently it was for what she wasn’t – “She isn’t doing drugs and in the tabloids like Lindsay Lohan,” said Emily. Others, such as 23-year-old Kim, thought she was a role model because “she did her own thing and was successful at it” (italics mine). For those who didn’t see her as a role model, it was largely because she’d become too homogenized. “She’s [just] a rich, good-looking singer,” said Elena. Again, this is an example of the third person effect, in that the impression was that she was a good role model for others, because other people needed that kind of role model. Amazement/Appreciation Stefani’s amazement and appreciation at her success were initially viewed by interviewees with skepticism, as “a marketing tool.” Yet when asked if she deserves her fame, everyone answered yes. The unanimous response was that she has worked hard and paid her dues. All agreed that she seemed open and giving with her fans, “despite her success,” and thus was justified in feeling amazed and appreciative, perhaps even to be commended for it. Again, the theme emerges that working hard and being successful is a good thing; but the assumption is that when one is successful he or she becomes selfcentered. Her charity contributions often go unnoticed by fans. Lily was the only one who commended Stefani’s contributions, while most of the others chastised her for not lending her celebrity to support causes There were interesting results to my inquiries about how the media presents Gwen Stefani. Almost no fans noticed the same things that I did. Maybe they don’t read about Stefani, or maybe they don’t believe what they read and prefer to supply their own judgments. Infantilize/Tough chick

Her fans and former fans don’t notice the press infantilizing her. Not one person mentioned her tendency to slip into Valley Girl mode, or to pepper her language with “dude” etc. Nathan surmised that she might not be very bright, but that didn’t seem to affect his interest in the star. The closest her fans came to seeing her as infantilized was that she allowed herself to be parented by her label and management. Most of her fans definitely agree that she is a tough chick. Certainly fans saw “old Gwen” as a tough chick, and some thought “new Gwen” was tough as well, just perhaps in a different way. “She seems more confident,” said Greg. Still others believed press reports that she was tough and decisive in what she wanted on her solo album. They chose to believe that Stefani would not allow herself to be controlled, but was instead branching out as an artist. But most of her fans miss that tomboy tough chick Gwen who was true to herself, and are unsure how they feel about “new Gwen.” Outsider vs. Pop Princess/Rock star/Glamour Queen The bottom line is that fans don’t really care what she is called or how she dresses. Their main focus is “old Gwen” vs. “new Gwen,” which added up to outsider vs. insider. “Old Gwen” is the outsider, and considered charming because of that, but “new Gwen” has obtained insider status, and is therefore suspect. Her insider status has instantly made her one of “them” and therefore not someone people can relate to, and certainly not someone to feel sorry for – most fans dismissed the idea that “new Gwen” may have insecurities. Although some fans could accept glamorous “new Gwen” in a photo shoot, most (especially males) didn’t like glamorous Gwen in “real life.” It is at this point that she was viewed as having crossed over from her outsider status to insider status, thus seemingly leaving her fans behind. But the glamorous look of “new Gwen” was not entirely dismissed. Women

tended to like the glamorous clothes, (“If I had money I’d go glamorous!” said Elena). Some males admitted to liking it, although most didn’t: “It’s like one of those ridiculous runway models,” said Josh. “And that strikes me as being sort of the opposite of why she was cool in the first place.” Others couldn’t care less. Xavora was very succinct: “She could wear a sheet for all I care. But as long as she’s got good music, she’s all right with me.” Hard worker or Media manipulator Some media called Stefani a hard worker, others a savvy media manipulator. As mentioned above, fans believe that she is a hard worker; whether she was a savvy, incontrol career woman was debatable. Most understood marketing as a necessary evil and approved of the savvy career woman as a positive feminist image. Others believed that she went mainstream in a calculated attempt to achieve longevity and iconic status. Elena: “I think she made a really profitable career move.” Nathan said, “Is she a good business person? Absolutely.” Star/Icon Her fans definitely see her as a star but few used the word “icon” to describe her. That word meant everything and nothing at all to interviewees. When asked whether she was an icon, responses were mixed, and always involved the fan’s personal definition of what makes an icon. Some believed that an icon has to have longevity. “Not yet,” said Katie, a college freshman, “It takes time.” “I don’t think five years from now she’s gonna be around. I don’t think people are going to say, ‘that Gwen Stefani, she changed music,’” said aspiring TV producer Heather. “I’m not sure she represents anything at this point,” said Claude, a 30-year-old freelance writer. Many believed that the media played a role in whether she was an icon or not. “They don’t make her an icon,” said 20-

something aspiring journalist Nina, “they make her a brother or sister.” “I think it has to do with her not being able to capture the media’s eyes the way that she should,” said Elena. “The media tells us that these are icons to be looking at,” said Lily. “I have a big gripe with the media [about that.]” Others believed that it is the audience and genre that elevates a star to icon status. “I think it depends on who you ask,” said 23-year-old Emily. “People in their 20s they would say yes. Musically, I don’t think so. I think she just made a big splash. Movies, well...we can’t call her an icon yet.” Still others believed that an icon must affect people. “I reserve icon for people who have really affected a number of people,” said Tina. “Or who have been really important over time.” In sum, most would not describe her as an icon (yet). For those who did, it was because she is famous for many things/genres and represents different things to different people. “She’s that girl who dresses cool, she embodies the last of the good music, and she brings a catchy vibe to the radio” said PR executive Patrick. “She definitely is [an icon],” said Josh. “She doesn’t have to be making music and be a celebrity to be interesting. I think people will pay attention whether or not she has an album. She’s gone past that point of celebrity. [Now] she’s just ‘Gwen Stefani’ and that’s like, [her] job.” Musical talent For the most part, interviewees liked the music she made with No Doubt. But of those who didn’t, such as Heather or Amy, they still felt that she deserved her fame because she worked hard. Stefani’s actual musical talent (or lack thereof) wasn’t fans’ top priority. Many believed that she had talent, whether it was as a singer, songwriter, or performer. However, as mentioned above, Stefani’s talent was usually the second or third item mentioned when discussing why they liked her. Interviews began with the fan

discussing Stefani’s style, personality, or influence. Her talent (or lack thereof) clearly wasn’t a top priority. When her singing talent was discussed it was usually in the form of her having an unusual voice; only Lily mentioned that she had a beautiful voice, while most acknowledged that she didn’t have a technically talented one. “She’s no Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston,” admitted Nathan. Many praised her style as a form of artistry and talent. Still others praised her ability to have gotten this far as a talent in itself; believing that the true measure of success was visibility. Still, her talent did come up at some point. But there were other subjects that were never brought up until I asked. RQ 2a: Are there aspects of Stefani that fans don’t like, or ignore? Looks Stefani’s beauty was never something that came up immediately. Even when studying pictures it was her style that came up most often, until fans were presented with a picture of Stefani with no makeup. “Oh so that’s what Gwen Stefani really looks like,” joked Elena. Most preferred her with no make-up, because “she looks like a real person” said Hutch. “She’s much prettier without make up. She’s a real girly-girl,” said Kim. “Oh! She’s beautiful!” Lily said. When Stefani was fully made-up females described her in simple terms, such as “a pretty girl,” whereas males described her as “gorgeous,” and “hot.” Nathan even went so far as to create subsections of hotness: “daytime hot,” “nighttime hot” and “wake up next to at 6am hot.” Josh was more introspective, feeling that Stefani didn’t need to rely on makeup. In fact, the two different pictures of Stefani (one with makeup and one without) didn’t strike him as that different. “Sometimes you see celebrities without their makeup and you think ‘ugh is that the same person?’ ya know?...[but] she is a good-looking woman [with or without makeup.]”

Another aspect of Stefani’s looks that came up only once fans looked at pictures, was that “new Gwen” was too skinny. Both males and females found new Gwen too thin, which in turn reflected their belief that she sold out. “She looks like everyone else does,” said Kim. “Now she’s very Hollywood, stick thin, and doing that kind of thing. I thought she was better than that.” “The more she worried about her image, the less attractive she became,” said Josh. Age One very interesting finding was that, when asked, most everyone guessed that 36-year old Stefani was in her mid 20s. Yet clearly there was no possible way that she could be since she was in her mid-20s when she entered the mainstream ten years ago, a fact everyone knew. This could be a reflection of Stefani’s youthful energy, a refusal to see a cultural icon grow up, or simply because the bulk of the people I interviewed were themselves in their mid-20s. When I informed them that she was 36, the unanimous answer was along the lines of, “Wow. Good for her.” Many went on to say how happy they were that someone “her age” could still be relevant in the scene, “since we live in an era where youth is so important,” said Lily. Others (only males) wanted to go so far as to change their answers! When asked why, Patrick said, “She has lost some of that youthful energy.” Jack insisted, “She needs to start settling down!” Feminist An aspect of Stefani fans didn’t bring up, that is rarely mentioned in the press, and is never brought up by the entertainer herself, is the issue of feminism. The question of whether Stefani was a feminist gave some interviewees pause. About half believed that she was a feminist because “she continues to do her own thing, [and] I think that’s what feminism is all about,” said Kim. “She is a woman that has a great successful career,”

said Amy, the most avid Stefani-hater. “She writes and sings her own songs and seems to live the way she wants to. I would say that’s feminist enough.” Others were undecided. “I’m on the fence,” said Emily. “She had some strong messages but now that’s cooled down.” “I guess that’s what angers me,” said Heather. “She used to be [a feminist], and now she’s being what she’s told to be.” Others strongly believed that she was not a feminist. “The way she objectifies herself,” said Tina, “I wouldn’t say she’s antifeminist, but I don’t think she’s really forwarding anything [because] she’s playing to the male audience.” Interestingly, Xavora, the biggest fan of Stefani’s music that I interviewed, was quick to say, “No, I don’t think so,” dismissing the notion entirely with the attitude that it was irrelevant. The feminist question brought up many ideas of what the definition of feminism really is. “I don’t think any of her messages in her songs is female empowerment at the cost of male control. I think some of the stuff that she used to do was the opposite…but at the same time, she just happens to be a modern woman who actively chooses to say ‘I want a family,’” said Josh. “I would define it as equality between men and woman,” said Nate, adding, “I think a lot of people think feminism is a dirty word.” In sum, if studying a cultural icon is studying the values, ideals and needs of a society, Stefani fans reflect that we live in a society that values success, genuineness and hard work. Audiences may accept that marketing has its own agenda and serves a purpose, but will not passively allow an entertainer to be shoved down their throats. As soon as audiences feel that they’ve changed from fans to consumers, they may retaliate. This is manifested either by poking fun at her, (“how deep are those lyrics?”) or saying outright that they were disappointed in her. Perhaps we expect our celebrities to be “better than that” – to use their celebrity power for good. To express their

disappointment, fans may retaliate by not consuming – by not buying the album, or by not reading about a star. In so doing, Audiences will probably not blame marketing, sine they see it as a necessary evil. The loser will always be the celebrity; she may disappear from pop culture altogether.

Chapter 6: Discussion

While writing this thesis, I was often asked, “Who is the real Gwen Stefani?” The short answer to that question is I don’t know. She’s a real person whom I have never met, so I can’t pretend to know what she is really like. But that wasn’t the purpose of this case study, which was to examine her as a cultural artifact and to dissect the messages that she sends and how they are received. How much of the “Gwen Stefani” that we see is really who Gwen Stefani is, and how much is a marketing construct? What does it mean to be a celebrity in this culture? Stefani paints a picture of herself as an ordinary girl who remains true to her art, while at the same time understanding the reality that music is a business and she has a role to play. Whether she is an artist or a media manipulator is up for debate. The truth is that there is no “right” answer. In studying an icon using a cultural studies lens, a human being becomes a cultural artifact, which itself is an interesting commentary on our society. In reaching an iconic status, a human is no longer merely human, but a societal product. A worthless product if there is no one to value it, and this is why studying an icon via the current political economy and reception studies is important. Icons cannot exist within a vacuum. Icons need a society to place them on that pedestal, and they need a way to reach that society. Cintra Wilson is perhaps correct in saying that art is only a necessary part of the equation to becoming famous. Stefani has succeeded in many artistic ventures: music, acting, fashion, and that’s really all that has made her famous. She is not active in

politics, or active in a scandal, she is rarely in the tabloids. Now, what Stefani has done “wrong” is to have a strong personality, lose weight, where couture, and then cross over to the other side- becoming one of “them.” In becoming successful, she lost her outsider status and became part of the insider establishment. This change was reflected in the media, which also seemed to adore her. By becoming part of the establishment, Stefani appears to be selling out, trying too hard, “which is the definition of uncool,” as Josh said. But Stefani can perhaps be explained by two quotes: former fan Heather’s, “She’s falling for it and she said she wouldn’t earlier,” and OC Weekly writer Greg Stacy’s “We kind of hate Stefani even as we breathlessly await her next move.” There seems to be a prejudice against charismatic people in this culture. They give the impression that things happen easily for them, and “regular” people resent that. But a charismatic celebrity is a dream subject for the press – usually providing many facets, soundbites, and fun pictures. But a press focusing on Stefani’s insider status isn’t doing the star any favors. The press decided as early as 1996 that Gwen Stefani was an icon. Why? How? An interesting future study would be to shadow a manager, label executive, or publicist for an emerging pop star and see how this is accomplished. How is she a cultural icon? At first glance, she is tough to miss. Striking, with platinum blonde hair, bright red lipstick, and off- beat style, the Phoenix New Times aptly described her as “a human energy drink” (Haddon, 2005). Indeed, her beauty is overshadowed by her flair for the dramatic, which was perhaps Stefani’s intention. (“I got cooler when I went blonde, didn’t I?” she told Vogue’s Jonathan Van Meter.) She is multifaceted, almost a contradiction, and people seem to find that interesting. By bringing the mutually exclusive together – glamour and punk, tomboy and girly-girl, everygirl and rock star,

insecurity and empowerment - she comes across as a real person, a buddy, and the “girl next door.” Yet of course, clearly she is not. But it is this very mix of ordinary and extraordinary combined with that indefinable “it” factor – charisma – that makes her interesting and watchable. She is a mother, fashion designer, and successful musician. She admits to faults and insecurities; feeling that real people – especially women – have. In being outwardly strong and successful and yet still plagued by self-doubt, she provides young girls and women with hope that they too can achieve success. Perhaps this is ironic, but it seems to actually empower women. Capitalism plays a role in that the press and Stefani’s label (via the press) tell us that she is a star, an icon, and clearly someone to pay attention to. The fact that Stefani has “people” is an example of the industrializing stage of celebrity, when specialists become involved to help mold the celebrity and eventually profit from this investment (Rein et al, 1987, p. 34-44). The industrializing stage is an important one in celebrity creation, especially in Stefani’s case. It could be argued that her celebrity was created by Interscope Records co-chairman Jimmy Iovine, who blatantly said he would make her a star. Once she’d turned the head of someone of Iovine’s caliber, the rest of the “specialists” followed in the form of agents, managers, and the all-important publicist. The media’s role is important, and not to be underestimated, but it is naïve to suggest that media create an icon. An icon cannot be created without an audience, and audiences are savvy; they won’t accept a star shoved down their throats. Instead, I suggest that audiences prefer to play a part in creating a celebrity – witness the popularity of American Idol and other vote-in television shows. Audiences felt invested in Gwen Stefani because they felt as though they knew her since the beginning of her career; this

explains the interviewees’ love of “old Gwen,” and their suspicion of “new Gwen.” The audience’s need to create and identify with an icon validates the theory that audiences are seeking someone with whom they can relate. Not quite as obvious is the theory that audiences need to feel that an icon is somehow more special than “regular” people. According to interviewees, an icon needs to represent something and achive something bigger than themselves. If an icon is a reflection of a society’s needs, desires, values, and behavior, Stefani as icon implies two things: an optimistic belief that celebrities should use their status to do good. On the other hand, on a more individual level in may imply that we too wish to be extraordinary and enigmatic while maintaining our sense of self. Perhaps we are looking for permission to break out of the roles we have created for ourselves in our lives and embrace our own contradictions. I also suggest the feeling of having played a role in creating an icon keeps audiences loyal and compliant. No amount of media push can create an icon if audiences have no interest in that person. It may not be an interest or sense of identification that is socially acceptable, but it must be there in some way. For example, it could be argued that Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie were created by the media, but I suggest that by watching them on their show The Simple Life, audiences felt as if they knew the two starlets. The same applies to Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen - if audiences had not watched them grow up on television, the fascination with the twins would not be what it is today. Stefani embodied a “character” that society recognized – the girl-next-door. She was sassy and charismatic, someone women would want to call a friend and men would want to date. The “Gwen Stefani” character lived a story we also knew well – “local girl makes good,” or “scrappy band makes it big.” We felt like we new her because we watched – perhaps even helped – her achieve fame. But now her story has fallen apart. Is

the girl-next-door staying true to her roots, or is she betraying them? Herein lies the “old Gwen”/”new Gwen” (outsider/insider) issue. I am not denying capitalism’s role in celebrity creation. An icon is undeniably a product, in that it must be created and distributed, just like any other commodity. Most people are likely to blame the media for the commoditization of celebrity, but the reality is that the media is only distributing the celebrity. Commoditization may not even be the correct word – it perhaps best described as branding, something created by both the celebrity and her behind-the-scenes “specialists,” as well as audiences who choose to purchase or not purchase the brand. The Gwen Stefani brand has changed and that raises questions, just like any other product. Is the new bran an improvement, or totally off the mark? Both a brand and an icon are created through interest, identification, and marketing; providing audiences something/someone they enjoy experiencing on a regular basis. Icons have become brands for the entertainment company to promote and the press to distribute; in doing so, icons are almost forced to live and become their own brand. To achieve optimal brand impact, it is important for the celebrity to have a distinctive look. While being beautiful is certainly helpful, it is a unique sexiness that draws people in. A signature style provides something tangible to promote, distribute, and imitate. A strong personality elevates the odds of being a role model (being a good role model is not mandatory), and having a strong personality increases the chances of being covered by the press. Next, being multifaceted provides fans with multiple possible interpretations, and the press with a variety of stories to tell. This combination of a unique sexiness, a strong personality, and being multifaceted creates the final element of being an icon: a dash of charisma and/or mystery. This is the indefinable “it” factor that opens the doors

to iconic status. However, it is important to acknowledge the reality of a political economy, where money is most important. The entertainment company is more likely to spend promotional dollars on a celebrity who brings in a lot of money, and the star “specialists” want a return on their investment. Being a moneymaker is important to reaching iconic status, and becomes less important once that pinnacle has been reached. In order to make money, stars need publicity and a talent. Lastly, as mentioned above, it is important that the press refers to the celebrity as a “star” or “icon,” or at least reports that the record label/movie studio says the celebrity a “star” or “icon.” Where does talent fit in? Seemingly, if the above tabulations are met, an icon doesn’t necessarily need talent. In Stefani’s case, audiences acknowledged a musical talent of some sort – whether it was for singing or songwriting – when she was with No Doubt. The talent factor is more of a question with the new album, which introduced the concept of having achieved visibility and success as being a talent in itself But clearly a good deal of people liked Love, Angel, Music, Baby, since it ended 2005 as the #8 album. The question of her talent, the quality of the new album, and her new direction all provided room for debate during my interviews. Her solo effort excited some discussion because it was seen as shallow, but perhaps the real sin was the fact that the album was a far cry from “typical” No Doubt material, as was Stefani’s image. Her change allegedly meant that she has sold out to a mainstream audience and become a puppet for her label and management team, catering to the masses. Her contradictions certainly had fans talking and disagreeing. Indeed, all the talk was probably what tipped her into iconic status. “Old Gwen” was embraced for this contradiction. Her openness, excitement, and appreciation for her success allowed the masses a peak into celebrity life. “New Gwen” doesn’t have it quite as easy. She seems undecided about whether she wants to embrace

her celebrity or apologize for it. This has led to a “you either love her or hate her” conundrum; perhaps a good thing in a culture becoming dominated by user-generated content, always looking for debatable subjects. Alienating parent and religious groups was de rigueur for Madonna’s heyday in the 1980s, but alienating one’s fanbase is the ultimate sin in the current consumer driven music culture. Madonna’s fans embraced each new incarnation; the millennial generation feels an artist must prove their integrity. Paradoxically, if Stefani had given her original fanbase what they claim to want, she may never have become the cultural icon that she is. She received the media’s full attention only with the promotion of her solo album. Arguably, she became a household name during the promotion of this album (and during the writing of this thesis.) Perhaps controversy is an integral part to being an icon. In his 1986 book The Frenzy of Renown, Leo Braudy writes that people what to be unique, and that’s why we want to be famous. Stefani is unique and yet also relatable. People want to be here and believe that perhaps they actually can. This is how she is different from Madonna before her, and also why Gwen Stefani will probably never be a legend. Legends, by their very nature, are not one of us.

What is Gwen Stefani’s message? In his 1992 Essay “The Cultural Economy of Fandom,” John Fiske stated that fans focus on popular culture because they are encouraged to identify and participate with the cultural product (p.14). Fiske is perhaps best known for his textual analysis of Madonna and her fans, which leads me to wonder if the concept of identifying and participating was something started by Madonna. Could “Gwen Stefani” have existed without Madonna before her? Madonna perhaps paved the way for female icons to

convey messages that fans took as their own. Although Stefani would probably be the first to deny having a message, there is no denying that she is putting one out there. Actually there are two messages that Stefani conveys/has conveyed. “Old Gwen” embodied the (perhaps unintentional) message: “Be yourself.” “New Gwen” embodies the (hopefully unintentional) message: “Be like everyone else.” To be fair, both old and new Gwen embraced the idea of being true to oneself, but the difference is that “old Gwen” seemed to truly live that idea, and “new Gwen” does not. Despite her protests that she was “just the sister,” “just the girlfriend,” “just a girl,” “old Gwen” lived “I’m me; take it or leave it.” We saw this in her tomboy style, flamboyant hair and makeup, and her masculine body language. She also said whatever she wanted. It may have been excuses and apologies, but she didn’t censor herself. Fans interpreted “be yourself” as the dominant message, and they loved her for it. They loved her music, loved her style, and hated Tony Kanal for breaking up with her. “New Gwen” is exactly the opposite. She may now be trying to convey “I’m me; take it or leave it,” but combined with her couture clothes, budding movie career and famous friends, fans see “new Gwen”s message as “Look at me; I’m famous.” She has become what Daniel Boorstin called a “human pseudo-event” (1964), and her original fanbase doesn’t relate to her. They feel betrayed and wonder what happened to the Gwen they knew and loved. Although she pays lip service to the idea that she is insecure, and that making Love, Angel, Music, Baby was “ego busting torture,” no one chooses to believe that. Most interviewees didn’t like her solo album, but what really seemed to bother them was her going solo in the first place. In their point of view, if someone is going to

be an extremely famous insider, she better not forget the little people (i.e. her band and her fans) who helped her get there. The addition of the Harajuku girls to her posse didn’t help. She appeared to be trading in real people who cared about her, for hired accessories. The addition of high heels, and a punk Alice in Wonderland outfit (almost a costume) to promote her first single was largely derided as ridiculous, even desperate. The bottom line was people wanted their old Gwen. They fell in love with her for a reason. As mentioned previously, there is an interesting element of owning Stefani, as if she was part of the family, and “someone we can trust,” as Emily stated. This feeling of ownership may also explain the disbelief that she is 36 years old. Her aggregate fanbase of teens, tweens and 20-somethings surely find it impossible to believe that they can relate to someone who is approaching 40. If most had their way, she would be the hyper 25-year old ska-punk girl in her cut off tops and baggy pants, dancing around the stage. Fans want to see her as a very successful sister or potential girlfriend, not as an icon. They feel invested in her, want what’s best for her, and are quick to criticize her if she gets too full of herself. As Amy said, “it’d be nice if she came down to earth a bit.” Many interviewees preferred to use Stefani as an example of what not to do. John Fiske (1989) believed that society either validate a commodity through consumerism, reject it, or repurpose it. Since almost none of the interviewees owned Love, Angel, Music, Baby, or any of Stefani’s LAMB creations, their interest in Stefani was coming from somewhere other than consumerism. I believe it came from two places: first, they related to “old Gwen,” and second, they enjoyed talking about both the old and new incarnations, even if it was just to comment on how much she had changed. Talking about her presented an opportunity to express their opinions on why she had changed; thus providing a forum for fans to discuss society and popular culture. By expressing

their opinions about a huge celebrity, people bring the star to their own level. Doing so elevates the person who is doing the speaking.

Is she a role model? Although Stefani in her early days never discussed or thought of herself as a role model for empowerment, “new Gwen” embraces it. Is it possible that Stefani didn’t feel empowered until she became successful? If so, where is she getting that empowerment from - her fans, or the press? Stefani says it’s the fans; her fans say it’s the press. Is it possible that fans don’t believe that someone who is successful would care about empowering others? As soon as Stefani became successful as a solo artist, fans thought she was in it only for the money and the fame. Overwhelmingly, fans said “old Gwen” was a role model because she was, as Hutch said, “true to herself, true to her origins.” But for the few who found “new Gwen” to be a role model, it was because she was successful at “doing her own thing.” So either way, Stefani is to be admired for doing her own thing. Attaining success is admirable, but remaining down to earth would be more so. I was fascinated by the idea that despite being “vapid,” Stefani is a good role model simply because there are so many bad ones with which to compare. (Most frequently cited were Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan.) Max Weber (1968), Alexander Walker (1970), and Richard Dyer (1991) believed that audiences latch onto celebrities that embody a sense of “otherness.” Certainly fans are intrigued by someone who appears to be “greater than” themselves, but a sense of worthiness is just as important. If a celebrity wants staying power, it may be just as important to embody traits worth emulating - he or she must be someone in which people can relate and look up to.

What do we want in a cultural icon? It would seem that we want someone with innate “coolness,” but who we also consider to be “one of us,” who is true to herself, and uses her celebrity for good. Someone worth emulating, who doesn’t complain about her icon status. In short, someone who embodies who we think we would be if we were famous. But it’s a slippery slope, because if the icon becomes successful but ignores the “little people,” she risks alienating her fanbase. Once respect has given way to envy, fans may roll their eyes and look elsewhere. Gwen Stefani is riding this slippery slope. At the beginning of her career she appeared to be just one of us, although perhaps just a little more special. In an era of grunge and boy bands, Gwen Stefani was hard to ignore. She was pretty with a quirky, tomboy style, yet she embraced her girlyness. Both men and women had reasons to like her. It was with the hit single “Don’t Speak” that arguably fans first began to identify with her, and feel like they knew her. She became ubiquitous in the media, but she appeared so “normal,” so “cool,” that fans didn’t seem to care that she was everywhere. Women liked her because she was a strong role model, as well as being “just a girl.” Men liked her because she was vibrant and sexy while also being the approachable “girl next door.” But as she grew more successful, she became someone in which it was hard to relate. If an icon is someone well known for his or her “well-knownness,” then “new Gwen” should be the icon. She is more famous, plus she has her hand in more artistic ventures than “old Gwen.” But given the choice, most fans picked “old Gwen” as the icon because she represented something, believing “new Gwen” to be a media

construction thrust upon audiences. Icons have to be more than just well-known. They have to embody that “extra something” so we can explain to ourselves why they are famous and we are not. According to Xavora, “[Celebrities] are just regular people who do what they do a little better than the rest of us.” In changing, and becoming more like Britney Spears, Stefani lost her uniqueness. In turn, fans saw her as wishy-washy (“what does she stand for?”), and thus not a leader or role model. Perhaps the difference, or reason for this discrepancy, is that Gwen is perhaps more aptly described as a “pop icon.” She is an icon of popular culture, not necessarily a world icon – a leader or role model. (The President of the United States would be a world icon, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are world icons due to their international fame both as movie stars and activists.) Stefani is still locked into “popular culture.” To make matters worse, Stefani seems to be enjoying the “icon” title. Nick Duerden of The Independent quotes her: ‘“Am I an icon?” she wonders, index finger making the O of her mouth into a Q. “Well, it’s possible I guess”’ (2005). Admitting she may be an icon is a good way to alienate her fanbase, and it will be interesting to see how she approaches new solo projects.

How does Gwen Stefani as an icon shape our view if the world? It may come down to one thing: us versus them. Us can mean “fans” with them being the innately cool celebrity. Or us is “the little people,” with them being either the celebrity as spoiled icon, or “the marketing people.” Us can be “the consumer” and them is “the corporation.” No matter how one defines the elements, there is the idea of us that is very separate from them. By becoming phenomenally successful, Gwen Stefani has made that cross from us territory to them. Again, this is a slippery slope that Gwen

Stefani (or any celebrity) rides; how to balance the needs for audiences to identify with you while also maintaining a unique otherness. But Stefani may prove to be successful at this balancing act, because she really hasn’t changed a great deal. She may have dropped the passivity, but she is still apologizing. She said about her solo effort, “I just wanted to make a stupid dance record” (Pareles, The New York Times, 2005). “I never expected people to pay attention and like it as much as they have” (Vaziri, San Francisco Chronicle, 2005). She may even have realized that she was crossing into dangerous “them” territory when she sheepishly told writer Jennifer Vineyard for MTVu.com (2006) “the fans were probably like, ‘why is she doing this record? She’s going to ruin everything.’ And I didn’t know why I was doing it either.” Apologizing for her ambition was something “old Gwen” would do; coming from “new Gwen” it sounds insincere. But clearly not everybody cares. Contrary to the speculation of several of those I interviewed, the numbers clearly refute the idea that she alienated her entire fanbase. With Love, Angel, Music, Baby finishing as the #8 album of 2005 (www.billboard.com) and the song “Hollaback Girl” making history as the #1 most (legally) downloaded song of all time, there are clearly millions of people who are still fans. Indeed, perhaps those I interviewed were still fans, but felt that they shouldn’t like “new Gwen” because she is so commercial (and thus, “uncool”). Were interviewees telling the truth when they said they didn’t like or own the new album, or were they ashamed to admit that they like commercial music? If they were telling the truth, then Stefani may indeed have alienated her original fanbase in an attempt to appeal to a younger generation. A plan that worked.

But whose plan was it?

Stefani is not the only one creating the “Gwen Stefani” message. Other people have a stake in the Gwen Stefani brand, namely her management team, her label, and the press, who all have a financial interest in creating a person and a message that sells. One way of doing that is to call her an “icon.” We live in a capitalist society. As such, an entertainment company is more likely to spend promotional dollars on a celebrity who brings in a lot of money. Being a moneymaker and an icon go hand in hand, and despite her coyness, Stefani appears aware of this (or became aware of this) like Madonna before her. Indeed, perhaps she learned from Madonna. What sets Stefani apart is that she admits that she needs the press. In a 2005 interview she says, “this is a game” and she has a part to play. She doesn’t shun the media, and she doesn’t completely take advantage of it like Madonna; she appears to matter-of-factly plays her role. Like her fans, Stefani sees - or pretends to see – the media as a necessary evil (which creates another us vs. them situation – artistry vs. commerce). In her book A Massive Swelling, Cintra Wilson writes that the only talent necessary to be famous is marketing savvy (2001). Marketing does play a huge role in celebrity branding. But an icon my be constructed with good “material.” In this sense, the celebrity as charismatic presence (and ideally, talent) is important. And a star cannot become an icon without media support. As John Ellis writes in Visible Fictions, a star becomes a star when they are recycled through other forms of media besides that which made them famous (1982). In a society obsessed with media and celebrities, we naturally look to the media for ideas on who is worth our attention. Stefani is good icon material because she is marketable. Since she is multifaceted,

she provides plenty of material on which to focus. Stefani’s strong personality is also publicity friendly. (Although she claims to be a passive person, her actions, style, and outgoing personality belie this.) A magazine can pick any number of aspects of Stefani to fit its market, because surely there is at least one element that a potential fan can identify with. Sometimes she is a “streetwise Cinderella,” sometimes a glamorous icon, other times a girl next door…each one is just one side of Stefani. Stefani’s style, tomboy girl-next-door vibe and “tough chick” mentality were the focus when she was younger. Her style is still marketable, but it has changed as she has become older and more successful. Her sex appeal, couture clothes, and fashion line as now marketing fodder, as is her role as an entrepreneur, wife, and mother. Whereas “old Gwen” was featured in teen and music magazines, now she is in fashion magazines as well. Plus, now that she has attained a certain level of fame, she is in the entertainment magazines and tabloids, too. Audiences have become savvy; they recognize marketing tools. Arguably, they have become almost too savvy – given the choice to accept, reject, or repurpose a cultural artifact, they seem more likely to reject or repurpose it. The popularity of consumergenerated content (Youtube, MySpace, personal websites and blogs, etc) may indicate that audiences have become almost become paranoid in their distrust, believing that the only answer is create our own content, and “encode” it with our own values. (The irony of course being that oftentimes this content is creates with the hope of “getting noticed.”) Arguably, Stefani’s fan base consists of two generations: Generation X, who were in their 20s when Stefani first hit the culture radar in 1996, and the Millennial Generation, (also known as Generation Y) who were teenagers and pre-teens when Tragic Kingdom was released, and are in their early 20s now. Generation Xers were the

first generation to be raised by the media. These are the “latch key kids” who were supposedly at home watching TV by themselves before their parents came home from work. The explosion of the media during this time created a rapt audience that eventually became savvier through experience. But the Millennial Generation grew up amongst television, computers, and the internet. They are a rapt audience to be sure, but they have a “bullshit detector” built in simply because they grew up with this advanced technology. Hence, not a lot can get by them (Holtz, 1995). Both generations grew up watching MTV, but it is Generation X that can remember a time before the music channel. This generation watched Madonna use MTV and the media to her own advantage; watched as she reinvented herself. This was a relatively new concept at the time, but Generation Xers eventually figured it out, and the Millennial Generation is quite familiar with it. That understanding, combined with both generations’ immersion in a consumer-driven culture consisting of the Internet, ipods, and DVRs, has created not only an active audience, but also a more media literate one. Media Literacy

Media literacy is the ability to interpret the symbols and meanings of the hundreds, even thousands of messages we get everyday through network television, cable, radios, newspapers, magazines, movies and advertising. Media literacy activists posit that media messages are deliberately constructed, and done so for a reason, using specific techniques. Who constructed the message of “Gwen Stefani”? Obviously one author is Stefani herself. But as a young, attractive, outspoken lead singer of a band, she was also a commodity. It was the job of her management and her label to sell the commodity “Gwen Stefani.” Who are they selling it to? Her fans, or potential fans, and to

the media, so they in turn can distribute this commodity to an audience. And audiences know this. Stuart Hall (1980) believed that different people experience the same media message differently; which is really what’s happened with Gwen Stefani. She is being encoded (and thus decoded) differently - two different “Gwen”s appealing to two different generations. Some believe that her dominant message is everything that “old Gwen” embraced – a tomboy with spunk and style, who could hang with the guys and remain true to herself. When Stefani evolved into “new Gwen” her message seemed to change – now she was embracing wealth, fame, high fashion, and sex appeal. She confused her audience – who was the real Gwen? Her younger fans of the Millennial Generation are more familiar with “new Gwen” and seem to be more accepting. This could also reflect a difference in the values that each generation grew up with. The value differences are evident through the disconnect between those whom I interviewed, who showed disappointment in her, and those who are buying her record, making it one of 2005 top selling albums. Some people see an artist, some see dollar signs, some see a strong feminine role model, and others see a sell-out. Ironically, she achieved cultural icon status based on what her (original) fanbase resent about her. But there are still many hints of the old Gwen. Whether she comes across as grounded or hypocritical, is another question. No matter what one calls it, it clearly works. She looks and dresses larger than life while espousing a traditional lifestyle. Despite her self-described “insane life” (Oprah, 2005), “she’s still [an] Everygirl” (Lewis, Los Angeles Times, 2005) according to the press, who “connects with her fans because she isn’t all that and she knows it” (Varga, San Diego Union-Tribune, 2005). Whether Stefani’s talent is for music or marketing savvy, ultimately it makes no

difference. We are probably more obsessed with the media culture than we are with individual celebrities, a notion worth further study. No one knew very many details about Stefani. No one knew her birth date or middle name. Very few knew where she was from, or who her brother was and what he had to do with the band. But everyone knew the Gwen Stefani “storyline” - they knew who “Don’t Speak” was about; indeed, Tony Kanal was the only band member that everyone knew. What does it say about an individual that they claim to “love” or “admire” or obsess over a celebrity, and yet know nothing about them? This study indicates that we don’t trust the successful, and we don’t trust homogeny. (Although just because fans don’t trust a star doesn’t mean they don’t secretly like them.) “[Gwen] looks like everyone else does,” said Kim. “Now she’s very Hollywood, stick thin, and doing that kind of thing. I thought she was better than that.” When I broadened the topic to include other celebrities, interviewees dove right in, happy to talk about other celebrities that they admired, and celebrity culture in general. Suddenly everyone was an expert. “We’re a culture that likes to take people like Gwen and mainstream them,” said Hutch. “The thing that kept Madonna in the media was that she was always surrounded by controversy,” said Elena. “It’s retarded that people are so obsessed with stars,” said Jen, before embarking on a twenty minute tangent involving the celebrity career moves (including a story about her meeting Gavin Rossdale). Fans seemed to want to be judged as smart, discerning, sophisticated, and true to their values. Perhaps that’s why they were so quick to criticize Stefani for selling out, and slow to allow her to change. Her solo phase is perhaps where Stefani has stumbled. Her couture clothing, her fashion line, her solo album, her marriage and child – her very success, has

led fans to envy her. When a celebrity gets to that point, there may be no place to go but down. “We’re not looking to see the glamour of celebrity,” said Nora. “We’re looking to see ourselves.” In this society, a celebrity’s “selling out” is a serious sin if he or she wants to be taken seriously. It is the commercialism surrounding Stefani that causes fans to pause. Once she became glamorous, she alienated fans because they could no longer relate to her as a fellow outsider. Her attempting to bring fans along on her celebrity journey backfired; fans didn’t seem to want to go with her. Fans grew suspicious, believing they were treated as consumers, and resented her success. “It’s like, don’t tell me what I should like,” said Nora. Suddenly, her very talent was questioned along with her value as a person. Perhaps fans want to feel as if they have discovered someone/something on their own, and not been victims of marketing.

Parting thoughts

In his 2000 book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell investigates how little changes in culture spread until they cross a threshold and “tip” into the mainstream. I think Gwen Stefani had two tipping points. The first was the video for “Don’t Speak.” This video epitomized how fans saw “old Gwen.” Part of the video was filmed in a small warehouse; she is wearing a demure blue dress, and sings pleadingly into a microphone as she walks around to each band member playing his instrument. Another part of the video demonstrates why she is so sad – Gwen has become the sole focus of the media, which makes the other band members unhappy. The rest of the video is devoted to No Doubt in concert, where we see a very different Gwen. This one is dressed in track pants

and a sports bra, sweating as she runs around the stage singing. So we are seeing three Gwen’s: Demure Gwen, Tough chick Gwen, and Media Darling Gwen. Combined with the story behind the song - that Gwen wrote it after bandmate Tony broke up with her – this was a point where Stefani tipped into the mainstream, and it was the crux of the “old Gwen” character and story. But she had a second tipping point: when she did her solo album. The costumes, the ridiculously catchy “Hollaback Girl,” and the tremendous media exposure tipped Stefani into iconic status. No longer do only Generation X and Y know her; now she is becoming a household name. But is having “tipped” always a good thing? The pop culture phrase “jumping the shark” (coined when Happy Days’ Fonzie literally jumped over a shark while waterskiing) is used to pinpoint exactly when a television show went from good to bad. This “terminology” can be used to describe celebrities as well. There comes a point in every big celebrity’s career when he or she must change course in order to remain relevant. Madonna innately understands this, which is why she reinvents herself so often. Sometimes the shark event is something catastrophic, such as Hugh Grant’s being caught with the prostitute Devine Brown; sometimes it’s something momentous, such as Halle Berry’s Oscar win. More recently, it can be seen in Tom Cruise’s having “jumped the couch” – a paraphrased version of “jumping the shark,” which means, “this person has gone totally crazy.” With her second tipping point, Gwen Stefani may have jumped the shark in the minds of some fans. This would explain the seemingly great divide between interviewees’ primarily negative response to “new Gwen” and the phenomenal album sales of Love, Angel, Music, Baby. There is an entire generation that did not know Stefani

at her first tipping point. To this generation, sexy, couture-wearing Stefani is the original Gwen Stefani, and that may help to explain why they like her. What does the current adoration of “new Gwen” say about the current crop of teen and tween girls? Especially combined with the current tabloid favorites like Paris Hilton, Mischa Barton, Lindsay Lohan and the Olsen twins? On first look, these young women offer little more than beauty, money, anorexic bodies, and complicated love lives. (This bares an awful close resemblance to “new Gwen.”) Should we be alarmed for the future generations of girls? If our future icons are the current wave of tabloid favorites, the last remnants of feminist ideals may disappear. In its place will be values placed on body type, net worth, boyfriends, and amount of press coverage they receive. Plus, society’s current obsession with reality stars underscores Neal Gabler’s thesis that people will do anything to become famous. The stars are the boy/girl next door who achieved fame, oftentimes for not doing very much. Have we become a lazy society looking for fame as the easy way out?

“I’m enjoying the ride. I know it’s not going to last forever. I see myself in a magazine and I think, ‘I really am that girl.’ I couldn’t imagine any other life.” - Gwen Stefani (Los Angeles Times, 2004)

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