Gwen Stefani inadvertently sparked a conversation about the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation this week in an Allure interview. At one point, Stefani declared, "My God, I'm Japanese and I didn't know it," then added after a pause, "I am, you know." And there was more: "During our interview, Stefani asserted twice that she was Japanese and once that she was 'a little bit of an Orange County girl, a little bit of a Japanese girl, a little bit of an English girl," writes Jesa Marie Calaor. The issue is that the 53-year-old Stefani is an American of Italian and Irish heritage, without any Japanese ancestry. She has, however, long embraced Japanese culture, specifically its Harajuku culture, in her music career and in spin-off merchandise such as her popular Harajuku Lovers perfume.
Calaor notes that Stefani has faced backlash over her use of Japanese imagery (including backup dancers) for years, and she arranged the interview to see what the singer may have learned about the experience. Stefani (who says her businessman father first stoked her interest in Japan with his stories of working there) strongly defended her choices. "If [people are] going to criticize me for being a fan of something beautiful and sharing that, then I just think that doesn't feel right," she said. It "should be OK to be inspired by other cultures because if we're not allowed then that's dividing people, right?"
But Calaor, who is a first-generation Filipina-American and has experienced anti-Asian harassment first-hand, isn't so sure about that. "I envy anyone who can claim to be part of this vibrant, creative community but avoid the part of the narrative that can be painful or scary." The interview has caused a stir online, with Olivia Truffaut-Wong of The Cut tweeting that Stefani has "used Asian women as props to help her get rich." But others defended Stefani. "Everyone can’t wait to be offended by something," said Real Housewives celeb Kyle Richards, per Page Six. Conservative commentator Megyn Kelly also sided with her, notes Yahoo News. A rep for Stefani suggested that Calaor misunderstood Stefani's comments but did not elaborate. (Read more Gwen Stefani stories.)