The Gwen Stefani generation: How she’s stayed so popular with fans – USA TODAY

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It’s hard to believe Gwen Stefani’s new album, This is What the Truth Feels Like, is her first release under her own name in a decade. Even more unbelievable: it’s just her third solo album, ever. As the blue-haired lead singer of No Doubt, the kawaii’d-out, chart-topping superstar of her Harajuku Girls era and now, as the sophisticated grown-up in her Voice hosting chair, Gwen Stefani has been one of pop music’s most consistent presences.

Evolving through new looks and sounds is certainly not exclusive to Gwen; in fact, her generation of stars have similarly passed through ‘90s hair choices (Justin Timberlake), questionable phases of cultural appropriation (Christina Aguilera) and sophisticated makeovers (both Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera).

But through breakups and makeups both professional and personal, career highs and missteps, she’s maintained an authenticity that, after decades spent playing the pop music game, wins her new fans and satisfies her longtime supporters every time.

Why? Because she’s grown up alongside a generation of young women, the various phases of her career providing an uncannily fitting soundtrack to milestones in her fans’ lives.

We first met Gwen in the early ‘90s as the fearless skate-rat front-woman of No Doubt, where she inspired us to pick up guitars and do crazy things with our hair, introducing many young women to genres like grunge and ska previously dominated by majority-male listenerships. Channeling both defiance (Just a Girl) and vulnerability (Don’t Speak),she communicated in a language that spoke clearly and honestly to the girls growing up with her CDs in their Walkmen and her videos on their MTV screens.

A decade later, Stefani established herself as an equally formidable solo artist with 2004’s Love. Angel. Music. Baby, which hit right as the young fans who grew up with No Doubt’s “girls rock!” message were entering adulthood, establishing their musical tastes and attending proms and college formals where Hollaback Girl was a mandatory presence. LAMB, and Stefani’s 2006 followup The Sweet Escape, built a new kaleidoscopic personality for Stefani that was off-kilter enough to still feel real; as she rose to become one of pop’s biggest stars, her fans stuck around.

And Gwen’s mid-00s run of powerhouse singles (What You Waiting For?, Rich Girl, Cool, The Sweet Escape and, obviously, Hollaback) perfectly fit how her fans were consuming music, an era when singles were bought on iTunes (or ripped from Limewire) and uploaded to iPods.

Now, these fans are ostensibly old enough to watch Gwen on The Voice, to pick up the magazines where she’s spoken candidly about her breakup with Gavin Rossdale (and, yes, browse a tabloid about her new beau Blake Shelton),and to connect with the more grown-up songs about love and loss that populate her new album. Like us, she’s moved past our collective unfortunate fashion choices of the ‘90s and ‘00s, settling on a more sophisticated look. (And we’re also old enough to understand the questionable cultural appropriation that dotted her younger years, and be thankful that she’s also evolved past that.)

So, like an old friend we can’t remember our lives without, Gwen’s been in our ears since the beginning. And for all the women who’ve followed her growth as we’ve experienced our own, it’s a connection that, as manufactured as so much of the celebrity landscape is, will always feel true.

The Gwen Stefani generation: How she’s stayed so popular with fans – USA TODAY

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