During No Doubt’s hiatus, that pop crown became securely positioned atop Stefani's blonde locks, once she threw herself into the world of ‘80s dance, new wave and freestyle that eventually became her first solo album, 2004's Love. Angel. Music. Baby. “When I went in to start working [on the record], I'd never written with anyone else outside of the band,” she says. “I didn't even know there were these writing circuits you could go on to work with the popular songwriters of the moment. Everything was new, and I felt really rebellious and outrageous to be doing it.”
The album finds Stefani confronting her insecurities of going solo (“What You Waiting For?”), closing past relationships while entering a new one (“Cool” and “The Real Thing”), and exploring her newfound admiration for Japanese culture (“Harajuku Girls”). Along with having No Doubt band mate (and ex-boyfriend) Tony Kanal by her side, the singer was also buoyed by an impressive list of collaborators who polished the record’s sound: Linda Perry, Dallas Austin, Andre 3000, Dr. Dre.
Along with proving that Stefani could tackle dance-pop just as effortlessly as alt-rock, Love. Angel. Music. Baby also helped lay the foundation for millennial pop girls to confidently dive into hip-hop and R&B. Fergie and Nelly Furtado followed suit two years later with eclectic, rap-leaning The Dutchess and the Timbaland-assisted Loose, respectively. Toward the start of the 2010s, artists like Kesha and Katy Perry channeled Stefani's pop kookiness through their vibrant outfits and sing-rap lyrics.
Despite her initial hesitation to go solo, Stefani's Love. Angel. Music. Baby was a huge success: the album debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 chart, has sold 4 million U.S. copies to date according to Nielsen Music and earned six Grammy nominations, including one for album of the year. It also spawned a pair of top 10 singles: “Rich Girl,” another team-up with Eve which peaked at No. 7 on the Hot 100, and, more memorably, “Hollaback Girl," which topped the chart for four weeks.
Stefani says she was never expecting the album to skyrocket; today, she likens its success to an inexplicable yet overwhelming fashion trend, like Crocs. “I didn't know it was gonna be embraced the way it was,” she explains. “Plus, so many other things were happening in my life: I just got married [to Gavin Rossdale in 2002], went on my first solo tour where I actually had costume changes, got pregnant with my first baby, started [the clothing lines] L.A.M.B. and Harajuku Lovers. It was a time of creation and a really fun time in music. I'm really lucky that I got to live through that period.”
In a conversation with Billboard ahead of the album's 15th anniversary on Nov. 23, Gwen Stefani revealed the stories behind every track of Love. Angel. Music. Baby. -- from how she escaped her comfort zone to her love for bringing cultures together. (Note: the conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.)
1. What You Waiting For?