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How Gwen Stefani's flawless classics melted away my concerns at Xcel

Gwen Stefani performing at the Xcel Energy Center on Sunday.

Gwen Stefani performing at the Xcel Energy Center on Sunday.

Gwen Stefani’s This Is What The Truth Feels Like Tour, her first major tour in nine years, arrived Sunday at an undersold Xcel Energy Center. As a person of color and a general fan of non-racist behavior, I have reasons to dislike Stefani, but I can’t deny that I'm a lifelong fan. This intersectionality of conflicting identities is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S. (It’s OK; like you, I still use “Hollaback Girl” to spell the word, too).

If you missed it, for her 2004 blockbuster solo debut Love. Angel. Music. Baby, Stefani enlisted the Harajuku Girls, a group of Asian women who were contractually obligated to never speak in public. She insisted she was simply a “fan” of Japanese culture, and never owned up to her appropriation of it. Instead, she used it as a quirky accessory to her already enigmatic persona.

Did you know Stefani's band No Doubt -- who borrow heavily from historically black genres like reggae and dancehall -- have two black guys in the band? Gabrial McNair and Stephen Bradley have been full-fledged touring and recording members since the mid-90s. You wouldn’t know it based on any of No Doubt's album covers, music videos, or promotional photos, though. 

Call it fate or bizarre coincidence but, it turns out, Gwen Stefani breaking into “Underneath It All” from No Doubt’s Rock Steady in St. Paul overpowered my determination to resist problematic artists. In fact, as she bounced between flawless renditions of “Cool” to “Rich Girl” to “What You Waiting For” to “Hella Good,” my steely music journalist resolve melted to reveal pop-loving preteen inside of me, singing along to every word of every hit. Don’t speak, Gwen. I know what you’re saying. Let us forget your negative aspects and just share this moment. 

Of course, I’m not accusing Stefani, 46, of being actively disrespectful of people of color. Any perception of that faded after she brought out her tour opener -- the undeservedly forgotten Eve -- to share the stage for their 2001 hit duet “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” and “Rich Girl.”

The main perk of big-budget arena shows like this one is the artist’s ability to parade guests. Besides Eve and her incredible dancers, Stefani grabbed her main squeeze, Blake Shelton, for a duet on their ballad “Go Ahead and Break My Heart.” As Shelton took the stage, it was gratifying to hear squeals from every mom in the audience who only knew Stefani through NBC's The Voice. At the same time, it’s off-putting to hear her belt in a reheated country-fried voice to duet with a man who looks like my stepdad.

Though her hits from No Doubt through her solo career are more than enough to light up an arena, the cuts from the new record, March's post-divorce record This Is What The Truth Feels Like, fell flat. With her latest album, Stefani’s sacrificing her trademark ‘tude for generic pop artifice, and it’s disappointing that there aren’t any “Hollaback Girl”-level bangers on her latest.

Despite the sizable gap between tours, Stefani proved Sunday that she still knows how to play to an arena-sized room. She also still projects that early-2000s toughness we know and love her for. It’s that same I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude that somehow made it OK for us to tolerate some of Stefani's casual racism. 

Critic’s bias: I still remember watching Stefani win Best Dressed with Snoop Dogg at the 2005 VMAs; I can’t remember my own bank account number.

The crowd: A weird, wonderful collision of childless, middle-aged No Doubt fans and middle-aged The Voice fans who brought their daughters to their first concert by that “banana song” singer.

Overheard in the crowd: A charming tween girl in a red dress and braces giggling after the show that, “That shit really was bananas. Yeah, I just said shit. I don’t even care.”

Random notebook dump: On the new album’s songs: "Gwen, where did the ‘tude go? WHERE DID THE ‘TUDE GO?"