Just as Paris Hilton’s persona has come to embody an entire female generation’s attitude toward sex—i.e., certain chicks who eagerly get lower-back tattoos because of, not despite, the cultural stigma—so has Gwen Stefani’s shtick come to exemplify those same girls’ attitudes toward consumerism.
The Sweet Escape, a highlight reel: “Breakin’ Up,” a song that may be the transcript of a customer service call with Verizon; “Yummy,” a song about the club; lead single “Wind It Up,” a song about the club that samples The Sound of Music; and the lyrics to “Don’t Get It Twisted,” which read like a brazen rebuke of grammar in a text message: “This is the most craziest shit ever.” If there’s anyone still out there who can’t relate to cell phones, club culture, and two-ways, the slinky manifesto “Orange County Girl,” wherein Gwen admits to once “selling makeup at the mall,” should do the trick.
The sounds, produced alternately by the Neptunes, Akon, Nellee Hooper, Swizz Beatz, and No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal, re-wed marching bands and video games (if it ain’t broke, make
Breakin’ 2). When Gwen steps out of the club for winsome tunes like “Early Winter” and “Wonderful Life,” things approach enjoyable in a Euro road-trip/Mentos/Ace of Bass pop-electro way—prolly not insignificant that those tracks were co-written with Keane’s Tim Rice-Oxley and Non-Blonde Linda Perry, respectively. But ultimately Gwen’s doing Like a Virgin: The Musical, replacing all that uncomfortable Catholic-guilt stuff with lines like “I’m so luscious I ache.” This is our reward for living in a world where flashing your crotch is a legit image-repair tactic.
So fierce is Gwen’s allegiance to a good time and a nice pair of shoes that she makes Xtina look like Betty Friedan; so relentless is her hunger for product that she had to seek out arguably the most image-conscious consumers in the world, her beloved Harajuku Girls, to inspire and revere her. Like an Irvine soccer mom ordering around her immigrant housekeeper, Gwen brings her mute mascots back for the “Wind It Up” video, dressing them in blond wigs as if they were her own personal American Girl dolls. Where I come from we call pageantry like this “professional wrestling.” It’s an escape all right, but it tastes like zinc.