Synonymous with female attitude, bleach blonde hair, and distinctive fashion choices, Gwen Stefani made a name for herself in the mid-90s by mixing real-world emotions with impactful societal commentary—all bundled together into a spunky and memorable mantra: “I ain’t no hollaback girl.” Once considered an icon of female resistance, the curtain is now falling on Stefani’s popularity after over a decade of questionable artistic choices and, more recently, her controversial statement, “I’m Japanese.”
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the singer’s career, Stefani started out as the lead singer of ska punk band No Doubt alongside her brother Eric and other bandmates. The group achieved massive mainstream success in the 90s, releasing hits such as ‘Just a Girl’ and ‘Don’t Speak’—the latter of which is still a cult favourite among angsty gen Zers.
For a very long time, the lead singer garnered attention from mainstream publications, as well as smaller indie movements, due to her originality and unwillingness to conform. It was artists like Stefani, Avril Lavigne and Pink who championed the alt-girl attitude—rejecting stereotypically feminine aesthetics and instead sporting more ambiguous and low-key looks. This kind of fashion activism stood up in stark comparison with the hyper-girly approaches taken by pop stars like Britney Spears and Natascha Bedingfield.
Even in 2021—over 20 years after the punk singer first gained notoriety—Vogue published a lengthy lookbook praising Stefani’s effortlessly chic tomboy aesthetic. Of course, the influential fashion magazine also happened to conveniently leave out all of the highly problematic cultural appropriation that consumed Stefani’s public identity for the better part of a decade.
It seems Stefani’s been lugging around a hell of a lot of baggage for the duration of her 30-year-long career and the thread is finally beginning to unravel. Let’s unpack all of the most significant chapters of this singer’s story.
Stefani began to pursue a solo career in the early 2000s and practically overnight, it became apparent that the white American artist had a deeply problematic fascination with Asian culture. It’s important to note that the mainstream media were not having in-depth conversations about cultural appropriation in the mid-2000s—even now it’s a highly contested topic. So, when white celebrities donned bindis, wore saris on the red carpet and commandeered entire cultures as part of a marketing campaign, they were deemed global visionaries and progressive pioneers.
Now, of course, we’re far more educated about these topics and so we can revisit past instances where egos should’ve been checked and celebrities held to a higher standard in regard to cultural sensitivity and respect. With that in mind, back to the Sweet Escape singer.
In 2004, the artist released her debut solo album Love.Angel.Music.Baby, and kickstarted the promotion by centring the optics of the record’s entire theme and identity around Harajuku culture—a Japanese movement which celebrates bold, colourful and striking aesthetics.
Seemingly intent on appropriating the culture as her own, Stefani began to eat, sleep and breathe Harajuku. She started to travel with an entourage of four Japanese and Japanese-American backup dancers who were commonly referred to as her ‘Harajuku girls’, and even went as far as to design an extensive range of perfumes—titled, you guessed it ‘Harajuku lovers’—modelled off of the subculture.
Aptly put by Vice, the fact that the backup dancers—who were required to speak exclusively in Japanese when in public—became the focal point of Stefani’s breakthrough career speaks volumes to not only her own missteps, but how the entire industry and fanbase allowed her to get away with it. In no way was the singer’s reputation damaged or hindered by this. In fact, she went on to have an illustrious music career and even participated in three seasons of popular TV show The Voice. Did I hear someone say white privilege?
I think the most upsetting and significant aspect of this conversation is the fact that still today, Stefani appears completely delusional about the harmful ways in which she utilised another culture’s aesthetic and tradition in order to further her own financial and commercial success.
In a recent interview with Allure, the artist was questioned about her Harajuku era. When explaining her attraction to Japanese culture, she stated, “It was so rich with tradition, yet so futuristic [with] so much attention to art and detail and discipline. It was fascinating to me.”
Cultural appreciation is one thing, but what she said next is a completely different story. The singer went on to unequivocally exclaim: “My God, I’m Japanese and I didn’t know it.” The interviewer, who is Filipina American, noted how she felt “the words hang in the air between us.”
The artist wasn’t finished, of course, concluding her point by saying: “If [people are] going to criticise me for being a fan of something beautiful and sharing that, then I just think that doesn’t feel right. I think it was a beautiful time of creativity… a time of the ping-pong match between Harajuku culture and American culture. [It] should be okay to be inspired by other cultures because if we’re not allowed then that’s dividing people, right?”
Rather than taking any accountability whatsoever, Stefani seemed completely hellbent on justifying this era in her life—even going so far as to seemingly criticise those who were going against her narrative.
It’s not the first time, nor can I imagine it’ll be the last, that white celebrities—or people in general—have profited off of the culture of people of colour. And despite public discourse and discussion being a valuable tool in regard to rewriting the court of public opinion, it doesn’t do a hell of a lot when the public figure in question refuses to apologise.
Depending on which generation you were born into, you might know the American actor and musician Jared Leto for a wide array of reasons. I personally remember him from Requiem for a Dream and the absolute trauma that movie caused my 15-year-old self. Some may also associate Leto with Fight Club’s Angel Face character while for others his face brings forth unwanted flashbacks from the car crash that was his performance as Suicide Squad’s Joker. Heck, if you’re not much of a movie buff but know a thing or two about fashion, then Leto can only represent one thing to you: Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele’s most favoured muse, placed even before Harry Styles and Lana Del Rey on the pedestal.
But Leto should be known for more than his surprisingly long-lasting acting career or the name he’s made for himself in the music industry with his band Thirty Seconds To Mars—fronted by the man himself along with his brother Shannon Leto on drums. It’s time for Leto to be dragged for more than his embarrassingly meme-worthy acting attempt in House of Gucci—it’s about time we addressed the problematic behaviour he’s been displaying for years without ever facing the repercussions. From accusations of paedophilia and rape to his bizarre cult island, we’ve gathered all the receipts.
View this post on Instagram
When the Leto brothers formed their rock band in 1998, they probably never imagined the fan base it would accumulate over the years. Thirty Seconds To Mars (also known as 30STM) went on to consistently enjoy sold-out tours and even headline numerous festivals. Known for its energetic live performances, fused elements from a wide variety of genres, its use of philosophical and spiritual lyrics, concept albums, and experimental music, the band took a strange turn when it started holding cult-like “summer camps” for its audience in 2015.
What seemed to have started as an ironic comment—in 2013, Leto told The New York Times Magazine that it was “a joke, a response to journalists saying, ‘You have such a cult following.’”—quickly turned into a golden opportunity to fleece their audience. In August 2019, while on yet another island retreat they’d held in Croatia for hundreds of fans, Thirty Seconds To Mars tweeted, “Yes, it’s a cult,” sending the internet into an understandable frenzy.
As reported by KQED in September 2019, the band’s fans “collectively refer to themselves as ‘the Echelon’, and are a group that seems overwhelmingly immersed not [just] in music nerd-dom, but rather a more general sort of love for the community surrounding the band.” I mean, just watch 10 seconds of the fan-made video below and you’ll get an idea of the megachurch vibes 30STM is giving off:
Oh, and in case you’re still not convinced, keep in mind that the Echelon also seems more than happy to don all-white uniforms and worship Leto’s feet. No biggie.
KQED further noted, “Like many cults, the Echelon espouses an us vs. them mentality via the hashtag #YouWouldntUnderstand, a refrain Leto repeats often. That idea has pushed supporters to ever more fervent degrees of devotion any time the band receives any degree of criticism.”
Looking into the band’s eyebrow-raising trips, the publication revealed that its Camp Mars event, which was held between 7 and 9 September 2019, charged $999 for two nights of outdoor camping, where you had to bring your own tent and supplies, Fyre Festival-style. The getaway also included daytime outdoor activities like rock-climbing and archery, plus two Thirty Seconds To Mars concerts, which the band called ‘Church of Mars’. More expensive dorm options were also offered, but the only way to sleep in a space that wasn’t shared with strangers was to pay $6,499 for a “VIP experience.” Neat.
But that’s all fine, because Leto declared the band “anti-greed” back in 2013. Whether the whole cult aspect surrounding 30STM started as a joke or not, what certainly seems to be serious is how aware Leto is of his fans’ dedication to him. This thirst for devotion has most definitely played a part in the worrying accusations the celebrity has faced both before and after.
In May 2018, in the midst of the #MeToo movement, Dylan Sprouse—yep, that’s the twin brother of Cole Sprouse who is best known for his role as Zack Martin on the Disney Channel series The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and its spin-off, The Suite Life on Deck—posted a tweet accusing Leto of sending DMs to every model aged 18 to 25.
It quickly escalated when Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn tweeted the following as an answer to Sprouse’s initial tweet, “He starts at 18 on the internet?” Though the tweet has since been deleted, many netizens managed to grab a screenshot beforehand:
This was not the first time Gunn tried speaking up about Leto’s predatory behaviour either. In June of 2015, the director reportedly did a live stream on the video app Periscope in which he made similar remarks about the actor’s habits of sleeping with underage girls. SCREENSHOT did not manage to locate a copy of the video in question.
In that same year, the New York Post reported that the 30STM frontman had been pursuing teen models. “He’s been approaching all the girls and inviting them to his shows,” an anonymous source told the paper. “He’s a serial texter. He is constantly texting these 16- and 17-year-old girls. It’s really kind of creepy.”
For a man who openly held a competition in which the prize was a night sleeping in his bed and who fronts a band that is known to specifically request their fans get tattoos in their honour, to be accused of such things should have been enough to eventually lead the actor to face at least some kind of consequence. And yet, not much happened to the cult leader in 2018, even after a worrying number of allegations, some from years before then, started appearing online.
Though the article has since been wiped clean from the internet, in July 2015, pop culture writer for the now-vanished media criticism site Contemptor, Evangeline Van Houten, made some waves for her piece titled Another Cosby? A Reminder That Several Women Have Accused Jared Leto Of Sexual Assault. In it, the journalist collected several confronting allegations of sexual misconduct from fans of 30STM.
A number of victims, as young as 15, described having sex with Leto and some of the allegations suggested the singer acted despite a lack of consent or continued even when asked to stop. One account stated, “He was very pushy into coercing me to do sexual acts with him and he was quite rough and forceful. Once he was unnecessarily rough and when I told him it hurt he didn’t stop—he never did anything slowly or for my pleasure… And no, he never asked me if I was ever ok or comfortable with anything he wanted to do, simply because he is not the person to care.”
The 50-year-old actor never tried to respond to such accusations, and let’s be honest, it never seemed like he really had to, especially since barely anyone even made the effort to shed light on his alleged predatory behaviour. A Reddit thread based on the article mentioned above includes many more shocking accounts, in case you’re wondering exactly how many victims we’re looking at here.
In 2014, a Star Magazine print issue featured an interview with former adult film star Vicki Marie Taylor claiming that, back when Leto dated Cameron Diaz, she and three other strip dancers had been invited to a post-concert get-together one night in April 2002.
“The other girls and I stripped down to bikinis and hung out with Jared and the band backstage,” Taylor told Star. “After a while, Jared invited me onto his tour bus. His brother, Shannon, the band’s drummer, was already on it and the three of us were the only people there. I gave Jared a lap dance for just a minute, but then he asked me to do the same for his brother, who was sitting on a couch. As I started to dance for Shannon, Jared suddenly grabbed me around the throat from behind and said to me, ‘I can reach pure sexual enjoyment in 30 seconds just by looking into your eyes’. Obviously, it was kind of a weird situation.”
She went on to say that Leto then sat back down and watched Taylor lap dance his brother for ten minutes until a roadie announced it was time for them to leave for their next gig.
The internet is home to many (many, many) more accounts of Leto allegedly sexually assaulting (sometimes underage) victims. However, some internet users have suggested that such online accusations are not to be taken seriously due to the fact that they never actually evolved into sexual assault and rape police cases—a very stupid and uneducated way of looking at the situation.
How many times do we have to say it? The fear of not being believed makes it even harder for victims to come forward, so imagine how frightening it must be for anyone facing Leto and his somewhat invincible yet invisible team of lawyers. Almost 90 per cent of sexual assault survivors will never go to the police.
And it’s not only that victims are worried people won’t believe them, they also worry they will face horrific repercussions for coming forward with their story—whether personally, professionally or from the perpetrator themselves—especially if they go on to report the assault to concerned authorities. Seeing how much of an expert Leto is at emptying his fans’ pockets, it’s not hard to think of the many options he has under his belt when trying to silence his victims.