Gwen Stefani isn’t guilty of cultural appropriation, just cringe

Gwen Stefani is getting roasted for remarks she made in a recent Allure article. In discussing her new beauty brand GXVE, interviewer Jesa Marie asked about her Harajuku Lovers fragrance collection, which launched 14 years ago, and its Japanese influence. Gwen Stefani explained that her strong love of Japanese pop culture originates back to when she was a kid. Her father took business trips from California to Japan. For years, he would tell Gwen stories about his experiences in the country and that fascinated her. When she finally visited Japan as an adult, she thought to herself, “My God, I’m Japanese and I didn’t know it” and later said, “I am, you know.” These quotes are going viral with lots of negative remarks.

Here’s the thing. I think the second quote mentioned here was Gwen being cheeky. And I don’t think she literally believes she is Japanese. I wasn’t there and there is only the written article, no video or audio. It’s hard to know for sure the full context and emotion.

But Gwen has never been an Oli London, a White British man who claims to be a “transracial” Korean. She never faked her background like Hilaria Baldwin. She isn’t a Rachel Dolezal. She does have a history of dressing strongly of other cultures, such as Hindu, Jamaican, and Latina. In my opinion, she has sometimes looked silly doing so. But she doesn’t have a history of literally claiming to be anything she isn’t.

I think she simply meant she’s Japanese in the sense that when she visited, she felt a strong affinity with the Japanese people and culture. And that’s fine! That’s the beauty of the world being as connected as ever. We have the internet, we can fly overseas within hours. And we can learn and share so much with one another. I don’t see the issue with that.

But I have a confession. When Gwen’s first solo album came out in 2004, I had a very different opinion. I think I even rage blogged about it at the time. I was much younger and less logical, more easily offended. I doubt I knew of the term “cultural appropriation,” but if I had, I almost certainly would have accused her of that.

She had a song called “Harajuku Girls,” which basically fangirled over Harajuku fashion. In the song “What You Waiting For,” there are the following lyrics: “I can’t wait to go back and do Japan. Get me lots of brand new fans. Osaka, Tokyo. You Harajuku girls. Damn, you’ve got some wicked style, go.” In “Rich Girl,” she sings: “I’d get me four Harajuku girls to inspire me, and they’d come to my rescue. I’d dress them wicked, I’d give them names. Love, Angel, Music, Baby. Hurry up and come and save me.”

She hired four Japanese and Japanese American women she dubbed the “Harajuku Girls.” Like the song says, she named them Love, Angel, Music, and Baby – as if they were pets or something, LOL. Yikes! She named her first solo album L.A.M.B. and had a clothing line of the same name. They were dancers and would often follow her around at media appearances, like some kind of paid entourage. They were seen and not heard and would put their hands over their mouths and pretend to giggle. This all annoyed the crap out of me.

gwen stefani with harajuku girls dancers

In the blogosphere of the 2000s decade, there was a claim made that these women were contractually obligated not to speak unless spoken to and to act in certain ways that are stereotypically Japanese. These claims were never backed up by any sources. I think they were just speculation. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were true, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if they were completely unfounded. I don’t think it’s fair to spread that around without any real evidence. But I did agree there was something really annoying and weird about that whole thing. I had no negative feelings towards the dancers themselves. It was a great opportunity for them to work for a huge pop star. And there’s nothing wrong with a White woman having dancers of Japanese descent. But the execution was weird.

Then there were Gwen’s fragrance line and her clothing brand for kids sold at Target. Below are perfume bottles from her Harajuku Lovers brand. They were just very aesthetically displeasing to me.

harajuku lovers fragrance bottles

Here’s what I’m getting at. I’m still not a fan of certain aspects of Gwen Stefani, but I realize my reasoning back in 2004 was wrong. A White woman fangirling about Japanese fashion is not immoral. And Gwen isn’t vocal on social issues to my knowledge (which is her choice and fine), so she doesn’t have to talk about hate crimes against Asian Americans to be a fangirl. If Gwen is “guilty” of anything, it’s cringe. I mentioned before that she sometimes looked silly in her Jamaican and other cultural phases. She just didn’t pull it off. And her solo song lyrics about her love of Harajuku fashion doesn’t make her a bad person. It’s just done in an awkward or weird way. I think her heart is in the right place. The execution isn’t always the greatest.

I never cared for the look of her perfume or clothing brands because they came off as kitsch rather than kawaii. I know it sounds silly to criticize this, as kawaii aesthetics aren’t exactly highbrow art. And that’s fine if one is into kitschy things. Her brands sold well and there is definitely a market for it. But this distinction is important because it isn’t the fact that it’s a White woman behind the brands. It’s that it didn’t really capture what it seemed to be going for.

For comparison, let’s discuss the kawaii fashion and collectible art brand Tokidoki (stylized as tokidoki).

tokidoki image

Simone Legno is the artist and creator of the brand. It’s no secret that he is a White man born and raised in Italy and now resides in the United States. He regularly does public appearances all over the world and has a large social media following. The brand’s website is, with the “it” meaning Italy. It’s not as if no one knows about the artist behind the brand.

Some people reading this may not see a difference between tokidoki and Gwen’s brands, or think it’s all just silly cartoon-looking characters. I realize it’s just a matter of taste and opinion. But tokidoki is wildly popular with the kawaii crowd, while Gwen’s brands didn’t quite have the same effect. Sure, they sold very well, but it was with a different customer set. There are numerous Asians and Asian Americans who didn’t care for Gwen’s brands but have spent a ton of money on tokidoki. So these Asians aren’t anti-non-Asian-people-doing-Asian-inspired-things. Gwen’s stuff just didn’t appeal to them the same way.

Finally, I want to mention that I think most outrage over cultural appropriation is unfounded. There are some extreme cases where it is terrible and done with negative intentions, and worthy of condemnation. But that’s usually the exception these days. Some people have suggested reserving that term for those extremes and calling the more innocent versions “cultural appreciation.”Gwen means well, and seems to have a loving heart, but just doesn’t quite pull it off much of the time.

If cultural appropriation is always a crime like some believe, then we are all guilty of it. The music Gwen Stefani originally did with No Doubt is ska, which originates in Jamaica. If you liked “Spiderwebs” or “Sunday Morning” and you aren’t Jamaican – Oh no, you’re guilty. There’s countless other examples where we would be judged for this. But really, there’s nothing wrong with it most of the time. In fact, it can be beautiful. The world is enriched when we share cultures. It’s OK to think someone’s execution is whack, but that doesn’t mean we have to ascribe immoral intentions to it.

Why Keyboardist Andy Fletcher of Depeche Mode Was A Big Deal

Keyboards and synths were once very taboo instruments. In fact, many people didn’t even consider them instruments at all, but rather toys. The general public thought that no “serious” rock bands had them. This was just a silly fad. (I may get into the reasons for this at some other time.)

Depeche Mode helped change that perception. But it took years. When the members expressed earlier in their career that they’d like to play Madison Square Garden someday, they were mocked and ridiculed. Not only were they a synthesizer band, but they were synth HEAVY. They had multiple keyboardists. For much of the songs, they are the dominant instruments. It isn’t just some amateur keyboardist playing a simplistic part on top of guitar+bass dominated songs. The keyboard parts weren’t an afterthought in the songwriting process. It wasn’t a gimmick or a fad.

DM did eventually play MSG and they easily sold it out. They sold out countless other stadiums and arenas on their tours. It boggled many music critics’ minds when this first started happening in the 80s. It was previously unheard of. This was when hair metal bands dominated those spaces.

As time went on, their albums kept evolving and progressing. Compare “I Just Can’t Get Enough” to a song like “Enjoy the Silence”, for example. They continued to play huge venues during the grunge era, when synths were arguably even more taboo, as they were considered part of the cheesy 80s fads. They continued touring and putting out wonderful new records. Their most recent album was released in 2017.

I bring all of this up because of Andy Fletcher. He wasn’t a member that got a lot of attention. He didn’t do lead vocals and he had no songwriting credits. But you know what, just his existence in that band and on stage was historic. Being a talented keyboardist playing alongside other synthesists was a big deal and it still is. There aren’t many others who did that and also had massive commercial success and critical acclaim. DM would have been a very different band without Andy’s contributions. And if you look a little into how the band got started and stayed together so long, you’ll realize they probably wouldn’t have existed at all without him.

Rest in Peace, Andy Fletcher. He helped change countless people’s minds across the world. His memory and his music are blessings.

September 11, 2001: Time Perception

Like today, 9/11/01 was a Tuesday. I remember this because I was working that morning, Assistant Manager at Sam Goody. I was initially focused on the new music releases that came out that day.

It often seems like 9/11/01 was just a few years ago. But when I think about the details, it gets in my head more about how 17 years have gone by. Most record stores are dead and new releases mainly come out on Friday now. I didn’t fully understand what happened for several hours until I got home and watched TV. It wasn’t like today, where most of us can immediately pull up video on our smartphones. Heck, I didn’t even have a cell phone.

Looking at footage of that day, the clothes people were wearing seem like such an old style. Clothes were baggier. Eyebrows were thinner and relatively few beards are seen.

I guess when something so altering happens, our perception of time can be skewed. We remember how we felt and what we were doing, so we feel like we are taken back to that day.

I think about the lives cut short and their terrifying last moments. I think of the kids who grew up with a parent gone. Most of them are adults today.

I get angry at the unnecessary wars fought in the name of security and my friend David Branning and those in other countries who are dead now because of that. David was 21 when he died in 2004. He’d be 35 today. I wonder how time perception is for the families of those affected by this. My heart goes out to all of them.

Live Show w/Hunter Hooligan at The Mint – Jan 12, 2016

Los Angeles friends: I will be playing keyboards for Hunter Hooligan at The Mint on January 12, 2016. Hunter is a very talented singer, songwriter, and musician from the East Coast and I’m excited to be performing with him.

Hunter Hooligan at The Mint Jan 12, 2016 - Los Angeles
Early show. Set time 7:30pm. Tickets $8.
6010 West Pico Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90035
More info:

Check out Hunter Hooligan on SoundCloud, YouTube, and Facebook.
Photo of Hunter Hooligan

Hole “Live Through This” 21st Anniversary

April 12, 1994 – 21 years ago – the album that changed my life, Hole “Live Through This,” was released.

Hole "Live Through This"

Hole “Live Through This”

It’s the album that made me say, “I’m going to be in a rock band” and I did it. They are the songs that made me start learning guitar. I eventually went to keyboards, since I was already a classically trained pianist and that was a more logical choice, but the switch from solo classical pianist to rock band member was because of “Live Through This”. It’s the record that later got me buying riot grrrl albums. Even though Love mostly ridiculed the Pacific Northwest feminists, I learned of their existence from the lyrics in the record. I started buying CDs and vinyl records from bands in that area because of her. I fantasized about moving to Olympia or Portland and starting a socially conscious band.

As silly as it sounds, much of what happened in my life in my teens and 20s might not have been the same – if they even happened at all – if not for “Live Through This”. I may not have met a good chunk of the friends in my life, if not for this record. Hole was my “gateway band” – the band that got me interested in much of the other music I fell in love with. And I still love the songs on “Live Through This” to this day. It’s likely that I eventually would’ve wanted to be in a rock band, but it may not have happened the same way or as young as I was.

It wasn’t easy being a Hole fan in the ‘90s. I would be walking around in my Hole shirt, minding my own business, when some conspiracy buff decided to badger me because he felt that Courtney killed Kurt, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Any time Courtney ended up in the tabloids, people would feel the need to update me in a “See, I told you Hole is awful” way, as if that would void the music the band created. But I was never apologetic for my fandom.

The first single was released in March 1994. “Miss World“:

“Doll Parts” was released in November:

In January 1995, there was “Violet”:

“Softer, Softest” was technically a single, but an official video was never filmed. The version from MTV Unplugged was used, though it didn’t get much airplay.

And it’s not just the singles that are great. For many other CDs, the singles are the strongest songs, but I love all of “Live Through This”. Songs like Asking For It, Plump, and Jennifer’s Body are fantastic, but probably a bit too dark to be released as singles (though Asking For It did chart on Billboard).

Thank you, Courtney Love, Eric Erlandson, Kristen Pfaff (R.I.P.), Patty Schemel, Melissa Auf der Maur (live), and producers Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie.

New Writer for Skeptic Ink Network

I’m happy to announce that I’m the newest writer for the Skeptic Ink Network with my Very Cherry blog. My first post explains a little bit about me, including how I became a skeptic.

Skeptic Ink logo

Skeptic Ink Network is on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. You can also add my feed or subscribe to email updates here.

Thanks and have a pleasant 2015!

Phil Plait Changes His Mind on Promoting Mayim Bialik

Last week, Phil Plait wrote a piece on Slate defending his promotion of Mayim Bialik. I wrote a blog post disagreeing with it.

Phil Plait Follow-Up

I’m pleasantly surprised that Phil Plait changed his mind and now understands that endorsing her as a science figure is harmful. When I started writing my blog post about it last week, Skeptical OB (Dr. Amy Tuteur) and The Neurologica Blog (Steven Novella) hadn’t yet posted their thoughts about it on their blogs. I mostly saw agreement at the time on social media, and I thought I’d get a lot more strong disagreement on this.

But because I know what it’s like to be an alt medder (formerly) and I remember why I believed in false things, along with having many friends who still are alt medders, I felt it important to share what I thought. Those outweighed the possibility of being unpopular or ridiculed for my former beliefs. It turns out that many felt similarly.

When I shared the link on social media, I said I respectfully disagreed. This is because I could see where Phil was coming from and that I knew he’d been a skeptic longer than I have – which is a good thing and something I hope he’s proud of – but can sometimes mean not fully seeing things from the views of alt medders and woo fence sitters.

I respect that Phil has publicly changed his mind on this. It’s not because I think everyone should have my exact same views. His former opinion wasn’t anything to make me like him any less or cancel out the good work he’s done. The reason I’m pleased is because he seems to have thought it through and taken others’ viewpoints and thought processes into consideration.

“I’ll admit I hadn’t considered that her credentials could be used by anti-vaxxers and the like to promote their incorrect (and dangerous) beliefs, and that gave me pause. Thinking that through, I have to say that does sway me; if she were promoting something like astrology, I’d probably just roll my eyes a bit and carry on. But these medical health issues are serious, and I’ve been very vocal for a very long time about vaccines and homeopathy.

Because of that, I’ll be clear: I’ve changed my mind; given the opportunity again, I’d say using her as a science role model is not a net benefit. I’d have left her off the picture.”

Thank you, Phil. And thanks to those of varying opinions who weighed in on this. As silly as it may seem on the surface, it’s an important conversation to have.

(Note: Links have been provided for reference and are not necessarily endorsements.)

Mayim Bialik Shouldn’t Get a Special Pass

This image was widely shared from the I Fucking Love Science twitter and facebook pages. It was posted in March, but Mayim Bialik is regularly praised by many skeptics as a great role model for young people or an entertainer who is something more.

IFLS Actresses with a Passion for Science

When some people brought up the fact that Mayim Bialik promotes pseudoscience, many said that she still deserved to be on the image because none of us are perfect and we’re all wrong about certain things. Phil Plait just posted a Slate piece stating that it wasn’t so black-and-white and mentioned the pros of including her, even though he pointed out that she does promote harmful ideas.

But why is this a grey area, even with some of my fellow skeptics? Many of us regularly criticize Dr. Oz. He’s profited from promoting quackery. He also has a background in Cardiothoracic Surgery and has done good work helping others. Much of the advice he gives on his television show is based on real medicine and helpful, but because he’s done so much harm in introducing pseudoscience to the public, we don’t include him in lists of people who inspire others to get into the medical field. He doesn’t just have a few bad ideas, it’s many. Same with Mayim Bialik. Why do we say the good outweighs the bad with her but not others like Dr. Oz?

I agree that having some disagreeable opinions shouldn’t automatically dismiss the good work someone does. Most of us are wrong on some things and we have our weak spots. For example, I have a friend who is a scientist but believes in Astrology. But it’s a mostly private belief she doesn’t promote and doesn’t believe in it to the point of it controlling her life, so I don’t let it affect my high opinion of her. If she were strongly promoting that, I may still promote her but with a disclaimer. But if she had a blog about that plus other harmful ideas, I may still respect the good work she does, but not fully endorse her. I may share an individual act of good work she did, but not include her on any lists of influential scientists. I have another friend in STEM who is the same with Christianity. She’s a liberal Christian, mostly for cultural reasons, doesn’t promote it, and still chooses evidence over dogma for the majority of her beliefs. Not perfect, but not a disqualifier.

But these examples are not Mayim Bialik. She has a website and blog network with plenty of pseudoscience, and is a spokesperson for Holistic Moms, which promotes homeopathy and discourages vaccinating children. If she’s endorsing woo on such an extensive level, why should we endorse her? I do respect her intelligence, talent, and hard work. I was a huge Blossom fan as a kid and it was cool to later find out that an entertainer I liked as a kid went on to pursue science. But I also know what it’s like to not be a skeptic and fully understand critical thinking. As recently as five years ago, I still believed in alt med and other woo. So I know just how harmful promoting Mayim Bialik can be. When I was an alt-medder, I saw people with a science background promoting woo. One of two things happened. Either I thought, “See, this person who has a background in the field believes this. There must be something to it!” or I didn’t even know what they were promoting was considered an “alternative” opinion and thought that it was an evidence-based belief.

I think it may be hard for some skeptics, including Phil Plait, to fully realize that at first. Plait has done a lot of great work and he’s helped me in my understanding of why Astrology is hogwash. Based on his history in the Science and Skepticism fields, he’s likely been a skeptic and had critical thinking skills for many years. I’m sure there are beliefs that he’s examined and questioned throughout his life, but he’s been working in the public understanding of science for a long time. But I have a somewhat recent memory of what it’s like to not understand how to decipher good info from the bad. This is a case for the promotion of critical thinking skills and skepticism in general, but since many people don’t understand this, seeing people like Mayim Bialik endorsed by science pages and skeptics – those who usually criticize people like her – can give the impression that her pseudoscience writings are actually science. Skeptics look at this and know the background behind it. But most of the people who follow IFLS, or who saw the image shared by a friend, do not.

The majority of my friends are not skeptics. Before I became involved in the skeptic community, I was mostly involved in the music scene. I love my artistic friends dearly and since most of them aren’t skeptics, I see how they view the promotion of science. I have several friends who are anti-vaxxers and have mentioned that even Mayim Bialik, who has a PhD in the medical field, does not believe in vaccinating. They then see IFLS promoting her as a shining example of someone to be admired. In their minds, this is further confirmation that she’s right. IFLS didn’t say not to vaccinate children, but they connect those dots. It’s not the fault of IFLS if some people aren’t thinking critically, but it does help people strongly hold onto these harmful beliefs. And it can cause further confusion in people who may be on the fence.

On one hand, I understand that many skeptics have mainly skeptic friends and colleagues. It may be hard for them to see how most people think. But I also don’t understand why they think Mayim Bialik gets a pass and Dr. Oz does not.

But I will say, as Phil Plait mentioned, that this has at least created a dialogue, since many skeptics brought up the hogwash she believes. I just hope that it’s not mostly skeptics seeing that commentary.

Update 12/23/14: Phil Plait has changed his mind and I wrote my thoughts about it.

Pro-Vaccination Campaign by AHF



Happy to see this new billboard by AHF (AIDS Healthcare Foundation) by the Denny’s on Sunset Blvd and Van Ness Ave in Hollywood, CA.

“On November 24, AIDS Healthcare Foundation will launch ‘,’ an advocacy campaign targeting the undue and oversized influence of Hollywood celebrities who are anti-childhood vaccinations.”

You can learn more about their campaign at

Photos and Video from Hello Kitty Con 2014

Hello Kitty Convention. Friday, October 31, 2014.
The Geffen Contemporary @ MOCA and Japanese American National Museum.
Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, CA. 

Cherry Teresa inside giant vinyl coin purse
The first Hello Kitty product was a vinyl coin purse in 1975. I’m standing inside a giant replica.

Kittypatra - tokidoki/Hello Kitty mashup statue
“Kittypatra” – Ten-foot tall Hello Kitty/tokidoki mashup statue.

Heather Henderson and I
Heather Henderson and I in Little Tokyo.

Hello Kitty Junkie blogger and tokidoki designer, Maria Fleischman
Hello Kitty Junkie blogger and tokidoki designer, Maria Fleischman.

Spray can by Dabs Myla
Spray can by Dabs Myla.

Wendy Hughes and I take a bento lunch break in Little Tokyo (photo by Heather Henderson).
Wendy Hughes and I take a bento lunch break in Little Tokyo.