KROQ hosted its 25th Almost Acoustic Xmas at the Forum in Inglewood on December 13th and 14th. Although I didn’t attend the event, I did catch the live webcast of night 2 in its entirety and was blown away by No Doubt’s performance, as the band was added last minute to the lineup to replace U2 due to Bono’s recent accident. Their performance didn’t only reminded me how special the band is, but how empowering Gwen Stefani still is after all these years. My hopeful prediction that this will be the start of a great 2015 for the band, since they are in the process of recording a new album.
After the release of Push and Shove (2012), No Doubt‘s sixth studio album, I will be honest, I lost hope for the new wave Orange County band, as well as Stefani, who gave me confidence, and led me to bleach my hair in earlier days of my youth. Seeing the band live multiple times I knew the magic that they all possess and are capable of delivering. The same magic is still embedded in their performance, and to be able to deliver energy through a simple webcast, well, that speaks for itself.
With recent females rising and falling throughout the music industry, what does it mean to truly be an empowering woman? This is more than the simple girl power, feminine blend with masculinity, this is an overall presence that is accumulated. While everyone does have their opinion, such as the recent Billboard Women in Music list, I like to think it takes more than having an album go platinum. It’s direct influence of confidence in yourself. It’s evolution without giving in to the crowd. It’s the ability to capture it all.
Webster clearly defines empower as “to promote the self-actualization or influence of.” Clearly, this will vary from person to person. Yet, every opinion fills me with joy because it is great to have someone to promote a better version of yourself, and I applaud whoever encourages you.
Few empowering ladies come to mind over the years that range from Fiona Apple, Shirley Manson, Alanis Morissette, Selena, Lauren Hill, early days of Shakira, Joan Jett, Pat Benatar, TLC, and even The Spice Girls for a fleet couple of years in the 90s with their girl power attitude for younger girls.
Then why the spotlight on Stefani? Why after all these years, is she still able to light a fire in girls that grew up with her, to a whole new generation that is in awe of the bright colors and clear display of self-expression. Why? Because she is herself.
I think an empowering person is also able to show you the rise and fall of themselves, their insecurities, and their weaknesses. Courage to admit and show these things are empowering. Not only lighting a fire in people, but also keeping that fire in oneself, while staying true to the reason you lit the fire. For me, this is empowering.
When I was about 7 I saw Stefani on TV strut around in crop-top and belt out her anthem, and it always struck me that she was different. Obvious physical features that Stefani didn’t have, that may go against someone’s definition of a woman, was refreshing as a young girl. Stefani’s confidence in her skin, added to her physical beauty, along with her humor on this subject, enticed attractiveness. Why? Because she was herself.
From the first single of No Doubt in 1992, “Trapped in Box” was the band’s breakthrough moment, and also the song to find their own sound and identity. The video also shows Stefani wearing men’s boxers, odd homemade outfits, and the funkiness of the third new-wave revival attempt in that era.
As the band evolved, so did Stefani. She showcased attitude in the anthem “Just a Girl,” with slight satirical lyrics. This is the song she famously showed her strength as a girl, and still had the power to show bare mid-riff, paired with baggy pants and Doc Martins, and be everyone’s fantasy. Little less than 20 years later, performing this song at Almost Acoustic Xmas, and Stefani made every male in the forum yell out, “I’m just a girl,” is still the greatest little joke she can pull.
Even when the band saw gray skies by “Don’t Speak,” and its references to the personal break-up between Stefani and bass player Tony Kanal, along with the band’s future at stake, it was the start of displaying a different side of honesty for Stefani. A great break-up song that didn’t make the girl always look like the “sappy, pathetic” creature.
The girl grew up and also had more to her, as every human does. Her feminine side of wanting a family was heard after Tragic Kingdom and by Return of Saturn, there was a vulnerable side that took courage to display. “Simple Kind of Life,” was born, and also visually beautiful to watch. A darker album in their discography, but such an honest reflection of time.
During Almost Acoustic Xmas, it seemed like a portal of the evolution of Stefani displayed musically and visually. Her on-stage energy is something to be witnessed live, and be admired in recordings. It hasn’t changed a bit, as she jumped up and down, and cursed to make the audience make her “ears bleed.” Stefani has a way to involve every single person in the audience, all the way to the people in the nose bleed seats, with her energy and delivery.
Despite negative critical views on Stefani’s solo career, compared to No Doubt and its bubble-gum flavor, when you think about it, Stefani is still being herself. Isn’t that empowering? There were obvious lyrical references in her songs that proved that she was scared with this move, yet continued. While I will always prefer No Doubt on the musical aspect, Stefani’s independence, confidence, and courage, to produce a completely different style is motivating. Stefani was influenced by all types of music, especially the 80s, and her first album, Love. Angel. Music. Baby, was a slight tribute and dream making moment for herself. Along with her own personal products, such as having her own clothing line, was another dream marked off her list, as she always made her own outfits as a kid and throughout No Doubt.
Stefani became a style icon, which has never changed, and having this consistency of staying true to herself is the ideal woman that every generation of women have a chance to be a part of, and indulge in what makes her special, in finding what makes you special. I believe it’s all sides of Stefani shown that makes her relatable. Her love for what she does is shown on stage. Her motivation and determination to continue to grow and live her dreams are the cause of the spark. More importantly, when you inspire someone to be like you, you inspire them to find themselves; to be themselves. We found out we were more than just a girl, the same way Stefani did, and that is more than empowering.