Singer, songwriter, and fashion designer
Born Gwendolyn Renee Stefani, October 3, 1969, in Anaheim, CA; daughter of Dennis (a marketing consultant) and Patricia (a homemaker) Stefani; married Gavin Rossdale (a musician), September 14, 2002.
Addresses: Record company—Interscope Records, 2220 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404.
Began singing back-up vocals with No Doubt, 1986; became lead singer, c. 1988; band signed with Interscope Records, 1991, and released first LP, No Doubt, 1992; introduced own clothing line, L.A. M.B., 2004; released solo record, Love. Angel. Music. Baby., 2004; made film debut in The Aviator, 2004.
Awards: Grammy Award for best rap/sung collaboration (with Eve), Recording Academy, for "Let Me Blow Ya Mind," 2001; Grammy Award for best pop performance by a duo or group with vocal (with No Doubt), Recording Academy, for "Hey Baby," 2002; Grammy Award for best pop performance by a duo or group with vocal (with No Doubt), Recording Academy, for Underneath It All, 2003.
After spending nearly all of her adult life as frontwoman for the ska-pop band No Doubt, Gwen Stefani emerged with her first solo release,Love. Angel. Music. Baby., in 2004. A rock-star fashion trendsetter since No Doubt released its multiplatinum-selling Tragic Kingdom in the mid-1990s, the energetic singer/songwriter also launched her own line of clothing in 2004 under the "L.A.M.B." label, and even made her film debut later that year as 1930s screen siren Jean Harlow in Martin Scorsese's Howard Hughes biopic, The Aviator. "In one of those unpredictable pop transformations, Stefani started the 21st century as the squeaky-voiced wacko from No Doubt," wrote Caroline Sullivan of London's Guardian newspaper, "but enters 2004 a hard-currency 'celebrity' whom fashion designers seat in the front row of their shows. More mysteriously, she has achieved this without losing a corresponding amount of musical credibility."
Born in 1969, Stefani is a product of the Southern California world later made famous in the hit teen-drama series on FOX, The O.C. Yet unlike the fictional teens in the more upscale oceanside Newport Beach community, Stefani grew up in sprawling Anaheim, the city that is also home to Disneyland. Her father, Dennis, worked in marketing for Japanese motorcycle-maker Yamaha, while her mother, Patricia, was a stay-at-home mom to Stefani, her sister, Jill, and a pair of brothers. Pat Stefani was a talented seamstress who made her children elaborate Halloween costumes, and Stefani took up the hobby as well by the time she reached Loara High School. "I couldn't stand to have the same thing as everyone else," she told WWD's Karen Parr. "I always made my own clothes—and had many disasters."
In 1986, the year she turned 17, Stefani was recruited to sing back-up for an eight-member ska band her older brother, Eric, had started with a friend from his Dairy Queen job, John Spence. The band, which settled on the name No Doubt after the charismatic Spence's favorite phrase, played their first show in January of 1987 at Fender's, a Long Beach venue. Over the next several months, the group quickly gained an ardent following, with Spence's on-stage backflips a particular crowd favorite, and were booked for a gig at the Roxy, a top Los Angeles showcase, for late December. Stefani, her brother, and the other band members were devastated when Stefani shot himself in an Anaheim parking lot four days before Christmas of 1987.
Stefani and the rest of the band nearly called it quits, but decided to soldier on without the beloved singer and showman. By then Stefani was dating Tony Kanal, No Doubt's bassist, and their relationship would last eight years. After several changes in lineup, the final roster was Stefani, who took over the lead vocals, guitarist Tom Dumont, drummer Adrian Young, and Stefani's brother, Eric, who was the band's keyboard player. Though she was the frontperson for the still-popular Southern California act, Stefani was shy and remained somewhat in the background when they were not playing live. "At first it was my brother's songwriting and I was just doing what everyone told me," she told Newsweek's Lorraine Ali. "I was completely passive, no goals. I was in love with Tony and just happy to be in the band."
In 1991, No Doubt signed with Interscope, and their self-titled debut came out the following year. Sales were lackluster, and by 1994 Stefani's brother had quit to take a job as an animator for The Simpsons. Around the same time, Kanal broke it off with Stefani, and she was devastated. At the time, they were working on songs for a follow-up, and Stefani began writing some lyrics herself. The result was "Don't Speak," which would become the band's breakout single and exposed to the world her feelings about the split with Kanal. "I told the story of us, not ever knowing 16 million people would hear it," she recalled in another interview with Ali for Newsweek in 2001. "Then the record just blew up. Now we regret being so open about it 'cause it was so painful. Imagine every day sitting in interviews talking about it, and we still do."
"Don't Speak" and another hit song, "Just a Girl," appeared on Tragic Kingdom, which was released in October of 1995. The band was still with Interscope, but the label had so little faith in their future by that point that the record was farmed it out to one of Interscope's subsidiaries, Trauma. But the record was a huge hit, and went on to a nine-week run in the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 chart; it would eventually sell 15 million copies worldwide. Entertainment Weekly's music critic David Browne called it "a virtual Cuisinart of the last two decades of pop: a hefty chunk of new-wave party bounce and Chili Peppers-style white-boy funk, with dashes of reggae, squealing hair-metal guitar, disco, ska-band horns, and Pat Benatar, whom Stefani occasionally resembles vocally . Rarely have a band called alternative sounded like such savvy, lounge-bred pros."
Stefani's energetic stage presence, platinum-blond hair, and trademark siren-red lipstick made her a distinctive presence that quickly propelled the band toward stardom. Her eye-catching outfits, which ran to zippered punk-rock-style trousers and plaid during these early years, were widely copied by female fans. The success that had come out of heartbreak also opened other doors for Stefani: during a touring spell that went on for more than two years, she met Gavin Rossdale, lead singer for the British grunge band Bush, which was huge at the time. The two began dating, though the relationship was a long-distance one for several years.
In early 1998, No Doubt stopped touring in order to settle in and come up with a new record. That process would take two long years, and Stefani once again penned some personal lyrics that brought the band another hit. In this case, "Ex-Girlfriend" highlighted some of the problems she had with Rossdale, with its first line, "I kinda always knew I'd end up your ex-girlfriend." The track appeared on Return of Saturn, released in 2000, which also featured "Marry Me" and "Simple Kind of Life," in both of which Stefani seemed to be confessing a desire to settle down and become a wife and mother. It was a far more reflective album, less ska in feel than their earlier music. Browne, the Entertainment Weekly critic, called its "smoother, layered mid-tempo ballads as creamily textured as extra-thick napoleon pastries." Yet once again, the music journalist gave it a mixed review, in particular finding that some of "Stefani's lyrics incessantly circle around the same theme: terminal insecurity and docility."
Stefani dismissed the lovestruck-co-dependent tag that some felt came through too strongly in songs like "Marry Me." The sentiments expressed were not a sign that she was nearing 30 and ready to get married, as she told Entertainment Weekly writer Chris Willman. "I have to clarify this, because everybody gets it wrong," she said. "It's more about how I used to think that's all I ever wanted, and the confusion of realizing that I am more faithful to my freedom than I ever thought I could be. And that's scary."
Stefani and her bandmates emerged from the recording studio more quickly for their next effort, which was 2001's Rock Steady. To help out, a roster of producers and collaborators joined in, among them funk and pop legend Prince, British techno producer William Orbit, and reggae stars Sly & Robbie. Stefani also did a pair of side projects, with rapper Eve in "Let Me Blow Ya Mind" and "South Side" with Moby, which garnered serious radio airplay. But once again, the biggest single for No Doubt was another dissection of Stefani's love life, in this case "Underneath It All." It was also the album's sleeper hit, reaching the No. 1 spot in 2002 on the Billboard Top 40 Mainstream chart. The song also netted the group their second Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal (the first was for "Hey Baby" the previous year).
Stefani, by then, had married Rossdale in a lavish Anglican service in London in September of 2002, for which she wore pink and white silk faille gown created for her by one of her favorite designers, John Galliano of Dior. There was also a second ceremony, a Roman Catholic one, held in California two weeks later. Taking a hiatus from the music business, the new bride ventured into a related career: as designer for her own clothing line, which she called "L.A.M.B." The acronym stood for "Love. Angel. Music. Baby." and was introduced in 2003 with a line of purses Stefani designed for LeSportsac. A full line of clothing and accessories hit department stores in the spring of 2004.
Love. Angel. Music. Baby. was also the title of Stefani's first solo record, released in late 2004. There were rumors that her band's most recent single—a remake of an '80s alternative hit from Talk Talk, "It's My Life"—would be their final recording, but Stefani assured fans that they were just taking a break. "We were pretty much married to each other for 17 years," she told journalist Ben Wener for her hometown daily, the Orange County Register. "It's healthy for us to take time for ourselves. We've had our cake and eaten it so many times, we can't believe it."
The album Love. Angel. Music. Baby. was an homage to the '80s dance music that Stefani loved as a teen, and its all-star production team included Andre 3000 of OutKast and Dr. Dre. "I was not looking to make an art record," she asserted to Billboard writer Michael Paoletta. "I was looking to make a specific record that would be everyone's guilty pleasure." Its first single, "What You Waiting For?," was doing well on the charts just as Stefani was conquering another realm: the big screen. Martin Scorsese cast her alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator as Jean Harlow, the Hollywood bombshell who dated aviation pioneer Howard Hughes.
With the transition to film, and her sideline career as a trendsetting style icon, Stefani has often been compared to Madonna, whose over-the-top image also belies a more traditional Italian-American/Roman Catholic heritage. Like her predecessor, Stefani has made Los Angeles' Los Feliz neighborhood her home, but also has a place in London and an Englishman for a husband. And like Madonna, Stefani has also been the subject of her share of British tabloid stories, especially when London papers revealed that Rossdale was the father of a teenage daughter—now a runway model—he never knew he had.
There were rumors that Stefani was devastated by the news, partly because her own oft-stated desire to become a mother was still unfulfilled. In a 2004 interview with Ali in Newsweek, Stefani remembered what Interscope label president Jimmy Iovine had told a decade earlier, before the success of Tragic Kingdom. "'You're gonna be a star in six years.'" Stefani recalled Iovine as telling her that day. "I was like, 'Yeah, right. First off, I won't be with my band then; second, I'll have, like, five kids, and third, there's just no way.'"
No Doubt, Interscope, 1992.
Tragic Kingdom, Trauma/Interscope, 1995.
Return of Saturn, Interscope, 2000.
Rock Steady, Interscope, 2001.
Everything in Time (B-sides, rarities, and remixes), Interscope, 2004.
Love. Angel. Music. Baby., Interscope, 2004.
Billboard, November 6, 2004, p. 1.
Cosmopolitan, June 2004, p. 60.
Entertainment Weekly, August 2, 1996, p. 56; April 14, 2000, p. 71; May 12, 2000, p. 32; December 14, 2001, p. 81; December 3, 2004, p. 83.
Guardian (London, England), February 27, 2004, p. 8.
Harper's Bazaar, March 2005, pp. 322-28.
InStyle, February 1, 2003, p. 264; November 1, 2004, p. 60.
Newsweek, December 17, 2001, p. 67; August 30, 2004, p. 47.
Orange County Register, November 24, 2004.
People, May 19, 1997, p. 105.
WWD, September 5, 1996, p. 13.