Gwen Stefani's first single, "What You Waiting For?," is more than a taste of what her debut solo album, Love, Angel, Music, Baby, will sound like — it also serves as her statement of purpose.
"It felt like it was my explanation for doing the record," Stefani said. "It just feels like the perfect way to come out with the record."
All the ideas in the song, from off-the-cuff references to the stylish girls in Harajuku, Japan, to the fears and concerns about how she's going to be received (see "Gwen Stefani Battles With Herself On First Single From Solo LP"), were sprung from the singer's real-life anxieties, anxieties she didn't anticipate or expect when she first set out on the project. Her first idea was to do what she thought would be a "fun, easy, silly" dance record, a record that would give her the opportunity to explore music with people outside her band, maybe even her idols, who might teach her something along the way. But after 17 years of working with her close-knit band No Doubt, she found that writing songs with other people was pretty tough. "You're exposing yourself, taking your clothes off and saying, 'Alright, here we go. This is me, this is you.' "
Her early sessions with Linda Perry — the first collaborator to grace Stefani's solo project — sometimes brought her to tears. "I basically cried in my bed," Stefani explained, "because I was so scared." She didn't feel ready when Perry's schedule dictated the only five days she had open to work with her, so with some hesitation, Stefani tried to get her act together in time to work with former 4 Non
"I could not keep up," Stefani revealed. "There were times I was in with Linda, and I can just remember going in to write lyrics in the other room, and I'd come in, and she'd written a whole song. [I was thinking,] 'Dude, slow down. This is my record; let me be a part of it.' It was really frustrating at times. I don't want somebody writing something better than me on my own record, but at the same time, it's not about that."
Perry and Stefani's first song together, "Fine by You," didn't exactly push Gwen's buttons, since it didn't fit her vision of doing a dance record, but the next day, Perry came in after staying up the whole night working on the beginnings of "What You Waiting For?"
"She presses play, and it's like, 'Gwen, what the f--- you waiting for?'" Stefani said. "It was almost kind of like a dare. I had told her my whole drama, 'I'm tired,' and she had this whole crazy new wave track, and I was just really blown away: 'You did not just write that!' I just started going for it, and we wrote 'What You Waiting For?' "
The song encapsulated Stefani's fears — about being scared to do the record, about wanting to do it anyway but not knowing why — and eventually grew to include other inspirations that recur on the record, such as her fascination with Japanese schoolgirl style.
"Out of nowhere, I was thinking, 'I can't wait to go back and do Japan,' " she said. "Because when you do your record, you go around the world. That became my muse for the entire album, that one line, thinking about these Harajuku girls, and it ended up being a theme for the whole record. It just keeps coming up over and over again."
Even though she is satisfied with her album, Stefani still has her inner conflicts, insecurities and occasional writer's block.
"You can tell I'm still having issues," she said, "but the outcome has been so worth it. I feel like I got something out of the way. I needed to do this to feel like I wasn't missing out on something. And that clock that was ticking, ticking, ticking? I feel like the clock isn't as loud in my ears anymore. I feel like I got it out of my system."