Plenty of Doubt
Racist video mars old band's return to relevance
Teepees. The hooves of a galloping white horse. An eagle's cry. A blond Gwen Stefani in white, faux-Native American garb being dragged through the dirt by cowboys. Her hands are tied above her head, allowing her to posture extra-sexily. The cowboys train guns on her.
Pouting for the camera, she sings, "Go ahead and look at me / Cuz that's what I want … Do you think I'm looking hot? Do you think this hits the spot? How's this looking on me, looking on me?"
Not very good, it turns out.
No Doubt released the video for "Looking Hot" off their comeback album, the band's first in more than a decade. Backlash was swift, with people rightly pointing out that it's racist. So the band pulled it off YouTube and apologized. Gawker archived the entire video on its website (gawker.com/no-doubt) and questioned whether the mess was an attention-grabbing ploy in the first place. No Doubt yanked the vid so fast, Gawker wonders whether they ever meant to leave it up for more than 24 hours.
I'm dubious of the conspiracy theory, though. All publicity is not good publicity, and no one should want their brand associated with the word "racist." Instead, I posit that Gwen and the rest of No Doubt stumbled ignorantly into racism while chasing a hipster trend that's been picking up speed over the last few years. That is: ripping off Native Americans for fashion's sake.
Earlier this year, the Navajo Nation filed a lawsuit against Urban Outfitters for peddling panties, flasks and other accessories using the tribe's name. For a couple of years now, we've seen photos on fashion blogs of skinny white chicks in their skivvies wearing headdresses at music festivals. (Bonnaroo, Coachella, I'm looking at you.)
No Doubt is biting late on a trend that's biting a few cultures. Way to stay relevant, old "ska" band. (The track itself, by the way, sounds just like any other pop song. I can hardly even hear the instruments under all that production, and the vocals are far too loud.)
I spoke with Shane Hendren of the Indian Arts and Crafts Association about that Urban Outfitters lawsuit earlier this year. He made a wonderful and obvious suggestion for people looking to use Native themes in their fashion companies: Why not commission a Native American designer to create something for you? That translates easily to other areas of pop culture, as well. If No Doubt asked a Native director to help them conceptualize and execute a video—and they could find someone willing to work with them—it's unlikely they would have wound up with this offensive result. They could have avoided the cultural blunders and embarrassing public gaffe.
In No Doubt's apology, they mention consulting with Native American studies experts at the University of California when making the vid. The American Indian Studies Center at UCLA said no one from that department was contacted. In an open letter to the band, the experts point out the many ways the video is racist. Among them, some of the symbolism used holds spiritual weight for Natives. It also "glorifies aggression against Indian people," according to the letter, and insinuates sexual violence. Read the whole letter at bit.ly/UCLAdoubt.
The director was Melina Matsoukas who's worked with all the big names in the last few years. Her roster includes Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Lily Allen, Whitney Houston, Snoop Lion (née Dogg), Rhianna and Beyoncé. Her résumé suggests she's very much a creature of the music industry. Artists seek her out for her taste, looking to appear fresh and young to the pop music consumer. It's easy to imagine why 43-year-old Stefani wanted to work with Matsoukas.
In a 2010 interview about Matsoukas' meteoric rise, the young director was asked whether she had any regrets about the videos she's made. "To me, that's what being an artist is about. It's about learning from your mistakes and trying to do better each time." Better luck next time.
There are so many troubling things about the video, including a host of ugly gender issues. And there are major artistic problems with this badly made, dull song and its unrelated imagery, but we've all come to accept that about mainstream pop.
As I watch Stefani sprint at the end of the "Looking Hot" clip in her white heels, vest fringe flapping, I can't help but wonder when pop culture is going to catch up with everyone else.