Gwen Stefani: Soundtrack for the Teenage Superhero

Daniel Corrigan

Whatever you think of it, give Gwen Stefani credit for building a totally unique aesthetic. Imagine a Venn diagram of Thrasher magazine, William Gibson's Idoru, an aerobics class, and the dream you had of Cyndi Lauper joining Salt-N-Pepa, and you're close. Stefani and her crack team of dancers and musicians brought it all to life tonight at the Xcel to a near-capacity crowd that was 10-1 female with an average age around 16. Arena shows have an extra layer of fun for students of showbiz—my god, all those roadies, the lights, the gear, the timing! Not just seeing it, but watching it all the parts moving so exactly. I kept wondering about all the people behind the curtain, all the levers being pulled. Stefani's production team didn't disappoint on this score. The costumes, the video screens, the trampolines, the... jail cell! The plastic sheep! Stefani herself is a vet, but no matter how many times she asked Minnesota to scream, or told us how happy she was to see us, it was always genuine. The costumes were glam exaggerations of feminine uniform: a waitress, a nurse, a schoolgirl; but it's her tomboyish athleticism that's at the root of her charm. The show's breakneck pace showed off her impressive chart record: from hit to hit to hit, only slowing down for a quiet one here and there. The Xcel's sound system revealed how cutting and brutal some of her tracks are. Schoolyard-chants-as-pop-songs are as old as the hills, but scoring them with abstract "Grindin'" drum loops at 130bpm is something else. Stefani's persona is essentially an idealized teenage superhero: beautiful and goofy, unafraid, swearing, but never arrogant or even very adult. It was genuinely moving be so close to a moment of joy for thousands of young girls. I got a sense of what it's like to be fully in love with pop, to have something shared by millions be also undeniably yours, to hear "yeah, that's my shit" as a statement of belonging. There was a father next to me with his daughter. In front of me was a mother and her daughter. Both girls were somewhere between ten and fifteen, they seemed to know all the words, and both looked absolutely transported. Both parents looked a little weary by the end but they were trying, and (without project too much) looked proud that they had been able to see their girls so happy.

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