Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Exploitation or Adaptation? The Harajuku Girls of Gwen Stefani

The release of Stefani's first solo album brought attention to her entourage of four Harajuku Girls. They were named for the area around the Harajuku Station of Tokyo, Japan, known as a popular shopping destination and fashion center for teenagers. They were featured in her music videos, press coverage and on the album cover for Love. Angel. Music. Baby., and have a song dedicated to them on the album. They were also featured in, and the namesake for, Stefani's successful Harajuku Lovers Tour 2005. However, Stefani's adoption of this Japanese culture component drew criticism from Mihi Ahn of Salon.com, who commented, "she's swallowed a subversive youth culture in Japan and barfed up another image of submissive giggling Asian women".[13]

According to the Jan/Feb 2006 edition of Blender magazine, stand-up comic Margaret Cho has labeled the Harajuku Girls as a "minstrel show" that reinforces ethnic stereotypes of Asian women. The Harajuku Girls have since continued to appear alongside Stefani within the media, and are featured in the music video for "Wind It Up" (2006).


The fight continues
It's been a while since I've updated this blog, and I guess I secretly hoped that maybe Gwen would tire of this whole harajuku thing and the G4 would have faded away into history as a weird cultural footnote.Silly me — it would seem that this debate is alive as ever (thanks for staying vigilant, angryasianman):


"Harajuku Girls," Margaret Cho's blog
"Margaret Cho's not laughing about Gwen's Harajuku Girls," Popwatch blog, Entertainment Weekly


Is Stefani adapting Japanese culture to fit into North American popular culture, or is she exploiting these girls for her own commercial gain? Is she showcasing this Japanese sub-culture or reinforcing ethnic stereotypes?


samburns said...

I think that what Stefani is doing with the Harajuku Girls is good for North Ameria. She is bringing more culture and helping all of us to learn and understand about other cultures. Before Gwen starting singing and using the Harajuku Girls I had never heard about them, and I'm sure most other people hadn't either.

Mr. A. Puley said...


You wrote that "She is bringing more culture and helping all of us to learn and understand about other cultures." She can only help us learn about other cultures if she is actually presenting the truth about the culture represented. The question remains...are these "real"harajuku girls and do they represent harajuku culture. Is she not still exploiting the culture for economic gain? Use the media triangle and analyze deeper.

Anonymous said...

After reading all the opinions in class from people of asian decent, i have a problem with the one that stated something about how Stephani is bringing asian culture to North America and showing it in the wrong way, like she produced a Azian Culture for Dummies book or somthing. All she did was take a SMALL part of the asian culture, and expressed her love for it. So what? So, maybe she changed it around a little, and maybe people are getting the wrong idea of a harajuku girl, but not to a terrible extent. I highly doubt people are going to think ALL harajuku girls dont speak, the only thing i thought when i first saw them was "wow, sweet clothes" and when I see a picture of a 'real' harajuku girl, i think the exact same thing. I thought this is what we were supposed to be doing? Wasnt the promotion of other culture awarsness deemed important? It's ridiculous how everytime a celeb. does somthing, it turned into this huge media scandal.

As for the "real" harajuku girls comment about how Gwen is protraying the wrong image of the Harajuku girl, go on google, and type in "harajuku", and you'll find so many pictures of different Harajuku styles. So, she happends to have inspiration from a few of these styles, that doesnt mean shes taken the whole Harajuku culture, and ripped it to shreds. One simple move, and she gets totally scrutinized for it. I guess we all need to stand up and start bitching out every culture that takes something like ENGLISH and actually makes fun of it.

And last but not least, the basphemy of her harajuku pose. These four girls signed a contract, knowing exactly what they were going to be doing, which prolly said somthing like this:

Dear American who looks asian,
Dress like i tell you, speak only when i tell you, and i'll pay you 482629837465393.33 dollars.

Pretty sure you all would sign that in a second.

vollie said...

from watching videos on youtube.com I saw that these girls are very happy to be Gwen Stefani's harajuku girls and love what they are doing. Baby, one of the harajuku girls even said she loves being able to spend the whole day with Gwen Stefani. Now although they are called the harajuku girls, none of them are, they are all dancers that Gwen Stefani somehow chose to represent her harajuku girls. Also the fact that these girls aren’t aloud to talk is rather messed up but Gwen Stefani has her reasons and these girls did sign a contract that outlined their job as a Harajuku Girl! So, overall people who are offended by this are complete retards because these girls are getting paid a ridiculously large amount of money, for dancing and following Gwen Stefani around. Besides their job is just like any other job there are laws and regulations. Therefore for all of you against Gwen Stefani’s harajuku girls, whether you are Asian, Caucasian etc.. get over it they are getting paid and they loved it why waste your time!

vollie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vollie said...

here are the harajuku girls interviews:






Mr. A. Puley said...

Now, you're getting it....

Remember, there is a *very* big difference between an *educated* opinion and a self-centred opinion that does not address the issues. Now you are starting to look into the world's of others......

You wrote,"After reading all the opinions in class from people of asian decent..." Be sure to provide specific quotations for the comments you are referring to. I posted the PowerPoint handout on Homework Hero, you can get them there.

You are perfectly correct to say "...the only thing i thought when i first saw them was 'wow, sweet clothes'" - since this is what Stefani is trying to sell and how she was influenced.

Elaborate on, "...the basphemy of her harajuku pose." - this is not clear.

You wrote, "...aren’t aloud to talk is rather messed up but Gwen Stefani **has her reasons** and these girls did sign a contract that outlined their job as a Harajuku Girl!" Be sure to outline what Stefani's reasons are - she stated one of them on the MuchMusic interview I showed you in class from 2004. Also, you have highlighted the "Harajuku Girls" and their feelings, now consider other Asians, like those whose comments we looked at in class...you cannot discount their feelings.

Oh, and be careful of using derogotory terms like "retard" - it just weakens your argument and makes you look highly judgemental.

Simi said...

I think Gwen is sort of trying to adapt Japanese culture by letting these girls join but I also think she is exploiting these girls for her own commercial gain because people are going to look at Gwen Stefani because she has the Harajuku girls with her every where she goes. I think it’s not fair that she doesn’t let them talk and the video clip we watched in class about her saying “the girls are my imagination so don’t talk to them” I thought that was a bit mean of her to say that. I know that they signed a contact and they get paid but not talking but it’s kind of ridiculous. I think Gwen doesn’t want them to talk because then all the Media attention is going to go the Harajuku girls named Love, Angel, Music, Baby and obviously Gwen doesn’t want all the Media attention going to the girls so I guess that’s why she doesn’t want them to talk. It’s like the Harajuku girls are her Barbie dolls and they are all together just to make Gwen look good. For some people who are Japanese do feel like their culture is being portrayed wrong and I can understand because if my culture was portrayed wrong I would be pretty upset too. There are not that many Asian people out there who are in the media and for other Asian people see the Harajuku girls in the media and representing their culture makes them feel proud and accept whatever is out in the media because they don’t want to criticize it and lose it. Margaret Cho’s said something like that too “I think it is totally acceptable to enjoy the Harajuku girls, because there are not that many other Asian people out there in the media really, so we have to take whatever we can get.”

Michelle said...

I personally dont think Gwen is doing anything wrong. She didnt force these girls to do what they're doing, nor does she forbid them to leave. 3 out of the 4 girls are already American, so its not like Gwen went to Asia, took them out of their lives, and brought them back here to follow her around. She asked these girls to represnt a differnt part of their culture and use it to benefit Gwen's career. All 4 girls read and signed a contract that they were are capable of reading and they signed it willingly. If they thought they were being treated badly , they could just leave, but they dont. They enjoy what they are doing and i mean who wouldnt. You get to go to all the award shows, become part of the hollywood starlight and all they have to do is follow Gwen around and not talk. Quite possibly a price some people might may for fame.

Mr. A. Puley said...


You are at the early stages of your consideration on this topic. You are only considering yourself, Stefani and the Harajuku Girls (even then not completely). Be sure to read the other posts and build upon them with your analysis. The ultimate issue is not so much the 4 girls as it is the larger Asian population as a whole. How do these girls represent Asian women and, by extension, what is Gwen Stafani's role in it?

Steve... said...

It seems to me that the attitudes of real Harajuku girls is against conformity. If this is true then I think that the entourage the fallows behind Stefani are not real Harajuku girls. Fallowing a media icon is definatly conforming. Although these are probably not real Harajuku girls I also believe that Gwen Stefani is not doing anything wrong. The girls that fallowe her knew what they were getting into and they signed the contract. I can also see how some of the true Harajuku girls can see this and get angry. It's not really racist but it is falsely portraying a groups attitudes and personalities, which can be seen as disrespectful. I'm really on the fence with this one. I don't think Stefani is trying to make people of the Harajuku lifestyle angry but I can see why they would be.

Kurisutaru Sweets said...

ok well even though i was not at school on friday i just read the article and watched the video on the harajuku girls, Gwen from what i've read is exposing these asian women she is making them worship her in the video i saw alot of control and truthfully i really don't agree with it, yes the harajuku girls are famous just like gwen but what i see is that these girls are being dragged along on the leash that gwen is holding. i understand that hey maybethey like it but i really doubt that they would, and further really you put asian women on a video with a singer who is hardly dressed and you have the asians wearing little tiny mini skirts like i guess in the music business fashion is key but really there exposing themselves to be made a whore like look at the amount of make up they are wearing that's just wayy too much it's disgusting my opinion is that gwen should just maybe give the girls a break i wouldn't want to be dressed up like a doll and known as a prisoner would you?
posted by Crystal

Anonymous said...

Im sort of sitting on the fence on this one. I feel Gwen just wants to either be apart of the Japanese culture maybe because she doesnt have any in her and she really loves it, Seeing her commercial for the hp computers she is walking around what looks to be Japan. But then I kinda feel that by pretending their not there, not letting them talk, shes not aprreciating them as the humans they are. She is treating them as if they are animals although there are no physical leashes.

Anonymous said...

I've thought about this a bit more, and even thought i don't want to contradic myself, there is another side to this story.

What I never thought of before is, if these Harajuku Girls are being paid alot of money, Stefani could not only be paying them not to speak, but be paying them to speak only the things she wants them to say.

If you're being paid alot of money, probably more than you've ever known, you're obviously going to do and say whever your boss asks of you. I highly doubt Stefani is giving these girls freedom of speech in the videos posted by Vollie.

So yeah, it LOOKS like they love working with her, but that cant be the whole story. I mean, come on, how can you believe every word that comes out of someones mouth, when they start off by saying "I was walking down the asle, the racks of CDs just turned into bushes. Then this maze appeared and the walls were made of bushes. Then I see this white rabbit run by, then Gwen Stefani's following it. started chasing her and she was chasing the white rabbit, this other Japanese girl was following her too. It was just in this dreamworld."

...No, doesnt sound scripted one bit...

Simi said...

Elizabeth Clark said “When on the red carpet with the foursome, Stefani is the center of attention: she doesn’t acknowledge the presence of her entourage. In most published photos, she looks directly into the cameras while they look off to the sides, their gazes never meeting our own.” This is a big problem this is not helping bring culture it’s like discriminating them. She's not tryin to bring multiculturalism into the society. You can tell she doesn’t want them to be center of attention. She only wants them to be there to help her be the most vivid person there. But dressing them up in mini skirts or whatever she makes them wear is pretty crazy! As i have said before they are like Barabie dolls to her.She's not trying to bring multiculturalism into the society.

Another comment made was by Brittany who said, “She is treating them as if they are animals although there are no physical leashes.” I totally agree with this comment because she is treated them like animals and not letting them talk and they wear tones of make-up and how they dress. The Harajuku girls may like it because they get paid but if they didn’t get paid I am pretty sure they wouldnt be where they are now.

Elvedin Sljivar said...

Stefani has issues in my opinion she is useing japanese culture in her own way and why dont the japanese girls say somthing? because without them you can't really be the "Harajuku Girls" . Stefani might have the right intentions but she is going the wrong way about it.I think that introducing diffrent cultures is a good thing though. Honestly iam bored of your average english music being rap or rock or w.e . It bores me now I am into multicultirism music i listen to Bosnian, japanese, korean, chinese anything almost i like hearing different things even if I don't understand it all because it's somthing new an interesting. If anyone would like to compare the Asian music to the normal sdtuff you listen to now you'll see what i mean by different . go to www.crunchyroll.com sign up it takes only 1 min just make a user name an password go to music an check it out.

Cassidy.. said...

I am very confused with this whole topic. I feel I do lean towards the side that Gwen is not doing anything wrong. They are famous, making money, and as in the videos Vollie posted, they claim to be happy. As for the rest of the Asian population, like Margaret Cho said "At least it is a measure of visibility, which is much better than invisibility. I am so sick of not existing, that I would settle for following any white person around with an umbrella just so I could say I was there". It makes sense to me. Also not to mention, Gwen clearly has a true love for the Harajuku style, as she has always attempted to dress crazy and fun. So I do not believe that she is using them, and wants them to "worship her" and all that.
Yes, she does not let them speak which is sort of odd. But like she said “the girls are my imagination so don’t talk to them”... clearly they are her inspiration, so maybe she just wants them to stay in her head, for only her to see. So even though it’s odd to us, it’s not to Gwen. I also fall back on the fact that they signed a contract. I mean, as the girls said in their videos on youtube, they love to dance! If you got the opportunity to dance, be on TV, go on tour, walk the red carpet, and get paid... the only requirement was not to talk in interviews and such... would you do it? I am not entirely saying I would, but I am not saying I wouldn't... If money was an issue, it'd be a good way to get some! Although I do know I would find it impossible not to talk. Lol

Even though I am most definitely thinking that Gwen is doing nothing wrong, I also see where some of the 'real' harajuku girls are coming from with their opinions. Honestly though, most people I have discussed this with ALL asked me what a 'harajuku' girl was. Most people didn't know. Technically Gwen has shown this side of the world what a Harajuku girl is. The Harajuku girls should take this as a compliment. Gwen, a famous artist, is truly inspired by Harajuku girls. Even though out of her 4 girls, only one is from Tokyo, I don't think that matters.

The girls say they enjoy working for Gwen, and Gwen must like working with them, or she would have fired them. They're happy, forget about it.

Marko Jovicic said...

I've done some research on the Harajuku girls. I've noticed that when they're on camera or with Gwen, they seem happy to be there "representing" their country. Don't forget that they're under contract. We still don't know if they actually like what they're doing. Is it just for the money? Many people from Asian descent view this as Exploitation, as I do to. I believe that it's not right trying to adopt another country's culture. People from Asia could be viewing this in a totally different way, such as Gwen using them as "China dolls". Some people may think that there's nothing wrong with what Gwen's doing, but there could be more wrong thoughts than good. People who don't think it's right, who are Harajuku must mean that there's something Gwen's doing that's making people think negatively. I believe that Gwen is taking it a little far giving them commands, such as things that they're aloud to do, and things that they're not. People from Asia may think that Gwen is using them as slaves, or something. Overall, my thought over this is, I do think Gwen is Exploiting another country's culture.

mostafa said...

I feel as though Gwen Stefani is infact exploiting the Harajuku Girls to generate more publicity and fame for herself. For one, the fact that she went ahead and named each of the girls (Love, Angel, Music and Baby), shows that she gave them an identity she chose and thought suitable. Second, the fact that they hardly ever speak but just shadow her, makes them out to seem as though they're just poodles following their owner. As MiHi Ahn wrote in the Salon, "Stefani has taken the idea of Japanese street fashion and turned these women into modern-day geisha, contractually obligated to speak only Japanese in public, even though it's rumored they're just plain old Americans and their English is just fine". MiHi continues on by writing that, "she's swallowed a subversive youth culture in Japan and barfed up another image of submissive giggling Asian women".
When it all comes down to whether or not, Gwen Stefani is doing the Harajuku Girl a favour by giving them chance at fame, my answer is no. This is because, I agree with MiHi that "Stefani ends up being the only one who stands out" and the Harajuku girls are just being used as her puppets.