The video for Gwen Stefani’s Let Me Reintroduce Myself—a ska-tinged, No Doubt-esque throwback-meets-comeback single—is a perfectly timed jolt of nostalgia. Featuring recreations of Stefani’s iconic looks (think Just A Girl’s baggy pants and Don’t Speak’s polka-dot dress), it’s a glorious celebration of a 35-year career. It’s also a reminder of Stefani’s enduring influence on both music—she recently appeared on Dua Lipa‘s Club Future Nostalgia remix album—and fashion.
“I know that you know I’m Gwen Stefani and I’ve done all these things, but right now let’s try to be intimate and I’ll tell you how I’m feeling about being my age”
“I didn’t consciously make them ‘looks’ back then,” Stefani says of her various eras (pink hair and braces Gwen was my favourite, thanks for asking), via Zoom from her home in Los Angeles. “On tour, I didn’t have a stylist. I had one girl who would knock-off looks for me—she’d make my cargo pants by going downtown and pulling fabrics, sending them to me, stapled to a piece of paper with a number, and then I’d go, ‘I want yellow bondage pants, use that trim.’ Then she’d FedEx them to me on tour. So it’s incredible how those outfits have stood the test of time. They are iconic.”
If her style-icon status came about almost accidentally, it’s her status as a pop legend that she seems to be in conflict with. Let Me Reintroduce Myself, she says, was a way of testing the waters to see if people even wanted new music from her. She’s surprised, too, that new artists such as Dua Lipa know who she is. “You know what’s fun? When other artists, who aren’t even your peers because they’re so much younger, ask you to be part of something, like they know who you are,” she smiles. “It’s so flattering and exciting.”
With work continuing on her first solo album since 2016’s This Is What the Truth Feels Like, we spoke to the 51-year-old multi-hyphenate about facing the critics, making music that stands the test of time, and the No Doubt album that still makes her cry.
You’ve been busy writing and recording new music during lockdown. How has that been?
Honestly, a dream. I had written one song, Cry Happy, in February and it felt really good. After that, people were like, ‘Everyone’s writing on Zoom.’ I was like, ‘That sounds horrifying.’ It’s already horrifying to go in a room with a 28-year-old [producer] who wants to write with you and you’re like, ‘I’m like your mom, let’s write a song.’ It’s weird. We ended up doing it and the first one I wrote on Zoom was with [producer] Greg Kurstin and [songwriter] Mozella. He was in Hawaii, she was in Los Angeles, and I was in Oklahoma—we wrote a damn song on a damn phone.
Did you at least spend the first few months of lockdown slobbing about in tracksuit bottoms and doom-scrolling the internet like everyone else?
I was on tour with [fiancé and country singer] Blake [Shelton]—we were actually sitting on the bus when everything started to be cancelled. We went straight to Oklahoma and lived on a ranch, in a cabin for 100 days. [Two of Stefani’s three sons with ex-husband Gavin Rossdale] Zuma and Apollo, me and Blake in one room for three months. You have the outfit that you wear every single day until it smells too much and you have to wash it. I can’t even describe [the cabin]—it’s really small, with a tiny double bed, a rollaway [bed] and a couch—and all of us in there. It would be home-schooling all day, it was crazy. It was hard to do that full-time because I don’t love cooking, cleaning and wiping pee off toilet seats—when you have three boys, it’s just a lot.
The title of the new single is pretty self-explanatory—it’s about reintroducing yourself to the world. Do you feel like that’s something you need to do? You’re quite famous.
[Laughs] I was working with this young producer called Luke Niccoli, and he introduced me to his [songwriter] friend Ross [Golan]. I was like, ‘I know that you know I’m Gwen Stefani and I’ve done all these things, but right now let’s try to be intimate and I’ll tell you how I’m feeling about being my age.’ He really got in my head—he’s the one that threw out the line, “Let me reintroduce myself.” Once he said that, the tone for the song was there.
It reminds me of What You Waiting For? in the sense that they both talk about a crossroads in your life and career.
Yes. Very similar. Except for this one, it was almost like I needed an excuse for me to say, ‘Is it OK if I give you some more music. Like… do you mind?’
Because there’s a sense that when someone’s been around for a while, we don’t need new music from them?
Listen, let’s be honest—we don’t. I listen to New Order’s old songs. I want to listen to [Prince’s] Raspberry Beret. That’s just the way it is and when you know that about yourself, you think, ‘Why would anybody want that from me?’ I know that.
As you mentioned before, being a woman in this industry I assume the question of being ‘too old’ for pop has also risen its ugly head?
I heard that from myself [laughs]. This is the thing about age—there are days when you think you’re expired. Then there are other days where you’re like, ‘I’m not dead’ Why stop now? If you don’t like it then turn off the TV or the radio, or don’t look. I’m still going to do it.
“I have had people tell me it saved their life. I know it probably saved mine at the time. But it’s like a trigger and I can’t really listen to it”
Do you think about your legacy? Do you see your influence in new acts today?
Sometimes I can see my style, especially right now because it feels like there’s a 1990s nostalgia in terms of fashion. I have a 14-year-old son, so he had a lot to do with me reinvestigating myself and taking me back to when I discovered ska music. It’s weird how time can go so quickly, especially when you’re a mother of three boys—I went from that horrible time in my life [her 2015 divorce from Gavin Rossdale], and that was when I wrote that last record. My life was falling apart. [Writing the 2016 album] wasn’t to do with anything other than saving my own life. That’s a completely different place to be. Then halfway through [recording], I fall in love with this cowboy guy—like, what the hell?
Let Me Reintroduce Myself talks about wanting to spread a smile—was that a reflection of the year we’ve had, where happiness felt as if it was in short supply?
I definitely think so. I didn’t know where to plant myself musically, so I started to investigate reggae again and I watched all of these BBC documentaries. It was the [early] 1960s when England was ruling Jamaica, then they were freed and ska was born. You see this happy music and it was this jubilee.
Then I think about the second wave of ska coming out of punk and it was about Jamaicans going to work in London and the racism they were subjected to, and them saying, ‘No, we want unity. It’s black and white, it’s checkerboard, it’s ska.’ When the protests were happening [in 2020] it made me realise we were just repeating that. Reggae and ska are both really happy, fun places where cultures meet in the middle. I was like, ‘Nobody can hate on me for doing it because you can’t hate on a 13-year-old girl who identified with a certain type of music.’ What I saw, and what they were sharing, was their culture. They were saying, ‘We’re celebrating each other and we’re starting a new culture by coming together.’ That’s what I got out of it.
A lot of people have been using this time to look back, to get nostalgic. I really got into No Doubt’s 2000 album, Return of Saturn, at the start of lockdown.
Oh my, you’re going to make me cry. I did not expect to hear you say that and it’s made me cry because that record is probably my least favourite. It was during a really, really hard time in my life. We were coming off a two-and-a-half-year tour and I was so sheltered—I lived at home before that tour. I was 26, but I still lived with my parents. I went around the world and I had just broken up with my everything—my best friend, the person I relied on for everything—and my brother left the band, so I was alone. [Return of Saturn] is so full of doubt regarding where I was in my life and I knew I was doing things that were wrong, but I didn’t know how to stop it. So when you say the title, it sends me into a frenzy.
20 years later, it’s achieved almost cult status—like a lost classic.
For sure. I have had people tell me it saved their life. I know it probably saved mine at the time. But it’s like a trigger and I can’t really listen to it. It had so many messages directed at myself that I knew that I should have listened to—it was all there. I’m proud of the record, there are some amazing lyrics on there, but it’s the songs that aren’t the singles that say it all.
Gwen Stefani’s new single Let Me Reintroduce Myself is out now