Gwen Stefani f/ Akon: "The Sweet Escape"


By Mark Abraham | 24 April 2007

I’ll advance-apologize for “acting stank”; fridge metaphors curdle my enthusiasm, especially when the explicit paradigm is cold/sour. Especially when Stefani is apologizing for her “bad girl”-ness; why does she need to create her “own world” to be this jackass’s “favorite girl (forever) perfectly together” when he won’t “shut the refrigerator” (the refrigerator of her heart?) and she can “see that [he’s] angry by the way [he] treats [her]”? Also: is she a) a bad girl because she “didn’t mean for [dickface who treats her bad] to get hurt,” b) a bad girl because [dickface] treats her like one, or c) a bad girl because Stefani’s playing the pre-packaged sexy connotations of? That Stefani throws “whatsoever” in as the offset modifier to “I didn’t mean for you to get hurt” is hilarious in a song where tired metaphors wonk into one another like a severe car pile-up; elsewhere, Akon’s vocal contributions basically amount to “whoo-hoo”; point being, this track’s emphasizing some of the most annoying language ticks (verbal and cultural) I can think of as its various hooks. Does it work?

The bad: where once a tongue in cheek-ness made Stefani’s embrace of Madonna/whore at least palatable, now she’s “sweet” or “sour,” “cold” or “boiling,” “bad” or…well, she never says “good,” but that’s not something heterosexual men fantasize about, right? And it’s not like she (or any of us) can’t be both, or that either really exists in the first place other than as sites for oppression, but the cold dichotomies presented in the song as mutually exclusive moods mean Stefani’s playing them reified. Or playing them out. I don’t have any concrete evidence about what the constitution of Stefani’s audience is like; I do think, however, that she’s always marketed herself to mostly female ex-punks like herself, like: “come join me, your fellow outsider, who became an R&B queen despite the fact that I’m white, geeky, and once fronted an alternative ska band.” Y’know, people like Pink. And I generally like Stefani when I see her interviewed; her stint on American Idol a few weeks back revealed a star who is very considered about what many people would only forgivingly call “singing.”

But, see, if she is marketing these songs as sources of empowerment for women, or outsiders, or even just as evidence that she herself has made it, what’s the point? That you can move from being ostracized in an angsty teenage fashion to a place where you’re awesomely popular for accepting all of the cultural rhetoric that you were ostracized for rejecting in the first place? “Sweet Escape” is about creating a world either where Madonnas and whores are real or where the existence of that world in the first place depends on them being real, all for a boy who doesn’t sound like much of a prize in the first place. If Stefani was writing into an advice column I’d tell her to dump the jackass and be done with it.

I’m not even trying to take a political stance here; I can’t be offended because the lyrics to this song are so frustratingly silly and vague and “whatsoever” that they render the fairly nice melodies they were shoehorned into equally superficial and irrelevant. So, the good: Akon’s production is actually pretty fun for what essentially amounts to a novelty splash at old school R&B doo-wop; he starts with a nice little guitar lick and adds horns and chimey things to give it a funky vibe. He also adds this ludicrous synth, maybe just to remind us that computer synthware exists. It sounds stupid. But then again, the “whatsoever” that is so hilarious to read is actually the foundation to a well-executed doo-wop piggyback of Stefanis on Stefanis and the variations on “whoo!” that Akon throws in as the hook are the most exciting syllables in music since Lene Lovich’s “oweo.” So what’s good is that the music is a sweet escape; just don’t let that let the mildly problematic meanings of the mostly stupid lyrics escape you.