(Originally published in OC WEEKLY, December 29, 2005)
This May I wrote a column titled “This Shit Is Bananas,” in which I made fun of the baffling lyrics of Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl.” It was a silly column about a silly song, but both the column and song proved to have surprising longevity.
“Hollaback Girl,” after approximately 90 million weeks on the charts, is now up for a Record of the Year Grammy. “This Shit Is Bananas,” meanwhile, has been passed around online more than that video of the monkey sniffing his own butt. A few months back, the revamped A Current Affair actually approached me to appear as a Stefani “expert” for a story they were doing. (I’m proud to say I turned their sleazy tabloid asses down.) While I’d hardly call myself an expert on all things Gwen, me and Ms. Stefani do go way back . . .
I first encountered Stefani 10 years ago, a few months after OC Weekly began and a few weeks after I began interning here. Late one night I was watching Are-Oh-Vee, an OC-based music video show that floated around various UHF stations during the ’90s: amidst the dour Velvet Underground wannabes, the video for No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” stood out like Pee-Wee Herman in a biker bar. Gwen’s gorgeous but carefully over-exposed face completely filled the screen as she mugged and pouted and squealed her way through the song’s dippy, would-be feminist lyrics (“I’m just a girl, all pretty and petite/So don’t let me have any rights”). She was incredibly sexy, incredibly talented and incredibly annoying. All these years later, she is still all those things, only more so.
Stefani clearly grew up with a Madonna altar in her bedroom (Madonna Ciccone, that is) and over the last decade her look and sound constantly evolved as she struggled to stay one step ahead of the trends. But while Madonna has only started to look desperate in recent years, Stefani’s desperation was evident from day one: when she performs, everything about her screams, Love me love me love me. It’s like she’s never stopped auditioning. I wish somebody would take her aside and whisper in her ear, “Relax, honey; you got the job.”
Stefani is simultaneously one of the best and the worst things to happen to modern pop music. When she bothers to write a proper song and perform it without making all the monkey faces, the results can be golden. But just as often she poots out ephemera, and her seemingly endless hip-hop cameos help make stars of no-talents like Eve. (How much did Stefani get paid for saying, “You got it like that,” 18 times during Pharrell Williams’ “Can I Have It Like That?” Could she have possibly spent more than three minutes in the studio?) The words “by Gwen Stefani” are occasionally cause for celebration; the words “featuring Gwen Stefani” are almost invariably cause for panic.
2005’s been Stefani’s most eventful year yet, with the Grammy nom, her own fashion line, a role in The Aviator and a baby on the way. And thanks to Gwen, I’ve celebrated the Weekly’s 10th year with my own tiny milestone: I’ve finally written a column that wasn’t forgotten two days after it saw print. I don’t think it was the brilliance of my writing that has given “This Shit Is Bananas” its surprising durability; I think there are a lot of people out there who, like me, kinda hate Stefani even as we breathlessly await her next move.
And I suspect that’s fine with Stefani. We can think whatever we like about her . . . so long as we’re still thinking about her.