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Gwen Stefani Rules (As a Rude Girl and/or Pop Princess)

I'm glad I grew up in the '90s. I had strong, independent, beautiful women as musical role models, and they ruled the airwaves. The Spice Girls preached girl power, Lilith Fair paraded feminine gusto across the country, and No Doubt , fronted by Gwen Stefani, assured us that being treated like "just a girl" who can't drive late at night wasn't enough.

Stefani still looks fabulous at 42, after giving birth to two children with her husband Gavin Rossdale of Bush. And No Doubt has enjoyed a fascinating career, starting as a ska band from Anaheim, experimenting with punk, releasing a reggae album, and incorporating more and more pop influences with each record. It's been over a decade since the band's last disc, 2001's Rocksteady, but Stefani has been busy the whole time, and they've all headed into the studio for a brand new record (featuring production by Diplo and Switch on the tune "Push & Shove").

This snippet from the new album looks promising.

One of No Doubt's defining characteristics is its resemblance to Fleetwood Mac -- only with fewer bandmates involved in affairs. Gwen Stefani and bassist Tony Kanal dated for seven years, inspiring the band's breakthrough single "Don't Speak." The breakup was tumultuous and inspired No Doubt to record its breakthrough record, Tragic Kingdom.

Tragic Kingdom served as a crossroads for the band. Though Eric Stefani, the keyboard player and Gwen's brother left the band, they continued to embrace their ska roots on songs like "Spiderwebs" and "Excuse Me Mr.".

"Don't Speak" got people to take notice of No Doubt. In a way, it was their "Go Your Own Way" with a lot less tension, though Stefani and Kanal's relationship was far from easy. Gwen was a nice alternative to the sugar-pop divas who would come to dominate MTV in the following years. After all, what's sexier than a woman with a killer vibrato who looks great as a glamazon and an ass-kicking broad with washboard abs?

No Doubt ruled the airwaves with six singles from Tragic Kingdom and went on a two-and-a-half-year tour in support of it. The band fell off the mainstream radar for a bit until releasing a new album seven years later called Return of Saturn. The band was back, returning with a pink, dreadlocked vengeance. The ska undertones are much more muted, but the album incorporated an array of new interesting sounds -- flamenco, disco, reggae. Return of Saturn showed No Doubt growing up.

 

Stefani started dating Gavin Rossdale, who became her new muse. Tense songs like "Sunday Morning" about her fighting with Kanal were gone, but she had a whole new set of issues to deal with -- her image ("Magic's in the Makeup"), and her desire to settle down ("Marry Me," "Simple Kind of Life").

The beauty of No Doubt is its appeal. As a tween, I could enjoy "Simple Kind of Life" as a catchy song about yearning. (Plus, the whole pink-haired runaway bride thing was cool, too.) As an adult, the song makes a lot more sense. Gwen had baby fever. She sat under an illuminated birth-control package and sang about wishing for a mistake and knowing Gavin would be a great dad. It was awkward, it was compelling.

No Doubt's evolution continued with Rocksteady, thrusting them further down the pop and reggae rabbitholes. For the sake of "Hella Good" and "Underneath It All" coming from the same album, No Doubt proved itself to be a versatile band with mass appeal.

Gwen started doing her own thing, collaborating with Eve and Moby. She expressed a desire to release a disco album, thus her solo career was born. The Harajuku girls motif was a little surprising, but listening to songs like "Hella Good" and "What You Waiting For?" back to back shows a smooth evolution.

Things got a little weirder with Stefani's second solo album, in which she turned into a yodeling version of Michelle Pfeiffer's character in Scarface."Hollaback Girl" may not be held in the same esteem as "Just a Girl," but Gwen Stefani continues to rule the airwaves with an ever-evolving musical style. It's been 11 years since No Doubt released its last album, making its pending release even more anticipated than Return of Saturn. Who smells a Coachella headlining spot next year?

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