These days a band has to have some kind of magic to make it to their third major-label album without a hit and still get a shot.
But in 1995, scrappy Southern California ska rockers No Doubt had an unexpected ace up their sleeve when they released their breakthrough, Tragic Kingdom. After the departure of founding member Eric Stefani, his sister, Gwen, took over lyric writing duties and the band went from local legends to international superstars.
Much of that rocket ride was thanks to Gwen’s kewpie doll vocals combined with the “don’t fence me in” lyrics about female stereotypes in their attention-grabbing video for “Just A Girl.” The song turned the band, and Gwen, into overnight stars, in large part due to the iconic video, which mostly consisted of them pretending to play it in the bathroom.
Because they weren’t yet stars, Stefani explained that the shoot with director Mark Kohr was a low-budget affair. It opens with the group loading up their silver beater outside their shared Beacon Street house, and includes a shot of Stefani’s grandparents’ home as well. In the first glimpse of her soon-to-be-ubiquitous flat abs, Stefani is sporting a white half-shirt featuring a colorful Anaheim iron-on that she applied herself, as well as some home-sewn baggy grey bondage pants.
“This was the drive from Orange County to Los Angeles to play the show,” said bassist Tony Kanal, of the well-worn path the group took from their home turf to the city of dreams in an early scene on the highway in which Stefani is singing into the camera. “We did that quite a bit, didn’t we?” added drummer Adrian Young.
In a nod to the gender politics that would forever inhabit their songs, when they get out of the car, the boys set up their equipment in a grungy men’s bathroom, while Stefani sets down her boombox and make-up kit in a clean, well-lit ladies room with two elderly attendants.
“The boy’s bathroom looks terrible,” said guitarist Tom Dumont. “Terribly dirty.”
Stefani said she was lugging her real-life makeup box in the bit where they set up to play their toilet concert. “I remember filming this video and then we had to fly somewhere that night,” said Kanal of the mostly performance-oriented clip. “It was our first real video shoot and then we went straight overseas somewhere. I can’t remember where.”
Stefani also recalled that she bought the red, white and blue tennis top she wears in the performance bit at a thrift store and then applied fake diamonds to it. “It’s like you were already designing … weird,” said Kanal of Stefani, who has since become both a fashion icon and clothing entrepreneur.
In addition to Stefani’s then-very-pregnant sister Jill’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo, Kanal, Young and Dumont realized while watching it back that their ex-girlfriends were in there as well.
“What a great, iconic video you guys,” said a humble Kanal half-way through. “Congratulations!”
Near the end, the boys get sick of their squalid conditions and Kanal climbs out through the roof to the ladies room to join the dance party going on in there. “It was a commentary on society,” Kanal said of his jailbreak effort to cross gender lines.
“It’s like unity between the sexes at this point,” Dumont added. “It’s more equality,” Stefani clarified.
“Men need cleaner bathrooms, we’ve earned that, finally,” Young said.
Watching their younger selves bounce around amid urinals and stalls, No Doubt seemed pleased with how far they’ve come.
“It doesn’t really seem dated, does it?” Stefani asked.
From her platinum blonde hair, forehead bindi, ruby red lips and crop tops to the push-ups she bangs out at the end, the video was the world’s first glimpse at what would become Stefani’s iconic look and stage persona. It was also the ultimate sneak peek at the energy and enthusiasm the band would ride to more than two decades of success, culminating this week with the release of their long-awaited new album, Push and Shove.