“But Does He Know How to Wind You Up?” Gwen Stefani Samples The Sound of Music

Curator's Note

A student emailed me a link to this video after I mentioned Stefani’s exoticization of the harajuku girls, her performatively submissive Japanese backup dancers, as an example of Orientalism in pop culture. Here we see them jerking about mechanically in blond wigs (in kawaii imitation of their leader), who literally “winds them up” with a huge key displaying the “G” symbol (presumably for “Gwen”), which recurs throughout – as wallpaper, guitar, cross, and faux-swastika. Like the film it samples, this song celebrates the postwar liberal values of the US by consuming and containing difference. Maria gives up her freedom as a nun to marry Captain Von Trapp and assume the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood. In this sonic remix Gwen has become the captain, appropriating Japanese femininity as well as Black hip hop style to articulate her empowerment as a white female diva in the post-feminist era.


I think the G stands for Gilles Deleuze. But really, when I see a video like this, contextualized in this way, I think "when are academics going to get publicity money from the industry rather than being afraid of getting sued" because I come away from this with a new appreciation of Stefani (didn't know her work, only knew her name inhabited my brainspace like the humm of my fridge). The video's smart, and I don't really buy the quick Orientalist reading. Stefani might know exactly what she is doing with these images in the same way people more respected by academics (or not) like Peter Lamborn Wilson and Leslie Thornton know. What I am instead drawn to is that, in the junkyard of global culture, Stefani both admits her position of power and shows her powerlessness (she is chained at one point; the song--both original and remix--is about marionettes and, here, the inhuman; she is both winder and wound). I love the meta moment with the curtains as a metaphor for sampling. Beyond what she is getting at, one could say that as curtains they evoke the private, the hidden, but as clothes they present world of fashion, and a particular brand of cheekiness, without shame. Samplers of all sort have shown that appropriation can be much more than a just a power trip.

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.