The hook to this song from Gwen Stefani that was produced by The Neptunes is a standout track from my youth, but I never knew what the heck the lyrics were actually about until I recently did a deep dive.
The song was very divisive in terms of fan and critic feedback, but I must say that it left a mark just because of how uniquely strange and confrontational the lyrical story seemed to be, on top of how good it is for parties and 2000s music nostalgia.
The music video took it a step further with the weirdness that made it tilt over the edge into cringe for some viewers, but I always found this overall idea to be a catchy one, at the very least, albeit on the verge of cultural appropriation.
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For the album release of Stefani's debut project, "Love. Angel. Music. Baby.", she was planning for a long time on a particular danceable track that would give off a silly vibe, according to an interview she did with The Guardian.
She had writer's block about the track for a while but then decided that she wanted the upbeat anthem to be more of a confrontational song as she went through her creative process.
Gwen's aggressive approach in this track was actually a direct response inspired by some drama stirred up by actress Courtney Love that was spoken in 2004.
"Someone one time called me a cheerleader negatively, and I've never been a cheerleader. So I was like, 'Ok, fuck you, you want me to be a cheerleader? Well, I'll be one, then. And I'll rule the whole world. Just you watch me," Gwen said to the press when asked about the meaning behind the track.
The following quote is spoken by Courtney Love about Gwen while she's in an interview with 17 Magazine.
"Being famous is just like being in high school. But I’m not interested in being the cheerleader. I’m not interested in being Gwen Stefani.
"She’s the cheerleader, and I’m out in the smoker to shed. And plenty of you is out there in the smoker shed too. When it comes to rock ‘n’ roll, it’s just like high school."
Since Gwen was in the mindset of writing a song with attitude, she, along with Pharrell Williams from the Neptunes, came up with the idea of a "hollaback girl" being a coined term for someone that is the type to talk back instead of fight back.
One of the verses states, "So I'm ready to attack, gonna lead the pack, gonna get a touchdown, gonna take you out. That's right, put your pom-poms downs, getting everybody fired up."
The mention of pompoms is directly from the Courtney Love quote that states that Gwen is more like a cheerleader than the type of girl to smoke behind the shed.
While the words are aggressive, there is still an element of goofiness present in the vocals from the beginning of the song's conception that Gwen wanted to keep in the overall vibe of the song, which is where some music fans feel like the song went wrong and got too silly.
A quote from a later verse says, "So that's right dude, meet me at the bleachers. No principals, no student-teachers. Both of us want to be the winner, but there can only be one."
So when you think about it, this is actually a diss track that became a hit song. Not too bad when you think about the fact that most diss tracks don't turn into chart toppers.
The official video release for this hit track really leaned into the silly side of this song, spotlighting Gwen as a cheerleader alongside a marching band in a school setting as she chants and dances around.
Critics called for multiple instances of appropriation against Asian, Hispanic, and African American culture appropriation in the video, especially in more recent lights shed with a focus on music from decades ago that slipped by before "cancel culture".
I, along with many other African American listeners that heard the term "holla back" are used to hearing the phrase in a completely different way.
For this reason, there was a lot of confusion amongst my friends and me about what the new definition of the term was trying to be and where it came from.
But perhaps the fault falls to Pharell Williams, whose writing collaboration on this particular project borrowed from one of his previous collaborations by the name of "Young'n (Holla Back)" with rapper Fabolous a few years before Gwen's song came out.
The term "holla back" is a casual way of requesting that someone call or contact you back, which fits with the use in the Fabolous track, but doesn't quite work in the context of Stefani and The Neptune's collaboration.
The song was meant to be a fun dance track that had a bit of a bite with it, but the coining of the phrase "Hollaback girl" solely for the song's conception is what caused the most confusion and possibly the divisive response to this song's release.
While the song isn't on the top 10 list of greatest hits anywhere, it is being kept alive because a: it's a timeless bop, and b: it still has all this unresolved confusion surrounding it.
To this day, I find people on social media asking, "Did anyone ever figure out what a Hollaback girl is?"
But when we 2000s pop fans hear that "oo-ooh..." along with the warm and tingling chords that Pharell threw in that post-hook, we're gonna respond with "...this my shhhhh!"
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