Gwen Stefani doesn’t look like she’s 45 years old. She rarely ever looks like she’s 35 either, as I’d easily believe anyone with a tin foil hat and a theory that she was bred from alien DNA on this day in 1969. From the moment that No Doubt exploded onto our radios and TV screens with the hit singles of the 1995 album “Tragic Kingdom,” it was clear that Stefani was going to be a star, especially with the way that I and a million other teenage boys drooled over her in the music videos for hits like “Just a Girl” and “Spiderwebs.” She was a certified pop star, a pop-punk-ska goddess and an all-around All-American girl who probably had no clue that she would eventually become one of the biggest music and fashion icons of the last 30 years.
There’s a chance that I could be embellishing Stefani’s contributions to popular culture, but I’m admittedly wearing plaid-colored glasses. As someone who still shamelessly listens to the ska-punk songs of the 90s that were both raised up and buried by the success of No Doubt, Stefani is always going to have a place in my heart as the superstar who inspired all of the girls in my classes to wear baby tees and plaid pants with suspenders. Her many, many, many looks over the years were always massively influential, and even as her musical style evolved and/or strayed from that raw sound she delivered throughout the second half of the 90s, Stefani never lost “it.”
What makes it all so much more impressive and amazing for a woman who has achieved such an incredible level of fame is that she has almost always managed to remain so squeaky clean, wholesome and humble, especially in her relationship with the equally (and sometimes infuriatingly) good-looking Gavin Rossdale. At the very least, she’s done a hell of a job making it seem that way and covering up any transgressions or glaring character flaws that she may have (like, for example, actually being a fire-breathing lizard empress of the Gorbgon-6 galaxy). But my words only seem like the fawning of a grown man clinging to a teenage crush. Instead, for Stefani’s 45th birthday, I propose we investigate the evolution of Stefani as a music and style icon through this series of photos that spans the last 25 years of her life.
You know, for science and whatnot.
Actually, let’s go all the way back to before Stefani was even a star, as she recently shared this photo of her and Sting in 1983, when she was just a 14-year old groupie.
Did she know that 20 years later she’d actually get to perform with him? I like to think she did. Let’s move forward to 1989, when a still-unknown No Doubt was performing at something called the Clean and Sober Beach Party. The band was still two years away from signing with Interscope Records, but we all know what happened next.
By 1996, Stefani was becoming a household name as the face and voice of No Doubt, as well as the ska-punk movement in general (despite the eternal debate that No Doubt was neither ska nor punk), and if I had seen this (censored) NSFW image of Stefani when she posed for it in 1996, I’m pretty sure I would have been like Butters when he accidentally watched Backdoor Sluts 9.
In 1997, when MTV still actually played music videos while celebrating them with an awards ceremony, No Doubt was on top of the world, and “Tragic Kingdom” had unleashed six hit singles (the seventh was “Hey You!” in 1998) with memorable videos. What always amazed me about “Tragic Kingdom,” though, was that “Different People” was arguably the best track on that album, and it was never pushed as a hit. Still, Stefani was clearly emerging as a star.
For the record, of all the videos that were released for “Tragic Kingdom,” none made my heart pitter patter like “Don’t Speak.”
Just talking about 90s music requires a ton of focus for me, because I could run off on any number of tangents about bands, songs, styles, personalities, attitudes, genres, one-hit wonders, etc.-times-infinity. But if we played a game in which you’d ask me to name five bands that best defined the ridiculousness and culture of the 90s, two of them would easily be No Doubt and Bush. Regardless of how we feel about them (I have soft spots for both of them, despite Bush’s music being fluff), they were so indicative of the emergence of 90s post-grunge “rock,” and that’s why it was so perfect that Stefani and Rossdale (below in 1997) ended up together in 1995 and actually lasted more than a year.
As Stefani’s star power blew up at a nuclear level, her looks were constantly changing, and it all started with the hairstyles that she completely owned. There was 1998’s “blue” look, seen below with Hole’s Melissa Auf der Maur, who deserves a few thousand words of her own, and Courtney Love before she was a parody of a caricature.
That was followed by the pink look of 1999, as pink has always been a staple of her unique fashion identity, but while so many other girls tried to replicate this look, Stefani killed it almost every time.
The bigger the celebrity, the more stars that Stefani attracted, and I’m awfully fond of this hilariously bad picture of David Spade that just so happens to include Stefani looking phenomenal as usual. Spade has that trademark “Yeah, I totally could” look that could easily be misinterpreted as a “Please punch me right here” face.
But it’s important to point out that not every look was a guaranteed winner. We all have our fashion skeletons in our closets, obviously, and I like to think that if we opened Stefani’s, her pink corn rows would come tumbling out. YEESH.
In 2000, Stefani and Rossdale were still going strong, which was a marvelous feat for two reasons: 1) They’re both ridiculously good-looking celebrities, and 2) Bush was on the downswing and Stefani was still propelling to the top of music’s A-list. I guess true love conquers all, even if Stefani never gave me a fair shot to prove that my beatboxing skills are way better than “The Chemicals Between Us.” Regardless, Rossdale’s look never changed (I hate him with each new word) while Stefani could go back to platinum blonde anytime she wanted, looking like she was ready to star in a Jenna Jameson biopic (and that’s a compliment).
Forget all of No Doubt’s work up to 2001 and ‘02. No matter how cute or beautiful or gorgeous Stefani had seemed before the release of the ’01 album “Rock Steady,” the music video for “Underneath It All” changed everything. The song was pretty decent, with an absurd ability to get stuck in my head any time I heard it (including right now), but this specific scene from the video… it still leave me speechless like a drooling goober.
All the while, Stefani and Rossdale continued to be adorable together as she evolved musically, finding influences in a variety of genres and through unexpected friendships with so many different stars and artists. Even Lil Kim’s boobies were hanging out with music’s most underrated power couple at the time, and while I’d love to write another think piece on Kim, I just can’t get past how delightful Stefani and Rossdale were.
Stefani’s biggest moment of 2001 came on rapper Eve’s second album, “Scorpion,” as the two teamed up for the huge hit single “Let Me Blow Your Mind,” and they performed together at the BET Awards, where Stefani made me fall out of my chair.
One of the most clear cut signs of superstardom is when you start hanging out with Bono, and while I’m still waiting for the U2 singer to call me to go bowling or something, Stefani was partying with him in 2002.
But it wasn’t just her professional career that was soaring to new heights, as Stefani’s personal life was featured on the covers of magazines all over the world after she married Rossdale on September 14, 2002. The style icon and rock star actually had two ceremonies (because why not?) so she could show off her pink gown.
Again, 20 years after she asked for Sting’s autograph, Stefani took one of the biggest stages in the world with him for the halftime show at Super Bowl XXXVII. I’m told that No Doubt was also with her, but at this point in 2003, I don’t think many people were referring to her by her band’s name anymore. Tony Kanal and Co. had simply become the supporting act.
In 2004, Stefani took that huge step forward that had arguably been long overdue, as she released her first solo album, “Love. Angel. Music. Baby.” More importantly, at least for the sake of her star power, Stefani crossed over into acting with her debut as Jean Harlow in the Martin Scorsese film The Aviator, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio. Her effort could best be described as “It was her debut role,” but it was also really hard at that time to pretend she was anyone other than Gwen-F*cking-Stefani.
At the same time, Stefani’s style was taking on a bold new look, as she was joined by her backup crew of Harajuku Girls wherever she went. This wasn’t received all that well, with Margaret Cho protesting the gimmick as a minstrel show, referring to the Japanese schoolgirl look as “kind of like blackface.” The dancers, however, defended their roles in Stefani’s entourage, and any backlash certainly didn’t stop Stefani from moving forward.
Important question: Were Stefani and Rossdale still as adorable 10 years after they started dating? Yes. Shockingly and somewhat sickeningly, they were still one of the cutest couples in show business by 2005.
Meanwhile, as Stefani continued to promote her solo music efforts in 2005, she appeared on the mythical MTV series Total Request Live, which historians say was the network’s attempt to loosely cling to music videos by sometimes showing as many as 30 seconds of the biggest videos of the day. As far as her look… I don’t even know what to say, other than she’s a freak of nature.
With her acting debut and first solo album behind her, Stefani took her biggest step yet in establishing herself as a true mogul, with the 2004 launch of her L.A.M.B. clothing line, which was hitting runways late in 2005. To promote her clothing, Stefani appeared at a fashion and technology event hosted by Playstation – yes, this actually happened – and she posed for a photo with someone who used to be famous.
Further proving that she was the busiest woman alive in 2005, Stefani also announced that she was pregnant with her first child. She looked like a proud, glowing peacock at the 2006 Grammys, and I’m sure that any fashion police had only great things to say about her.
After giving birth later that year? Ridiculous. Sure, she was someone’s mom at that point, but it’s not a crime to point out how amazing she looked as she left the Late Show with her baby. I don’t know if the alien DNA theory holds water or if this is just an open and shut pact with Satan, but this woman is always unreal.
In 2007, Stefani released the third single from her second solo album, “The Sweet Escape.” The song was “4 in the Morning,” and I don’t even remember what it sounded like. For as much as I loved “Underneath It All,” though, the video for this one…
The next year, Stefani and Rossdale attended a simple, elegant Spirit of Life Awards dinner with some random guys named Steve Jobs and Jimmy Iovine.
By 2009, Stefani had finally vowed to settle down and take a breather. Just kidding. She got back out on tour with her old friends from No Doubt, because the guys had to put some food on the table, too. It’s worth pointing out that in this photo from a 2009 tour rehearsal, Stefani looked no different at 39 than she did at 25, and this was less than a year after she had given birth to her second child.
Being a music and fashion superstar also has plenty of side perks, like being able to take your two young children backstage at a Yo Gabba Gabba show to meet all of the zany characters, like the orange one and the red dude. I may not be hip on my YGG names and lingo, but Yellow Robot Bro must have been in heaven when he got to chill with Stefani in 2010.
2011 marked another massive year for Stefani, as if any of the previous years had been slow, as she returned to the studio with No Doubt to record the album “Push and Shove,” but arguably more important and monumental to her career was being named the new face of L’Oreal Paris, which sparked a new ad campaign.
Stefani and No Doubt released “Push and Shove,” as well as the music video for “Settle Down,” in 2012 and spent a lot of the year performing and promoting the successful album that debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. They capped off the year with a performance at the annual KROQ Acoustic Christmas event in Los Angeles, and then they once again went on hiatus in 2013.
That gave Stefani a little extra free time, so she and Rossdale filled it by having another baby. Honestly, I’m starting to think that she just does this to taunt other women.
Joining NBC’s singing competition series The Voice seemed like an odd choice for Stefani, but it’s just another smart move by a brilliant strategist. As Stefani guides aspiring singers in their quest to win the show and establish themselves in the music industry, she’s working on both a new solo album and a No Doubt record. It sounds like she’s in over her head, but even at 45, nothing is impossible for Stefani. She’s a living, breathing work of art and she continues to defy the odds by having not only one of the most spectacular professional careers in both music and fashion, but also a personal life that seems too good to be true.
In fact, thinking back on her career and life in the public eye, I could really only find one glaring fault… I can’t even look at a damn banana without saying, “B-A-N-A-N-A-S.” I guess I can forgive that, though.