Do you know the legend of the Queen...?
Once there was a young woman named Gwen vying for the title of Queen of Pop Music for her entire homeland. She had very little tangible musical talent, but a band of evil marketeers who were as dastardly as she was ambitious for the throne.
Her main competitors were not exactly musical geniuses either, but some of them at least seemed to have some charisma, singing ability, or physical attributes that would allow them to defeat her. But through some deep-soul searching (deep is relative--if your soul is shallow, "deep-soul searching" can be accomplished in the minute and a half after you finish putting on your clown make-up) she and her team were able to discover a legendary talent that existed deep within her--the ability to ingest culture and love and human accomplishment and vomit out stereotypical images. Now in the climate of her homeland, these stereotypes were currency that far surpassed the value of gold. From their pens, the kingdom's pork supply watched with bewilderment as the people of the land trampled over each other to lap up each new stereotype that Gwen spewed up from her strangely shape orifice at the center of her bizarrely adorned clown face.
Who says that fairy-tales never come true? But why is it that in this world, when they do, it always seems that people of color meet the fate of the wolf or the poor grandmother who did nothing wrong before she became wolf food?
Many have admired Ms. Stefani for her "respect" for Japanese culture. Did (white?) people's mommas never teach them what "respect" is? Respect is sitting down, understanding, empathizing and integrating others' experience into your own. Respect is not twisting up your face, buying some ministrels to decorate your acts according to your specifications and parodying something that other folks have spent their lives developing.
According to the Salon.com's article, Stefani's management has expressly forbid the four Japanese girls who prance behind her from speaking English. If you must, inspect her website and you will find that they have been given names of "Music", "Love", "Baby" and "Angel", names that could not even be translations of Japanese names (with the exception of "Love"). They are represented in their profiles by pictures, not photographs, and their "profiles" are just the dictionary definitions for their English names. The clothes they wear are not really Harajuku fashion (which is beautiful) but sort of a weird hodge-podge of Lolita-esque clothing and adornment that matches their "owner's" tackiness. While the kanji in their profiles are correct, the whole thing has a weird jingoistic vibe to it echoing behind the blatant dehumanization.
Some defenders have said, that this is simply another case of those crazy minorities being hyper-sensitive. If she had some Irish backup dancers, would we complain? If they were all "Irish", would they have to sign a contract stating that they would have to be drunk 100% time on tour and they would not be allow to speak English, only Gaelic? Would they be forced to wear Frosted Lucky Charms adds and wear fake Leprechaun costumes? If so, I would protest that too--the issue is damaging stereotypes and respectless bastardization of culture, not just the ethnicity of the backup folks.
On some level, I appreciate the inclusion of a few yellow faces. But that is utterly trumped by the dehumanizing lack of respect that Gwen and her marketers have decided to use in their framing of the four. They basically figured out that they could market this no-talent fake-idol act by capitalizing on the current shallow trendiness of quasi-Japanese culture.
It's too bad, if her predecessor were here, he would likely bemoan her affect on American pop culture and ask for a re-do. With Queen Gwen, she seems very satisfied with her superpower and will not stop until every last man, woman and child in her kingdom have a pet oriental girl.
If you would like to learn more about some of the action to depose Gwen, check out this site.