Gwen Stefani wasn’t planning on releasing any more new music in 2020. “I fantasized about it,” the pop singer-songwriter tells Billboard. “But then I couldn’t really wrap my head around what kind of music I would create at this point in my life.”
Earlier this year, Stefani had released a pair of duets with fiancé Blake Shelton, “Nobody But You” and “Happy Anywhere”; guested on a Mark Ronson remix of Dua Lipa’s “Physical” for Dua’s Club Future Nostalgia remix album; and released the original holiday track “Here This Christmas” for the reissue of her 2017 album, You Make It Feel Like Christmas. Still, a new season of The Voice was coming up, and none of those songs were exactly what Stefani wanted to perform on the NBC reality competition.
“Just coming off of doing two singles with Blake in country-land — that was unexpected and super fun, and put me into another genre that I wasn’t expecting to bounce into, and motivated me,” she explains. “I knew I was going to be on The Voice this season, and I wanted to try and write some new music, and this is one of the things that was born out of that.”
The result is “Let Me Reintroduce Myself,” a new single released on Monday (Dec. 7) that represents Stefani’s return to the mash-up of pop, ska and reggae that defined her ‘90s breakthrough as the leader of No Doubt. After hopscotching through genres since the release of her 2016 pop album This Is What The Truth Feels Like, Stefani describes the process of revisiting the sound that made her famous as a “full-circle epiphany,” with “Let Me Reintroduce Myself” intended to preview a project due out next year.
“I just had this lightbulb moment,” says Stefani. “I was like, ‘I really want to investigate where I started in music — the reggae and ska, when I first fell in love with music, when it defined who I was. I really want to do happy music, that’s where it all started.’ Once I got into that mode, it was like a wildfire, because every person I went in with, we were just so inspired and excited to be doing that kind of music.”
When Stefani says that she wanted to “investigate” reggae and ska, she means full-on research about the origins of ska and reggae music — something she admits that she and her No Doubt band mates didn’t do enough of during their early days. “When No Doubt started, we were an imitation generation, imitating the 1970s,” she explains. “When we were kids, we were trying to say, ‘We’re ska!,’ which was already a third wave.” So Stefani did a deep dive into where it all began, from its development in Jamaica in the early 1960s as the island celebrated its freedom from the United Kingdom. Stefani discovered individual stories — she fixated on Sister Mary Ignatius Davies, a nun based in Kingston who helped inspire several musical prodigies at the Alpha Boys School in the 1960s — and also considered the relation between that moment in history and the present day.
“I think it was because the [protests] were happening, and there was so much stuff going on with racism, and I just kept thinking, I can’t believe this is still happening,” she says. “Basically, this little Catholic nun was the one that kind of nurtured reggae music. And I’m thinking, I’m this little Catholic girl from Anaheim that does reggae. That makes no sense! Even though I have no business doing that music, in a way, it’s so real and right and true and honest and pure. It was like, this is who I am, and you can try to judge me for it, but then go to the eighth-grade me and try to bully me about it, because that’s who I was when I was in eighth grade.”
Stefani had been working on new music in early 2020 prior to recording “Let Me Reintroduce Myself,” teaming up with producer Luke Niccoli for a handful of tracks before lockdown. Once the pandemic hit the U.S., she and Shelton decamped to Oklahoma, where she remained for three months with extended family: “We were doing homeschool there,” she says, “and I was cooking, cleaning. We had like three meals a day for like 14 people.” Still, Niccoli had helped Stefani get on a creative roll, and once he introduced the pop star to producer Ross Golan, the three spent hours knocking out multiple songs over Zoom, including “Let Me Reintroduce Myself.”
“Ross is really good at getting in your head and investigating, and he has the right tone for me right now,” says Stefani. “I always feel like my songs have a bit of a kitschy, fun, silly side to them lyrically, even if I’m talking about something serious, and he’s really good at that as well. “
Shelton, whom Stefani announced her engagement to in October, was also providing feedback on her in-the-works material, and eventually helped her choose “Let Me Reintroduce Myself” as the opening salvo of her next era. “It’s funny, because Blake was the one who was listening to all of the songs,” she says. “He would sort of figure out what the single could be. We were trying to decide, if we did put something out, what would it be? And he goes, ‘[“Let Me Reintroduce Myself”] just keeps making me feel like it should be that song.’ Blake’s been on The Voice for like 19 seasons, picking songs for people — and sort of has 27 No. 1 radio hits — so he’s really good at picking songs, I really trust him.”
Stefani will perform “Let Me Reintroduce Myself” for the first time on Monday (Dec. 7) night’s episode of The Voice. Although she doesn’t have a concrete timetable of a new solo album, she says that she probably has “like 19 or 20 songs now, but I still want to go back in and write some more once we get through Christmas.” One of those finished songs is titled “Sister Mary Ignatius Davies,” dedicated to the unwitting musical pioneer; whether her follow-up to This Is What The Truth Feels Like finds Stefani tumbling further down the reggae-ska rabbit hole is anyone’s guess, but she’s proud of “Let Me Reintroduce Myself” in the meantime.
“I like when I do [this music], people like when I do it, and I want to make something that people like,” she says. “I’m gonna put this out, see how it feels, and then I’ll see what comes next.”