Gwen Stefani To “Orange County Register” Critic: Don’t Speak

Apr 24th, 2007 // 28 Comments

gozer.jpgBen Wener probably had a lot of column space to fill when he realized that his scathing put-down of The Sweet Escape resulted in him–and, actually, anyone representing his paper, the Orange County Register–getting locked out of a recent Gwen Stefani show, so he decided to devote a huge chunk of prose to an examination of why, exactly, he didn’t make the guestlist cut:

I even liked Gwen’s first solo album for what it was – a perfectly plastic homage to a plastic pop era, the one in which we both came of age. But I could tell I had ruffled Gwen’s feathers when we spoke before the disc came out. It was the first time I took her to task for disingenuousness – for being ungodly rich yet still singing, “If I were a rich girl … .”

“What do you mean by that?” she snapped. I said the song could be seen as absurd, even untrue. She explained its lyrics were about when she was just an Orange County girl – ah, that troubling phrase! – dreaming of such wealth.

Fair enough.

But then came “The Sweet Escape” – specifically, the song “Orange County Girl,” in which Gwen, who now lives with husband Gavin Rossdale and son, Kingston, in London, had the gall to downplay her calculated popularity, her fame and fortune, and claim to be “just an Orange County girl living in an extraordinary world.”

I found the notion offensive.

“At this point,” I wrote, “sharing her time between L.A. and London while posting a reported $90 million via her clothing lines and selling 7 million copies of ‘Love.Angel.Music.Baby,’ she’s no more ‘just an Orange County girl’ than Best Buy is just a shack that sells Commodore 64s.”

To act as such – to still be drawing upon O.C. roots when you’ve largely left this place behind – is sickeningly phony. And to do about-faces regarding the future of No Doubt – this solo thing, initially just “a lark,” could easily eclipse her past – well, I found that frustrating on behalf of disgruntled fans everywhere fed up with her bland pop ways.

If you think I was harsh, you’re not alone; my wife and closest colleagues agree. “You got personal, dude,” Desert Jeff told me after rereading it.

Sure, playing up her abandonment of her Orange County roots can be construed as “personal,” but you have to imagine that a local paper’s critic is going to at least play up any local angle he can find. Aside from an odd aside about Stefani’s son, Kingston, getting into death metal solely to spite his mother, we didn’t find the review too much more vitriolic than the pans it received in other outlets–if we were Gwen, we’d be a little more steamed at the New York Times‘ Jon Pareles, who accused her of “playing catchup with Fergie” on Escape. So what’s going on here? Is there an incident that Wener isn’t mentioning that set Stefani off? Or did she know that her show is a lemon, and that Wener wouldn’t be fooled by her respiratory system’s attempts to keep up with her songs?

Pop Life: A critic gets locked out [OC Register, via The Rap Up]

  1. AndrewTaylor

    @Big Money, No Whammies:

    Those lyrics do seem to support the assertion that Gwen’s chasing Fergie … in a race to the depths of horrible, unfathomable, unrepeatable lyricism.

  2. RepentTokyo

    Since when does anyone expect Gwen Stefani’s music to have any “authenticity”? It’s not like people were dissecting Paula Abdul’s lyrics back in the day.

  3. Chris Molanphy

    @RepentTokyo: Stefani circa 1995 wasn’t PJ Harvey by any means, but she had a hell of a lot more credibility, in a ska-pop/Cali-rock context, than Paula Abdul ever had in any context.

  4. bambino

    I stopped listening when no doubt failed to act as if their horn section was a real part of the band. A ska band without horns? That’s like gumbo without spice.

  5. bambino

    Oh, and fuck all of you for getting ‘rich girl’ in my head. Seriously.

  6. The HZA. [member of the zombie nation]

    For me, my problem with Gwen is that I grew up adoring her. And Shirley Manson. They were females that in my young mind, I knew were legit.

    I think Shirley retained all that. Maybe because she doesn’t make her goal to be a hypenate or a multimedia whore. She may not put music as often. But it is worth the wait when you do get to hear it.

    Gwen on the other hand is just ugh. A disappointment. It just effing sucks when your “heroes” let you down. She really doesn’t even care.

  7. janine

    @RepentTokyo: Her lyrics invite us to. Paula Abdul, back in the day, was consistent: videos with Keanu Reeves and animated cats will deflect any demands for street cred by not claiming any.

  8. Snowbrigadier


    Exactly my thoughts. In middle school I wanted to be Gwen (or maybe Rivers Cuomo). They both “broke my heart”.

  9. janine

    @RepentTokyo: Why, when she could sing about any topic under the sun, does she choose lyrics that adopt a “I’m just a little girl from Orange County” pose? She doesn’t have to. It’s a choice that will draw attention. I’m personally opposed to the idea that authentic is a synonym for good in popular music, so I really don’t understand why she’d feel the need to include the “Jenny from the Block” songs on her album.

    @maura: Mine was Lita Ford (she duetted with Ozzy!) and then Donita Sparks.

  10. nonce

    Having not heard “Rich Girl,” now I have the tune for Fiddler on the Roof’s “If I Were a Rich Man” in my head. Please tell me that Stefani’s version is not a cover. Please?

  11. RepentTokyo

    Wwhen Marilyn Manson named an album “Antichrist Superstar”…did he want people to actually think he was the antichrist? Did David Bowie want people to think he was from Mars? It seems the days of artists playing characters in their songs has fallen to intense over-analysis. Harry Chapin never worked for WOLD, and Billy Shears wasn’t a real person either.

  12. RepentTokyo

    i think you guys might be stretching when you say that gwen stefani’s lyrics “invite” analysis.

  13. dollywould

    @nonce: Ummm. I don’t think you want to know the answer to that.

  14. janine

    @RepentTokyo: No. Folks like Bowie and Madonna are doing the exact opposite of what Gwen does: create an alternate, theatrical personality as opposed getting into the whole autobiographical mode (Orange County Girl). Are you suggesting that Gwen is actually playing a character that happens to share her biographical details? Now that’s deep.

    BTW, you’re not going to move me by accusing me of over analyzing popular music (it’s why I come here).

  15. KinetiQ

    Orange County isn’t exactly the ghetto either.

    Aah, to harken back to my poor, lowly upper-middle-class days. Imagine the horror of having to grow up in a household that only had a single Lexus!

    *deep emotional sobbing*

  16. RepentTokyo

    Eazy E and Ice Cube weren’t gangsters, yet they played characters who shared their “biographical details”….so I don’t see why it’s so unbelievable or even remarkable that another artist would do so.

  17. LeanOnSheena

    “It’s a wonder she doesn’t start spelling fruit again.”
    Amen, Wener.

  18. Maura Johnston

    i feel that way about courtney love. i know that sounds absurd, but hey, it was 1991.

  19. GLewis

    @LeanOnSheila: Hey, easy now. That’s how my kids learned to spell bananas; and appreciate the beauty of a tuba.

    What I wonder is how Akon got a “featuring” credit on Sweet Escape! He’s quickly becoming the Lil’ John of dismissable, yet toe-tappable Pop… Yeewho. Youha. Yeewho. Youha…

  20. ses3d

    this is for all the folks making fun of the rich girls lyrics (and for the one pleading that she wasn’t covering a fiddler on the roof song — which yes, by the way, she was). ummmmmmm…have you never heard the original song from fiddler on the roof? if i was a rich man…i actually find it ridiculously hard to believe that you’ve never heard that song before

  21. grandmagrumpy

    As ;a member of the MUCH OLDER generation, I am pleased that you young’ens show such great discretionary taste in pop artists. My thoughts on Gwen: Cruella DeVil in person

  22. Hoag68

    I don’t see why she has to draw attention to a small suburban County just south of L.A. that many in the wide world have never heard of. Just because it has a good collection wealthy residents? Give me a break! Its just over-hyped nonsense. If you really want to “go there” with some kind of social status for Orange County, just having money doesn’t cut it. Try being “Born There” first, especially Newport Beach.

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