Gwen Stefani reborn: How the pop star turned heartbreak into massive hits
The pop star, 46, opens up about overcoming heartbreak— and scrapping an entire album—to make her excellent, soul-baring comeback This Is What The Truth Feels Like.
On your new album, you’ve written about your former husband, Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale, and new boyfriend Blake Shelton. Did you get nervous sharing such personal songs?
I don’t have any secrets; I don’t have anything to hide. I haven’t done anything wrong. I’m happy to share my story. [This] is really the only record I’ve written that’s mostly happy; all the others are about heartbreak. And there’s some of that on here—it needed that, to make the rest feel as good as it feels.
You worked with Selena Gomez songwriter Justin Tranter and Adele producer Greg Kurstin. What were those sessions like?
When I started this, I walked into the studio and said, “I don’t care about a single. I’m doing this to get this stuff out. I want it to be the truth.” So when we started writing, it was a lot of journal stuff that I had worked on. Every record was written around emotion.
You were working on a third solo album in 2014 with artists like Sia and Pharrell but scrapped those songs. How come?
I had just had Apollo [Stefani’s youngest son], and they had just called me to do The Voice. It was like, “How am I going to nurse a baby, be a mom to two other kids, be on a new show, and write songs?” So I decided to curate a record. Everyone does that! Almost nobody writes their whole records! [Laughs] But it didn’t feel right.
What felt off?
Every time people would write things, I was like, “That’s what I sounded like 12 years ago—maybe you should call Charli XCX or somebody else.” It felt weird and fake. It wasn’t meant to happen. What was [meant] to happen was this crazy, horrible stuff went down, and I was supposed to write about it. I easily could have died, and I wanted to, but some- thing in me was like, “I gotta turn this into music.”
Is that how the first single, “Used to Love You,” came about?
It’s crazy, by the time I had written “Used to Love You,” the bulk of the first half [of the album] was written in, like, eight weeks. I think I wrote 13 songs in those eight weeks. And that’s when the record company was like, “We’re so proud of you but we don’t think this is the record you want to make—it might be too personal.” In the beginning I was quite heartbroken, but all I could do was deal with it.
What do you get out of sharing such intimate music?
When I started No Doubt, we weren’t doing music because we thought we’d make it. We knew we were making music that couldn’t get on the radio. It was pop in the middle of grunge—it made no sense! [But] those songs were so personal. I didn’t write them to help other people; I wrote to help myself. But after, I saw that music helps people. Now, I crave that give-and-receive. By sharing it, I receive so much.
What do your kids think of their mom as a pop star?
They’re excited for me to have new music. And I got Fetty Wap on my record! They’re excited about that! But it’s funny how kids really don’t want you to do anything except be their mom. I’d write new songs and be like “Let’s listen on the school run!” They’re like, “No, Mom! Put on the TV!”
Speaking of Fetty Wap, how’d you guys pair up?
I feel like a voice with so much character hasn’t come along in a long time, so I told my team I wanted to work with him. They got me [studio] dates, and then I was like, “I’m working with Fetty this week!” Then I went in, and nope, he doesn’t show. Day Two and nope, he doesn’t show. Day Three and nope, he doesn’t show. I wrote a song for us while I was in the stu- dio and I sent it to him, and nope, no response. It was a miracle it happened.
After this album and two seasons on NBC’s The Voice, what’s next?
I’d like to write not just for myself. I could do that now. I had lost my way. When you have a long career, how do you compete with what you’ve done before? You lose confidence. Being on The Voice made me go through my Rolodex of life and go, “Oh, I did that! I wrote that song!” It restarted me, in a way.