Fear. F. E. A. R. Fear. It’s a concept that many of us think we understand… But in reality, I reckon there’s a lot to unpack about this simple yet profound emotion that exists within us all. Fear is something that can cripple the best of us, can show us our deepest and darkest worries and concerns; and can be as rational as the sky being blue, or as irrational as the earth being flat. Fear can paralyse us and persuade us to stay still, or it can even motivate us to keep on keeping on with our journeys along this terrain called life. Whatever and however fear brings forth the best or worst in us, providing us impetus to actively change or a reason to be more shut in from the world; this pesky emotion has buried its way into our psyche and has lived there for years and years and years. Dare I say it- I reckon it’s the most important yet the most harrowing emotion that we could have?

When I was younger I was afraid of a lot of things. I was sheltered, as I’m sure you all might know by now, because I was born premature- 3 months early. And because Mum and Dad decided that both Jon and I were not to go to preschool, I guess you could say that our development was not as smooth as it could have been. We were cooped up at home and were ‘safe’ from the world, and Mum and Dad deemed that the world was not a good place at the time. We weren’t exposed to all manner of things. We listened only to Carman and Delirious?’ music albums. I don’t think we watched too many action films, aside from Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Back To The Future (which is sci-fi technically, but I digress!). We were blessed to eat Mum’s ‘famous’ cooking, but we hardly ate out much. Secular music was a no go, as well as amusement park rides and sleepovers with friends. No, we weren’t Amish… but it’s possible that classmates and acquaintances viewed Jon and myself through the lens of being ‘poor’, ‘struggling’, ‘not content’ and hence very weird and odd. And because we were 3 months premature, perhaps subconsciously we were taught to fear a great number of things. And yes some of those things are based in reality, fact and evidence, and are legitimate fears that any sane adult would have. Fear of snakes, spiders and sharks- animals that can harm us if we’re not careful. A fear of, or at least an aversion to horror movies- I reckon a legitimate concern given that issues of the paranormal and spiritual can cause the brain to work overtime when we’re supposed to be sleeping, and can cause nightmares and irrational insecurities to bubble to the surface. All throughout my life, and even now, I’ve been afraid of heights, probably from watching too many Wile E Coyote and Road Runner cartoons… and this is the one that I’m not sure if it is based in reality or not. In my heart I know that the high building I’m standing on or the ladder, is very sturdy and won’t break.  My head though is another story- and it’s difficult trying to reconcile the two together.

And then you have the ‘irrational’ fears. The somewhat nonsensical ones that keep you up at night. The ones that are seemingly ‘irrational’ on the surface, but may not be in the end. The ones that don’t make sense, the ones that rack your brain for hours and hours, and the ones whereby you are left wondering if you’ll ever overcome such stifling anxieties and doubts. Fears for the future, for your future vocation, spouse, kids, just maybe fear of time passing you by quickly without you being able to do everything you want to do in life. Fear that one day you’ll wake up with regrets, or a fear that one day you’ll wake up and have no regrets when you should. Fears that you’ll have dementia, fears you’ll fall out of love, fears that you’ll lose your faith, or the spark inside you that makes life worth living. There are literally lots and lots of fears that we all could fear at one time or another- with the fear of COVID-19 is a legitimate fear- and one such that could still hang around within the coming years.

My family and I have never, ever, not even once, celebrated Halloween. We’re Christians, and we don’t believe in Halloween, however there are a lot of people who do the whole dressing up thing, sometimes knowing what it’s all about and sometimes not. From movies and TV shows as well as just general knowledge, I have seen people dressed up from head to toe in Halloween gear, and let me tell you- the common theme in each of these costumes, is that it’s something from folklore that’s designed to ‘scare you’. Mummies, witches, skeletons, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies, even demons and other supernatural beings- no ‘scary’ creatures are off limits in this zany and crazy holiday where some people have seemed to not know why they do celebrate such a day. While Christmas is about Jesus being born (and those who don’t ascribe to a religion still celebrate Christmas as a way to be closer to family!), and Easter and other religious themed holidays across not just Christianity but other faiths are all about maybe reconnecting with your dormant faith and realising that there’s something bigger than yourself out there, and there’s a reason and purpose for this madness called life; I reckon that it is Halloween that has us all stumped.

We dress up as scary objects, try to scare other people and earn candy as a result? To what gain, what benefit? Almost every other holiday celebrates something, and celebrates something meaningful; so what does this celebrate? The fact that we are scared easily? No, I reckon that’s not right- as every year we dress up in the same or similar outfits, that sometimes I think we’re immune to the effects of monsters on our psyche. So, are we celebrating that we have the power to scare others? Maybe, but I think that’s not right either-as I don’t think all of us are that cruel, loving to scare other people into oblivion. Besides if we ourselves aren’t scared easily by ghosts, witches, vampires etc; why do we go to the effort to dress up and scare others when we know that they’re going to react the same way that we would? With indifference and giving out sweets out of duty?

Yet, and this is totally my opinion, with no evidence or basis whatsoever, which you can agree with or not; I believe that there is something deeper. Why we still year after year take candy by scaring people. And give candy away because we don’t want to be scared. We go through the motions of this holiday, but I think the inexplicable and inescapable truth is this. That we are afraid of ourselves, and Halloween is a distraction. We dress up in fancy costumes, trying to scare others, to mask the emotions that we are afraid. No matter what comfort or what reassurances or encouragement we receive from others, I reckon we over-celebrate Halloween so that we can say ‘see, I am so scary that others will give me candy, how great am I!’, when the reality is that we’re still the same scared person from years ago. No, it’s not because we are scared of spiders, snakes, sharks, vegetables, the dark, heights, politicians, floods, famine, fire, taxes- they’re the little things… it’s really because we’re scared of everything else.

I reckon celebrating Halloween is a defence mechanism to how we really feel underneath. We’re scared of the future that we will fail. We’re scared of success as we think we maybe don’t deserve it. We’re scared of the giants in our life thinking that they’re too big to overcome. We’re scared of the future and unwarranted busyness that we want to put on ourselves because we want to prove to others that we have it all together. We’re scared of high school reunions as we think that others who have it all will think we’re nothing. We’re scared that our secrets will come to light and people won’t love us. We’re scared that the beliefs we have that are uncommon with others can and will cause divide. We’re scared that the struggles and addictions we have in our lives will continue to have a hold of us until our dying breath and we will never be free.

We’re also afraid that one day the future will come creeping up upon us, and we’ll look back with regret and wonder what we’ve done with our lives, feeling like we’ve just wasted everything. We’re also afraid of not having the answers to life’s big questions, because it means that our world view can massively change within an instant. And we’re also afraid of dying, because that means that is the end, and there’s no guaranteed surety of what happens after that- because with Christianity and with every religion in fact, there is an element of doubt, with is why faith is required. Everything on earth has something, either tangible or not, that can scare us, yet isn’t it ironic that what terrifies us the most are the insecurities that we have about ourselves and the sometimes irrational lies we believe, that if we share them with those around us will make us lighter and feel freer and more alive?

So, with our feeling of insecurities and the pressures of life overwhelming down on us and manifesting itself sometimes physically but most of the time in the form of stress; what is it that we do? Yep, we hide, push those feelings down, and celebrate Halloween, a holiday where we prove to ourselves that we are tough by scaring people. Yeah, like that’s going to create a change in us overnight…

The above few paragraphs quoted verbatim from a previous post on this site, is in relation to Halloween, and why I believe we as a people celebrate something that to me doesn’t make sense. Yet the reasons why we’re all still afraid and the reasons why we’re enamoured and captivated by horror movies- still remain. We’re scared of a lot of things… and this brings me to my next point. And it is this. That throughout my life there probably is nothing greater that I have ever been afraid of- and it was something that I just realised this past week, and something I quickly sought to remedy. For as long as I could remember, I had been listening to Christian music. Before 2006, it was only Carman and Delirious?, but after 2006 I branched out into more CCM pop and worship, with artists like Newsboys, Third Day, Casting Crowns, Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael W. Smith, Rebecca St. James, for KING & COUNTRY, Tenth Avenue North, Natalie Grant, Francesca Battistelli, Meredith Andrews, Building 429 and Kari Jobe to name a few. Just a few years ago, I branched out further into mainstream music, and with this blog that we’re in the midst of- of writing about the most influential artists of all time, as well as artists whom we reckon will be influential within the coming years; we dived deep into artists like Delta Goodrem, Thomas Rhett, Selena Gomez, Goo Goo Dolls, John Mayer, Keith Urban, Alicia Keys, Lecrae, Skillet, Ronan Keating, Switchfoot, Owl City, Carly Rae Jepsen, Maddie & Tae, Lindsay Ell, John Legend, Josh Groban, Jackie Evancho, Pentatonix, Sheryl Crow, Avril Lavigne, Nickelback and as of last week Tim McGraw (alongside others!). Yet there is one genre we deliberately glossed over. No… more like skipped! And it is the genre of ska. It’s the genre that scared me the most, and the genre I knew the least about.

Ska is a music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s and was the precursor to rocksteady and reggae. It combined elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues. Ska is characterized by a walking bass line accented with rhythms on the off beat. It was developed in Jamaica in the 1960s when Stranger Cole, Prince Buster, Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, and Duke Reid formed sound systems to play American rhythm and blues and then began recording their own songs. In the early 1960s, ska was the dominant music genre of Jamaica and was popular with British mods and with many skinheads.

Music historians typically divide the history of ska into three periods: the original Jamaican scene of the 1960s; the 2 Tone ska revival of the late 1970s in Britain, which fused Jamaican ska rhythms and melodies with the faster tempos and harder edge of punk rock forming ska-punk; and third wave ska, which involved bands from a wide range of countries around the world, in the late 1980s and 1990s.

Yes, yes, if you have paid attention, then you know that I quoted this verbatim from Wikipedia. The definition of ska was something that I myself was not, and still am not, that well versed in. I heard the genre thrown around as a descriptor to the Christian bands The OC Supertones and Five Iron Frenzy- bands which were heavily covered on sites like Jesus Freak Hideout and New Release Today back in 2012 and 2013. It was a genre that I had no inkling to explore (because why would I when I had CCM and worship!), and it was a genre that I was point blank afraid of. In hindsight, I had no reason to be afraid of ska- and it took this past week to realise it, when the genre came up again when I thought it was dead and buried. And this is because Gwen Stefani, who is a pop icon, is an entrant on this list of influential artists of all time (and a no-brainer one at that!), and one of her genres is…. Yes, it is ska. According to Wikipedia, Gwen’s genres include pop, R&B, electronica, ska, new wave and rock- and all those genres put together scared me. It was something of the unknown, and I didn’t want to face it- because what if I actually liked it and it changed my whole world view? What if I loved ska more than CCM or worship? Over the past few years, I had always thought that Christian music was good, and the rest was bad. I know you are probably sick of me saying this statement… but it’s true. it’s only because of this blog series that my brother Jon has been undertaking (as well as my own offshoot of the blog series!) that I have finally come to terms with God speaking through anything that He chooses… no matter if it is a mainstream song or not. Yet the moment when I became transfixed and captivated with a Gwen Stefani song was last December. And the moment I knew I had to bite the bullet and dive into ska (at least for the purposes of this blog), was a few months ago, when I decided that Jon and I were to switch blog types just for us to grow as people.

And so, while we as a country and as a global society have felt the full force of COVID-19 last year and this year, and while we are all looking for some inspiration and relief and encouragement and reassurance; well you’d think that would come in the form of an uplifting and inspirational Christian song, right? Well, yeah, that has happened throughout last year and this year (examples include Crowder’s “Good God Almighty”, and Matthew West’s duet with Carly Pearce in “Truth Be Told”!); however one such song that has been refreshing and a joy to listen to, despite the chaos and calamity of the world recently, is Gwen’s “Let Me Reintroduce Myself”! A straight up pop song, with elements of ska! Let me just let that sink in for you for just a second. Alright has that sunk in enough? While we will delve into Gwen’s comeback single a little later in this blog, let me just say once again that Gwen Stefani is an artist who has been around for a long, long while. I can’t actually remember when I first heard about Gwen and her music (“Let Me Reintroduce Myself” was the first song I heard from hers intentionally!), but I knew from the outset that she was influential. An inclusion on this list like how Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Mariah Carey, Robbie Williams and Kylie Minogue are (which will all be blogged about later on!); a deep analysis of Gwen’s songs and her heart behind the music over the past week or so, confirmed this fact for me.

And so, the question begs to be asked- and it is this: am I now a fan of ska? Nah, I won’t go so far to say that, however Gwen’s music is very, very encouraging and uplifting. The co-founder and lead vocalist of her now-on-hiatus band No Doubt (of which she was been a part of since the early 1990’s!); Gwen’s crowning achievement would have to be her smash hit single “Hollaback Girl”. Yet before we dive deep into the music- let us first gloss over what Gwen has done for the community and how she has inspired us all outside of music, to live the best life that we all could live. Because like the previous blog of Tim McGraw (a musician who is equally as famous and popular and respected) in which I have outlined word for word; I reckon that nine times out of ten, when you’re a veteran artist; what sets you apart from everyone else is what you do and how you conduct yourself away from the spotlight. I’ve very sure that I’ve mentioned this time and time again, in my other blog posts I’ve written- but let me reiterate again that I firmly believe that the measure of a person, whether that person stands the test of time in influence and popularity, or whether they fall by the wayside, is determined by how they handle themselves off the stage and their private life. Whether an artist is influential (to me at least) is magnified when that person is by themselves, when no one is looking. Also, I think I’ve also reiterated countless times that my belief or anyone else’s belief in the song, the authenticity, vulnerability and honest behind the song, and the heart of the artist behind the song is paramount in whether an artist’s mark is just popularity or popularity and influence. If I’m going to assert ___ as influential, then what do they have to show for it at the end of the day? When you strip away all of Gwen’s hit singles and powerful pop/ska anthems; you gotta still be left with something worthwhile and inspiring, right? A veteran and respected artist like Gwen can’t have had hit songs and nothing much else, right?

Now known as Blake Shelton’s finance, Gwen has been out of the spotlight for a while. Prior to “Let Me Reintroduce Myself” and the latest single “Slow Clap”, Gwen’s latest album was from 2016- This Is What The Truth Feels Like. Aside from Gwen’s Christmas album in 2018, her last original material was 5 years ago. And 5 years in Hollywood and in the mainstream music space is an eternity. 5 years of silence can break a person’s career… but as Gwen has made a comeback of sorts; let us now see if what she does off the stage is just as inspiring and influential as on the stage. And… well, it’s Gwen Stefani, did you really expect anything done half-way? The winner of 3 Grammy Awards (and winner of 56 awards overall from 137 nominations from 39 different award shows!); Gwen’s imprint on music in general has been everywhere. Before you even hear a note sung from Gwen… you can already tell that she is famous and that she is influential. In 2012, VH1 ranked Gwen 13th on their “100 Greatest Women in Music” list; and inclusive of her work with No Doubt, Gwen has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide. In 2003, Gwen unveiled her clothing line L.A.M.B. (the acronym being Gwen’s first solo album Love Angel Music Baby), and also expanded her collection in 2005 with the Harajuku Lovers line, inspired by Japanese fashion and culture. She has been a coach in the singing reality TV show The Voice for 5 seasons (seasons 7, 9, 12, 17, 19), as well as an advisor in seasons 8 and 10; while her acting roles in The Aviator and Trolls remind us all of her versatility. In 2018, Gwen has undertaken a concert residency at Las Vegas called Just A Girl; while her L.A.M.B. dolls and professional eyewear in 2016 once again reminded us all that she is still a force to be reckoned with at large within the music and fashion industry, and anywhere else that Gwen chooses.

Well, this is the deal: I haven’t really put a record out in five years. That’s a long time. I don’t know how it went by so quickly. I would have loved to, but I was doing the Vegas show [Just a Girl] and that took up a lot of time. Before that, I toured the record before, [2016’s This Is What the Truth Feels Like], and the next thing you know, five years passed. I also was feeling like… “Does anyone really want to hear new music from me?” It’s so much work to make new music, and I think about all the bands that I loved — I don’t go looking for their new records. I just listen to the stuff that I liked in high school.

At the beginning of this process, I feel like I had to make excuses for why I wanted to make new music. I felt like people were going to judge me and be like, “Well, you’re like super old. Why would you even want to?” This is just how my brain works. Anyone would, you know what I mean? Everybody has their own fears or insecurities.

Ross’s reaction was [for us to incorporate] a way of saying, “Well, I haven’t really gone anywhere if you really think about it.” I just had a No. 1 hit on [country] radio [“Nobody But You”] — two of them actually, because the next one’s [“Happy Anywhere”] going to go No. 1 soon [Editor’s note: it did, 24 hours after our call]. We were just trying to say I haven’t really gone anywhere. I’m still doing the same thing. I still wear the same kind of stuff that I’ve always worn. It’s just an evolution.

Five years ago, when my life blew up in my face, there was a lot of looking back. Music has always been a really amazing place to pour my heart and emotions into. It’s like therapy.

When I was offered to do the Vegas show — a huge milestone for me — it was very reflective. I think it’s an incredible thing to put out new music and have your sound evolve, whether it be through the No Doubt years or the three solo records I did. The first solo record [2004’s Love. Angel. Music. Baby.] was very much a dance record — that was the pop music when I was in high school that I wasn’t into, but was the backdrop of my life. Back then, I said, “You know what? I want to try to make that kind of music. I want a dance song.” It was so incredible to be able to work with all the talented people that I did and have such a different kind of sound like that, which made me want to do the second record, [2007’s The Sweet Escape].

The third solo record was not born in the same way. It didn’t have a reference for the production. It was just, “How do I get through this time in my life? I’ve got to write these songs. I don’t care how they’re dressed up sonically. It’s just getting them out.” During the process of doing that, I fall in love and I’m writing a song about my life basically being over and then starting to fall in love at the same time, all with one album.

After that, it was like, how do I evolve? When you do a new record, usually everything comes with that: the tour, the merch, the vibe. But when you’re doing a Vegas show, you don’t have a new song. You don’t have anything new. How do you create a show around everything you’ve done? So there was a lot of looking back and thinking about, “How do I make this feel super nostalgic? How do I make this feel like, when everyone’s coming from around the whole world to see me in this room, we have this common story, and that these songs were the backdrop to our lives?”

Over the last week or so, as I’ve been listening to and immersing myself in Gwen’s music and her discography, I’ve realised that ska is only one element of her music- that Gwen expertly and skilfully shows us layers of herself through a variety of other genres that are equally as compelling, emotional, honest and raw. While I will dive deeper into Gwen’s three albums, her musical influences in the first album Love Angel Music Baby encompasses, but isn’t limited to 80’s genres, electropop, new wave, dance-rock, hip hop, R&B, soul, disco; while Gwen has cited that early Madonna, Lisa Lisa, Club Nouveau, Prince, New Order and the Cure are all major influences for the album. Essentially, The Sweet Escape has virtually the same genres as the first album, inclusive of rap and dance/pop; while This is what the Truth Feels Like includes sonic sounds like reggae, disco and dancehall; with topics being about her relationship with Blake Shelton and her divorce from Gavin Rossdale. With Gwen being an open book lyrically and musically in virtually all of her music; it’s no wonder that Gwen and her music has inspired a number of up and coming and established artists in their craft. Gwen has been referred to as a “Pop Princess” by several contemporary music critics; while her music has influenced artists and musicians including Hayley Williams of Paramore, Best Coast, Kim Petras, Teddy Sinclair, Katy Perry, Charli XCX, Kesha, Ava Max, Marina Diamandis, Rita Ora, Keke Palmer, Bebe Rexha, Dua Lipa, the Stunners, Kelly Clarkson, Sky Ferreira, Kirstin Maldonado of Pentatonix, and Cover Drive. To say that this is remarkable- to have a direct impact on a number of artists past, present and future, is a vast understatement; and with there being an actual Wikipedia article about all of the awards Gwen has been nominated for and won, as well as a wax figure of Gwen having being unveiled at Madame Tussads Las Vegas at Venetian in 2010; is there any more reason, aside from music, that could be reason enough for Gwen’s immediate insertion into this list of Most Influential Artists of All Time? Gwen has also been pretty, pretty active and intentional in her philanthropy, as she has been donating money to many different causes, including the Save The Children fund, while she also hosted a fundraiser for Michelle Obama in 2012, and auctioned off a black dress worn at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival for charity. These activities show us her human side, and makes her extremely relatable to us all- and though I reckon it’s overall unhealthy to excessively admire our celebrity heroes (from afar and also from up close on social media!), I reckon the life of Gwen Stefani off the stage is extremely inspiring, comforting and hopeful. Certainly, reason enough for us to firmly declare her unwavering influence, don’t you reckon?

This is the thing, I always feel like this whole thing that we’re doing here, this life thing, is a test. And basically, you get given all of these crazy challenges to trick you to think that maybe it’s not a test and maybe nothing good is going to be around the corner.

But I feel like it’s the way you handle things, you never know. You’re gonna be blessed. You got to ask for the blessings. You got to keep engaged. That’s how I believe. That’s how I live my life. I’m getting better at it. It’s something you have to work on. It’s like a spiritual exercise every single day.

I had all those fetal positions for a while [during my divorce]. I know that everything that happens in my life isn’t happening in time with what people see. That’s what people forget, although we are close to that these days with the Internet and the platforms that we all have. For me, I was turning to my faith right away. That was a seed that my mom planted in me when I was a little girl…it’s a journey. It’s almost like you get lost, it’s like you get lost on your journey. We all do and we all will and I will again at some point I’m sure.

[Pharrell Williams once] said to me, ‘Once you open your eyes and you start looking, you will see,’…I know that sounds kind of vague but it was so real for me. I just started to focus on, ‘What is real? What is the truth? What is my purpose? What am I doing here?’

I tried to find what was my gift and my purpose. In that horrible moment, I just said to myself, ‘This is happening to me for a purpose … a reason.’ I tried to go right into the studio. I knew that was the only thing I know how to do good, is write songs and I wrote the ‘Truth’ record. [but] the record company was like, ‘Listen, we really think your record is too personal and no one is going to relate to this record and maybe you should just put it out as an artistic body of work — don’t even think about radio,’.  They told me that and it was literally like being punched in the stomach.

Then, I got this crazy call, after having that miracle baby Apollo, to be on ‘The Voice.’ Who knew that that would happen? I mean, we just didn’t know that was going to happen…

Did we all come here to just read about Gwen Stefani’s achievements outside of music though? Though some of us would say yes, I’m sure the answer would be a resounding no. and what better way to dive deep into her music than with the song that essentially made Gwen famous- “Hollaback Girl”. The song alone, from Gwen’s solo debut album from 2004, has redefined pop and ska for a whole generation of 90’s and 2000’s kids who are all grown up now, and as Gwen passionately rebuffs Courtney Love, who called her a ‘cheerleader’, Gwen expertly claims that she isn’t a ‘hollaback girl’ (someone who is a ‘yes’ girl and just goes with the flow!) and instead ‘runs the show’ if she in fact is a cheerleader. In sports in high school (and I’m just guessing here!), the cheerleader is a staple part of the high school experience, and hence this song is obviously a metaphor for not conforming to the standards the world sets for you, but instead rising above adversity and being the change that you want to see happen in the world. As Gwen emphatically relays to us through this song that ‘this my s***’, we are met with a statement of authority that stands the test of time, that shows us that we need to stand up for the things we believe in and not let others walk all over us. A declaration that was for yesterday, that is for today, and that will be for tomorrow; “Hollaback Girl” ushers Gwen Stefani into a new crowd and new fanbase- and one that will indeed keep on following her avidly in the coming months and years.

While “Hollaback Girl” is impactful and inspiring, so too is the rest of Gwen’s debut solo album. “What You Waiting For”, the lead single, packs a punch out of the gate, and confrontationally asks us what are we waiting for, with the deliberate vagueness alluding to the fact that we all need to get out of our own comfort zones and step into the unknown- we can’t be waiting for or waiting on something that will never come- if we’re waiting to do something at the perfect timing… then we’ll be waiting forever. With Gwen ardently encouraging us all to be more present in the present, the experimental rocker lets us know that it’s never too early or too late to start living your dream and to be intentional about our choices. “Rich Girl”, a power anthem, features Eve on guest vocals, and outlines the fact that people can be rich and have all of these material possessions, these fancy cars and a ginormous mansion… but money can’t buy happiness, and that riches beyond human comprehension do not matter if you don’t spend time with your loved ones and friends. A deep, introspective song; Gwen encourages us to look inwards, and to make sure that we have the right perspective, and that we have the right priorities. Sure, a hit song is great, but if you are all alone and have no one in your life to share the success with and to comfort you during the lows… then what exactly do you have? Maybe nothing?

“Cool”, an 80’s synth led nostalgic track, speaks about friendly exes and how two people formerly in a relationship can still be friends while seeing other people- and this song speaks about maturity and being the better person, and rising about your own emotions. Theoretically, being friends with your ex can happen; however, it’s an unlikely scenario. Thus, this song, while having good intentions in describing an ideal scenario, is also a gentle reminder that being friends with your ex may not be a good idea if you’re not over them yet. This song can bring comfort and a warning at the same time… and it’s multilayered songs like these that win me over to Gwen’s songs and her style. “Luxurious”, a laid back keys led melody about longing to be rich in love, speaks about wanting to have content and satisfied in the love our significant other brings to us, and that that song really is more about a love relationship. If you really listen to the lyrics, it has nothing to do with money or luxury. It has to do with love, being rich in love. I just wanted to think of a clever way to express how you have to work really hard for the rewards of that. Tony and I wrote that song — you would think I would’ve written that with somebody else, but that was me and Tony in his room. I knew I wanted to do this really kinda fast rappy part. And so we were listening to all these different things, trying to rip all these melodies off. It was one of the last songs we wrote. “Crash”, a not-so-serious, light and fluffy 80’s themed dance track, is actually quite the opposite lyrically when you look at it deeper, as Gwen relays that she wants a relationship that is similar to a car crashing into another car- long lasting and permanent; while “The Real Thing” carries on from “Crash”, and highlights the notion that when we find true love, we can declare that it is the real thing. “Harajuku Girls” pays homage to Japan and the culture over there, while album ender “Long Way To Go”, with Andre 3000, is frenetic and musically all-over-the-place… yet lyrically speaks about having a long way to go until the world is in unity and until we all are living in peace.

While Gwen has delivered a sonic and lyrical masterpiece with her debut album (the album even had its own heavy analysis and reflection piece on VICE way back in 2014); that’s not to say that subsequent albums don’t shine. Second album The Sweet Escape was released in 2006 and opens with the musically experimental mish-mash of “Wind It Up”, with elements borrowed from the Sound Of Music. Lyrically the song hardly makes much sense… but the track still is a ‘banger’, and reminds us that we all need those nonsensical songs to listen to once in a while, so that we can unwind and not think about things too deeply. The title track, another hit single that grabs my attention, deals with the aftermath of a fight between two people, and their dreamings and ponderings about a ‘perfect’ place where they can both go to where life is perfect and people are happy all the time; however because the two people are singing about hypotheticals… this song I believe is in fact made to ground us- and remind us that such a ‘sweet escape’ doesn’t exist. Though it’s ok to dream, Gwen Stefani makes this clear- that perhaps instead of retreating to a fantasy world; perhaps a conversation about reality and dealing with issues together would make much more sense? “Yummy” (no, not the Justin Bieber song!), is a hard-core duet with Pharrell Williams, whereby Gwen delivers captivating hooks and half-raps- and again we hear a song that makes little sense lyrically, but is as meta as ever- with Gwen singing in this song about why she’s still making solo music when fans expected a new No Doubt album; while on the other hand she sings about food and sex here as well. So should we take this song seriously or not? You be the judge… but it is super catchy, is it not?

The piano led ballad “4 In The Morning”, is as heartbreaking as it is hopeful and inspiring, as Gwen sings from the perspective of a woman who feels unloved and uncherished in a relationship. She doesn’t want to leave because she loves the guy, so she sings this ultimatum of a song, and cries out ‘…you’ve got to give me everything, nothing less ’cause you know I give you all of me, I give you everything that I am, I’m handin’ over everything that I’ve got, ’cause I wanna have a really true love…’; and from where I’m sitting, this track is just as important for us now as it was back then, as it reminds us that women need to be respected and treated with love. We shouldn’t take our spouses for granted, and Gwen reminds us in this song that though it’s so easy for us to slip up, there is hope and room for reconciliation, given that we are still alive and still breathing. “Now That You Got It” is an intense directive to the man in a relationship, asking him point blank what is he going to do to keep his girl now that he has her (although the wording is a bit suss and makes women sound like properties… though the message is still there!); while “Early Winter” showcases Gwen’s vocals and musicianship the most of any song of hers in my opinion- past and present. With the song about the continual decay (at the time) in Gwen’s own marriage with Gavin Rossdale, the metaphor of a marriage being compared to the highs of summer and the lows of winter, is quite creative and ingenious. And as Gwen channels her inner Avril Lavigne or Plumb; “Early Winter” brings a tear to my eye about all of the couples in this world who are going through break-ups. Yet if this song provides comfort and healing… then I guess it’s served its purpose? How are you feeling when you hear this tear-jerker? Emotional and teary?

Everybody knows what happened next [the divorce with Gavin]. February 9. I obviously know the date. It was the beginning of hell. Like six, seven, eight months of torture, trying to figure out this big secret… and what happened was [I was] praying. That’s my childhood, that’s how I was raised. And I think I strayed from that. But you know when it gets that bad, you just get desperate? You’re on your knees. You’re like, ‘What do I do?’ You can’t even go to your parents and ask them what to do. It was so insane because not only did my family break up, but then my kids are taken away like half the time, so that was really like, ‘What?! What did I do?’ My dreams were shattered. All I wanted my whole life was to have babies, be married, like what my parents have. Then I remember thinking, ‘There’s gotta be a reason for this.’ Of course you go through the ‘Why me?’ and feel sorry for yourself. But then I was like, ‘No, this happened to me already and I made something good out of it,’ and that was Tragic Kingdom.

I had spent a lot of years not being confident about my songwriting. But I know that’s all I had left, and that was my gift. I had read somewhere if you don’t have gratitude and confidence in what you’ve been given, you’re nowhere. [and] there I was with my big secret [on July 7th], right? And that’s when Blake was like, ‘Everybody, before we go out there, I want to let everyone know that by the time this airs, I will be divorced.’ [I was shocked, and] exposed somehow, you know? But it was like being handed this gift of a friend who was going through the exact same thing at the exact same time.

With Gwen taking a 10 year break between solo albums (alongside a new No Doubt album in 2012!); This Is What The Truth Feels Like is somewhat therapeutic and healing, as Gwen uses her songwriting on this album to heal from such a painful ordeal of divorce. Gone are the playful fun songs that were present on Love Angel Music Baby and The Sweet Escape and present are slower ballads. Is this ska? No, not this album, but this is Gwen at her most vulnerable. “Misery”, a slow ballad, has Gwen singing about her conflicting feelings of pain and hurt caused by the end of her marriage and happiness and elation from the start of a new relationship with Blake; while “Truth” delves deeper into her deep feelings of love for Blake. “Make Me Like You”, a straight up pop song, is again about Gwen’s love for Blake, and how he went along and ‘made her like him’ (a tongue in cheek joke of sorts!); while the emotional and personal “Used To Love You” details how Gwen used to love Gavin before they divorced, before she hated him. It’s an intense song, as are many others on this album- and even though Truth didn’t do well sales wise, and at radio, these songs still saved Gwen’s life in a manner of speaking. “Me Without You”, also directed to Gavin, speaks about how ‘…now I’m me without you, watch me breathe without you, oh, you’re fading so fast, I can hardly see ya when I look back, oh, now I’m me without you, and things are ’bout to get real good…’; while “Rare”, about Blake, reminds us that when we find that special someone, we ought to not let them go, because they are indeed rare as anything in this world. Yet if you want to hear one song about Gwen Stefani’s journey, then “Loveable” would be it- as there’s plenty of vivid accounts as to how she was dealing with Gavin’s affairs. In many ways, “Loveable” is the heartbeat of the album- and as we are reminded that people can let us down and can hurt us in terrible, terrible ways; we are also encouraged by the ever-true sentiment that we are indeed loveable, and that we are worthy of love. By our parents, by our true friends, and by God Almighty Himself!

It was really a life-saver record for me. It wasn’t until I had to go through the worst tragedy that it really opened up a channel for me to be like, ‘God gave me a gift. I’m going to use it now. Because if I don’t, I’m going to die’.

I’ve really been trying to exercise my spiritual side in the last year. I scraped myself off the floor and went into the studio and tried to somehow be alive again.

[for the recording process] I started going in with different people, but it felt kind of man’s world-y. Like, ‘Wow, we’re excited you’re here, but we’re going to do everything.’ [They weren’t] open to my ideas; [but] I just said to [Julia and Justin] when I walked in: ‘I don’t know who you guys are, but I just want you to know that I’m not here to do anything but use my gift, and I want to say the truth,’. He wanted to work with me for two years—no one would let him. Somehow I ended up in the room with a super fan. [but] she has a way of raising the bar really high because she hates everything. I kept asking, ‘God, why is this girl here right now?’ But it was meant to be, and the chemistry between all of us was so amazing.

About the Voice: This newfound tabloid fame that I’ve got definitely came from being on TV—that just takes it to a different place I’ve never been before. I’m just so grateful for that experience. To be on a show where I got to step outside of myself and coach and think about my own career really helped me find my confidence again and feel kind of reborn.

From the most vulnerable album to the most festive- Christmas albums are hard to record generally- and make it completely your own. But Gwen with her brand of pop and ska meshed together delivered a knockout punch with You Make It Feel Like Christmas. In my opinion, this holiday project (which released in 2017 and rereleased as a deluxe version in 2018), was, and still is Christmas pop music at its finest, with an equal number of original tunes to well known holiday favourites. Gwen’s vocals are powerful and impressive here, with this album perfect for getting into the Christmas spirit and for wrapping presents to and just jamming out in October, November and December (or at all times of the year if you are a Christmas enthusiast!) I firmly believe also that this album is a strong alternative to the easy-listening of Michael Buble’s Christmas and the overproduced pop of Justin Bieber’s Mistletoe. Gwen does pop well as well as easy listening well- so it’s the best of both worlds here- what other reason to listen? Think of it this way- it’s May at the moment… so how about you listen to this album, and then buy it later on this year for your grandparents, so that you can persuade them to listen less to Bublé’s Christmas and more to this hopeful and joyous album?! Sound like a good idea? Gwen’s passion and heart is abounding and overflowing here, and her duet with Blake is one of my favourite Christmas duets I’ve heard in recent memory. There’s lots of strings and obligatory Christmas-y bells and whistles… and this makes this project one of the most Christmas-y Christmas albums I’ve heard this decade! If you’re a fan of holiday music, this album is for you. If you explicitly dislike Michael Bublé’s Christmas (not because it’s a bad album, but because it’s been played to death!), then this album is for you. If you want an overload of original Christmas songs, then this album is for you. If you’re wondering how Blake and Gwen sound together in a song aside from “Happy Anywhere” and “Nobody But You”, then this album is for you. Do any of your fit these categories? I’m sure maybe that’ll be 99% of the population at least!

I mentioned earlier that it’s been 5 years since Gwen has done something new. But now here we have “Let Me Reintroduce Myself” and “Slow Clap”… and boy are they explosive and heartfelt and emotional. As Gwen sings in “Let Me Reintroduce Myself” about the fact that this song is her ‘reintroducing’ herself to the world in case they have forgotten her music (because according to her, it’s not a comeback, as she’s always been around!); “Let Me Reintroduce Myself” is fun, positive, bubbly and a joy to listen to, as I’ve now become a fan of Gwen and her music. After a listen from this highly infectious and energetic pop number, how could you not be a fan after this? Complete with horns and brass instruments and musical elements alluding to ska (the genre Gwen was heavily into during her early solo days and her No Doubt band days!), this song is one that will lift your spirits and will bring an immense smile to your face.

Gwen’s follow up track to “Let Me Reintroduce Myself” is “Slow Clap”, and it’s just as compelling and inspiring. Only 2 and a half minutes in length (and just over 3 minutes for the collaboration with Saweetie!), Gwen sings about the fact that she can indeed congratulate herself for every success that has happened so far in her life- that she can be thankful and grateful and appreciative for the highs and the lows, we are reminded that we can see the world in wide eyed wonder and optimism. The song is about acknowledging greatness when there is greatness- even if it does come from yourself- and this track, though seemingly sounding arrogant, is rather quite the opposite- it’s acknowledging your strengths and knowing what you are good at, and sharing gratitude and thanks (to God?) for these gifts. And if these two songs are any indication, the new Gwen Stefani album is sure to be full of life and positivity! So what are you waiting for? Crank up the volume to eleven and sing out loud. Well done Gwen Stefani, I can’t wait to hear what God has in store for you next!

With this new single, Slow Clap, which was written a while, like in quarantine. It was a second song I wrote with Ross Golan and Luke Niccoli, right after Reintroduce Myself. I don’t know if you can hear it, but they’re like from the same world. When you’re working for a while, you get to go and play in these sandboxes, and Ross Golan, like who are you? He’s so talented and because I have, I’ve had all these different genres that I’m bouncing in I don’t even know where I need to be or what someone would want from me or what do I wanna be, where am I? He was like ”I woke up at 5:44am and I had this crazy idea and I sang it into my phone, then I went back to sleep and it was this idea titled Slow Clap.” And I was like you’re the weirdest guy ever. And he was like ”It’s kinda like all those movies from 80’s where you get like clap back to life.” Like yes, you’re not the underdog! You’re an awesome person! I feel like that’s the thing that happens to us, it starts in high school or actually in elementary school where you feel like you don’t fit in and sometimes your weirdness or like don’t fitinness is what makes you so special. The song is kind of about that and it’s also about wanting to just… even though I know I had my fifteen minutes in my time, wanting to kinda double dip and like just get a little bit more, why not. If they’re gonna let me, I’m gonna take it!

There so much that Gwen Stefani has done (record a break up album, a hit song based off a feud, as well as one of the most hopeful Christmas albums ever); and that’s not including the songs not present on any albums. “Baby Don’t Lie” and “Spark The Fire” are standalone singles from 2014- I guess they would have been present on This Is What The Truth Feels Like, but their sound wasn’t compatible with the theme of the album. “Baby Don’t Lie”, co-written with Benny Blanco and Ryan Tedder, spoke about insecurities in a relationship, and “Spark The Fire” is a bit more raw and alternative and a song about sparking the fire inside you for… something…; yet as Gwen has mentioned,‘…I didn’t feel fulfilled. That record [‘Baby Don’t Lie’] with Benny was done that way because I had just given birth and had just started on The Voice and felt like I should do something in music, but what was I going to do? There wasn’t enough time. So I tried to make a record where I was just kind of involved – which is how a lot of people do it, but it didn’t work for me…’. Nonetheless, these two songs remind us more and more of Gwen’s musical versatility, and also have me intrigued as to what the next album will bring- will it be pop or ska or EDM or country? Or something completely different? “My Heart Is Open” (Maroon 5), “Need You Tonight” (INXS), “Go Ahead And Break My Heart”, “Nobody But You”, “Happy Anywhere” (all with Blake Shelton), “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” (Eve), and “Physical (Mark Ronson Remix)” (Dua Lipa) are all songs that Gwen has sung with another artist- as we once again are blown away by her ability to transition in and out of different genres with ease; while she has also recorded songs for the Trolls Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.

And then there’s No Doubt. Another discography, and a career that Gwen started off in. A band that was purely ska, this is a batch of songs that I hadn’t even touched for blog preparation. I figured- if Gwen is influential all by herself as a solo artist (and she most deifnitley is!), then what would talking about No Doubt serve? All of the die hard fans of Gwen Stefani (of which I may be becoming one of them!), will check out No Doubt at their own pace if they haven’t already- and if the band isn’t your ‘cup of tea’ or preference… then that’s by all means fine! Do these songs need to be good to warrant Gwen a spot on this list of influential artists of all time? Do I need to love the band No Doubt to love Gwen’s solo work? The answer is no both times, by the way. And so, as I finish up this blog, let me leave you with some No Doubt songs- it’s up to you whether you want to listen to them or not. Gwen will be here as a solo artist regardless if you connect with these songs or not- and here’s hoping and praying that Gwen’s music will nevertheless open you all up to a world of music that is not pop, and that is versatile and meaningful and inspirational!

Gwen Stefani is in her 50’s. Wikipedia says so. But I feel as if she’s just starting. If you’re a new fan, like myself, then boy I reckon we’re in for a treat. “Let Me Introduce Myself” feels like the start of a new chapter- and I’d say hold on tight everyone, because Gwen is going to change the world this year and next year. With such a rich discography (despite only 3 full length albums), there’s so much to unpack here. And though my blog is long-ish, I don’t think I’ve covered absolutely everything there is to know about Gwen. And therein lies the point. The more you know about an artist, the more you find out that there is even more to know. And going back to what I said earlier about being afraid about ska- let’s just say that right now, music genres don’t faze me one bit. Sure, it’s not my absolute favourite genre… but God still speaks through these tracks, and that’s the main thing. Why do we need to be afraid of music? How about being afraid of time getting away from us- isn’t that more logical? And so, as we hold tight and wait for Gwen Stefani to release a stellar album… let’s revisit her music; inclusive of “Hollaback Girl”. Should Gwen be thanking Courtney Love for her career? Perhaps. Perhaps indeed!

I’m at a really weird place in my life because of the different roles that I play. We all play different roles through our lifetime. You get to a place where you’re sort of out of touch a bit because… you are a mom, and you’re on a TV show, and you’re not touring, and you’re older. To have Dua Lipa even know who I am and want me to be a part of that was super flattering. When she asked me it was during that summer when that big song was out that the whole world was listening to — including Blake Shelton! Dancing around the backyard. We were all listening to that song. So it was really exciting, and it’s always flattering when someone wants to work with you. She’s such a good singer. It’s super rare — I’m just going to be honest — that I’m impressed by somebody. I can’t help it. I’m stuck up, and I like what I like. At the same time, on something like The Voice, people come through with this talent where you’re like, “Why did anyone even let me be onstage? How is it fair I have any success, I am so not talented compared to these people.

I feel like I’m learning indie music through my son. He already went through “I’m into Green Day,” and I was like, “I toured with all those bands.” It was weird to see him discover music, and they discover it in such a different way now. You start to feel like that old “back in my day” person. We didn’t have access to people we liked. We didn’t have conversations with Prince. I mean, I did. [Laughs] But the people we loved were untouchable. Now you can write to these bands and have this different access.

To answer your question, the record I bought that would be the newest, youngest person, would be a Post Malone record. I listen to all of his records. Then it feels weird because it’s like, “OK, wait, I’m his mom.” I’m not ashamed of my age — you know, I hate getting older. But we’re all in the same boat and we all have to go through these feelings. I’m just trying to be real about this. You get to a certain point where you’re judging because you already lived through this, like, “OK, you’re doing that.” It’s like they’re your kids, so you see the flaws, you know what I’m saying?

I think the fashion part of it was just as important as the music for me. It was when I finally figured out, “Oh my gosh, I can write songs,” that I was actually a human being. Before that I was this passive person with zero idea what I was going to do. I didn’t have any big dreams or hopes. Lived at my parents’ until I was 26. Just naive. I think because I have dyslexia, it made me delayed in terms of wanting to venture out, even though I was going to college. I was just sort of late to the game of life, you know? When I did that House Of Style interview, you can see how young and sheltered and vulnerable I was.

All the things I did were very intuitive. My mom used to sew, her mom used to sew. Sewing was in our family. I like to be creative in that way, and I was anti-fashion. “These magazines, you can’t get these clothes, and those models are so skinny.” My mom would be like, “OK, you can get your school clothes, go to the mall.” And I’d say, “I don’t want to go to the mall, I want to go to the thrift store and I can buy way more and I don’t like those mall clothes.” If we had a No Doubt concert that came up, that meant I could get an outfit. And I’d daydream in class and I’d get in my car and go to all the thrift stores and get whatever I’d get for cheap. I was so good at being able to find what I needed to find. And it’d always be unique to me. Nobody showed me what I liked. I didn’t have a stylist. It was just a natural thing that came to me.

It’s funny when I look back at the outfits and the makeup and people are like, “Are you embarrassed by that?” I’m always like, “No, because I know exactly how that came to be.” It was pure me. The only reason it stands the test of time and people dress up like me for Halloween in those outfits is because you couldn’t think them up. They weren’t planned, it was just how I dressed every day.

I was super naive when I said I’d do it [The Voice]. I don’t think I’d even watched the show. My parents had watched it. I had literally just given birth. Five weeks out of having this baby. My lawyer, my mom and dad, my niece, they were over to see the baby. I got the call. Basically, Irving Azoff — who was not my manager at the time, but I’d known him and his wife for 14 years — his wife called me and said “Christina [Aguilera]’s pregnant, do you think you’d want to do The Voice?” I hung up and said, “I just got the craziest call.” My parents were huge fans and were like, “Oh my God!” It was a hard period in my life before that. A lot of stuff had gone down. I had done that record with No Doubt, which was really hard. I had been really depleted in a lot of ways. To do [The Voice], I just never thought I could, but I was going to go for it.

You ask me how it helped me? I learned so much on that show. I think it was the perfect time for me to play the role as mentor or coach. It helped me with my confidence, and also took away some of my confidence. It was so intimidating to watch these unbelievably gifted, regular people that just one after another were coming through and going through unbelievable pressure, just to get onstage and do a blind audition. Then everything that comes after that — I could’ve never done it. I could never sing like that. You start to judge yourself: “I’m not very good, how did I make it, how did they let me out of my mom’s house?” All these insecurities.

But at the same time you’re pitching yourself. I’m not a competitive person, so I was uncomfortable. Adam Levine sitting there going, “I do this and I do that.” It was awkward. I didn’t know how to pitch myself. You start to think about it. “Look all the stuff I did, shit, that’s a lot of stuff!” Yeah, I wanna work with a little girl, I can show you what I did, I already lived your dream, let’s go! It was very inspiring, not to mention being around so much music. You’re watching all these different kind of singers interpret all these different songs in genres you normally wouldn’t listen to. Being around that energy was super inspiring.

When I went back that first season, I was nursing a baby. I was old; I had that baby at 44. It was a lot. By the end of that season, it was December, and February was when everything went down in my personal life. My life was over. It was crazy, between the first two seasons I did that show — and of course, when that happens, whenever anything goes wrong, that’s when the songs start coming. I’m not the writer who just writes all year long. I don’t write until I have to, until it’s time. Anyways, it was a perfect thing for me, and I think it was great for whoever followed me or didn’t follow me on my journey. To be able to get on TV in front of a new audience and tell my story and play the role of the coach — it was just a beautiful new chapter. I think on both sides. Some people could get to know me. You know me through the songs. But this is me, here, as a person. It was a great thing for me. Not to mention, meeting Blake.

Does Gwen Stefani make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Influential Artists of all Time’ list? Is there any song (other than “Let Me Reintroduce Myself”, “Cool”, “The Sweet Escape”, “Misery”, “Hollaback Girl”, “Early Winter”, “Slow Clap” and “Rich Girl”) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far, or even your walk with God? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!

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