No Doubt – Just a Girl

Just A Girl
Throughout the history of popular music, there have been many songs that ordinary individuals can relate too. Just A Girl by No Doubt is one of those songs in which many young girls in the mid 90’s considered this song as a girl anthem. No Doubt is a rock band that was formed in 1986 in Anaheim, California. Formally known as Apple Core, Eric Stefani created the band and gave the lead vocals to his little sister, Gwen Stefani. After facing several problems with their formal group members, Tony Kanal joined the band as the bassist, Tom Dumont as the guitarist, and Adrian Young as the drummer. No Doubt was soon signed with a new label entitled Interscope Records in 1990, and released their self-titled debut album in 1992. However, their first album was a total flop, in which it only sold 308,252 copies and had no radio airplay. This was mostly due to the music industry main focus on the grunge movement that was happening in Seattle, Washington. Grunge bands such as Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam all formed in the early 90s and they were the main focus with their new alternative sound.Although grunge music was getting radio airplay in the mid 90s, a different form of rock was about to hit the mainstream that was nothing similar to any grunge band. With No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom and their first single Just a Girl, they would gain recognition in shifting the attention from grunge music to popular music in the music industry.
No Doubt’s third album entitled Tragic Kingdom was released on October 10th, 1995 through the label Trauma/Interscope Records. The first single off that album was Just a Girl, which was released on October 21st, 1995. The song was written by Gwen Stefani and Tom Dumont and it helped the band break into the mainstream after their disappointing self-debut album. Unlike the songs of their first album, Just a Girl did receive radio airplay in which it first aired in a California radio station. Influenced by ska and new wave music, No Doubt was determined to show that in their music by using electric guitars, bass guitar, drums, keyboard, trombones or trumpets, and also incorporating electronic and experimental music. Ska music is known to have fast tempos and in Just a Girl it does just that, going 110 beats per minute. Since No Doubt is heavily influenced on new wave music, they decided to use a Roland Jupiter-8 (an eight-voice polyphonic synthesizer) which can be heard throughout Just a Girl. The song also includes retro sounds, 80s keyboard and effects. According to www.wikipedia.org , Just a Girl is “written in the key of D major, like the majority of popular music”. Also, Gwen Stefani “spans nearly an octave and a half, from B3 to E5 in scientific pitch notation”. What sets aside Just a Girl from any other rock song out at the time is the opening riff. It is very upbeat and the use of electronic sounds made this song to be very energetic and bright. This can be heard clearly in the first ten seconds of the song when it is performed on Tom Dumont’s electric guitar and a Roland Jupiter-8. This is totally different from grunge music that was popular at the time, in which the sound was darker due to the use of high level guitar distortion influenced by hardcore punk and heavy metal.
No Doubt is known to be a ska punk, alternative rock, and/or pop rock group. Different from other alternative bands out at that time, No Doubt sounded like no other in which their choice of instruments changed the mood of alternative rock music. Both ska punk and new wave are both subgenres of rock music, as well as grunge. However, the differences between these subgenres are their lyrical approach. In grunge music, lyrics deal more with rage, apathy, and “addressing themes such as social alienation, confinement, and a desire for freedom” (www.wikipedia.org). On the other hand, ska punk lyrics were more upbeat describing daily life scenarios with punk style vocals. No Doubt’s vocalist, Gwen Stefani, had more freedom with the writing process when her older brother, Eric Stefani, decided to leave the band. That’s when she wrote Just a Girl, an anthem for young women who want to break out from the common women stereotype. In the first verse of Just a Girl, Gwen Stefani sings;
Take this pink ribbon off my eyes
I’m exposed and it’s no big surprise
Don’t you think I know exactly where I stand
This world is forcing me to hold your hand

In this verse, Stefani explains how she has been blinded all along, and that she does not need a man, who could be her husband, father, or older brother, to be by her side every time. When Stefani wrote this song, she had just broken up with her bassist Tony Kanal so this could be the reason why she got inspired to write about female empowerment. The first verse is important because it informs the listener of what she is going to sing about and why she feels this way. From this verse, we know that she is not happy on society’s views on women in which they always have to be in the hands of a man in order to be happy. In the chorus of the song, Stefani sings;
‘Cause I’m just a girl, little ol’ me
Don’t let me out of you sight
I’m just a girl, all pretty and petite
So don’t let me have any rights
Oh… I’ve had it up to here

The chorus changes slightly throughout the song, but in this chorus, Stefani seems to be very sarcastic in describing her appearance. She states that she cannot do certain things in society because of her appearance. She writes about herself as being little and petite which can be associated as being vulnerable and fragile. Stefani is being sarcastic with her characteristics because she is neither one of them, but since she is a woman, she is automatically considered weak. In Just a Girl, Stefani is stating the facts of how men and society view women and how this common stereotype has not gone away for the many centuries that is has been around. In the second chorus of Just a Girl, Stefani sings;
‘Cause I’m just a girl I’d rather not be
‘Cause they won’t let me drive late at night
I’m just a girl, guess I’m some kind of freak
Cause they all sit and stare with their eyes
…Oh I’ve it up to here.

In the second chorus, Stefani explains how unfair being a woman can be. In a BAM magazine interview, Stefani explained that she got inspired to write this song when her father got mad at her for driving home late from her boyfriend’s house. She continues by stating “I wouldn’t trade (being female), but I really don’t think guys understand what a burden it can be sometimes” (BAM Magazine, Nov. 1995). Even when a woman has matured, they are still considered vulnerable or weak in which they won’t be able to defend themselves if something bad were to occur to them. Throughout Just a Girl, Stefani is sending out a message to society that woman can be strong too in which she repeats “I’ve had it up to here” and “Am I making myself clear?” and this is the reason why this song is considered to be a girl anthem.
Around the time that Just a Girl came out, the grunge era was beginning to die out and a new form of rock music was taking over the airwaves. No Doubt marked the beginning of popular rock music in which they influenced many pop rock bands to come out in the late 90s and early 2000s. It also empowered bands to have female vocalist, such as Evanescence and Paramore in early 2000s who both claimed No Doubt to be very influential to them. Just a Girl peaked at number 23 in the Billboard Hot 100, but the album Tragic Kingdom was certified diamond, selling over 10 million copies making them very influential in the music industry overall.

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36 Comments

  1. Marya Tambawala Said,

    October 5, 2010 @ 6:26 pm

    Hey Diana,

    I like your song choice and your analysis. Something I think that’s really interesting is the vocals Gwen chooses to use in the song and how it complements the overall message. I don’t know anything about octaves and stuff, but we all know Gwen could go pretty high pitched if she wanted to, but you don’t see that in this song. Instead, her voice is pretty low and deep through and through and I think that’s really important to the whole girl power theme.

  2. sm09 Said,

    October 6, 2010 @ 1:03 am

    I really thought you analyzed this song very well. This song came out in the 90s and still proves to be a powerful song to this day. I know every time I hear it I can’t help but jump around and sing the lyrics on the top of my lungs. No Doubt and Gwen Stefani have never followed the rules and I feel like that also has a major impact on their success. On another note, I had no idea that her older brother was in the original band, that is kind of interesting, was he really holding her musical talent and success back? Having two older brothers I know I tend to be a little more cautious with what I say around them but when you want to be a successful artists don’t you think you would look past your brothers opinion sometimes?

  3. joanc Said,

    October 9, 2010 @ 1:39 pm

    This is a very thorough analysis. I liked how you gave a lot of background information as to how the band formed and what inspired Gwen Stefani to write the lyrics. I remember listening to this song for the first time when I was little, and it immediately stuck to me. It was a very catchy song, though that time I didn’t really pay much attention to the lyrics. But now that I listen to the lyrics it has a very powerful message. I miss the 90s, it was the best!

  4. Amy Herzog Said,

    October 13, 2010 @ 12:59 pm

    Lots of great background information here, which is really helpful, particularly in terms of learning about the specific keyboard sounds. I also thought the contrast to grunge was great in terms of putting the song into the context of the times.

    Your analysis of the lyrics seems spot on. I’d love to hear a bit more detail about the sound, which truly does differ from grunge, and comes from a whole different cultural tradition. We’ll talk more about the roots of ska later in the semester, but it’s strongly influenced by Caribbean music, and by the fusion of Jamaican and punk styles in the UK in the 1970s. Can you hear those roots here?

    Marya makes a great point, too, about Stefani’s vocal delivery here. How does her voice work to critique stereotypes about “girls”?

  5. krillnyc Said,

    October 17, 2010 @ 8:52 pm

    Loved the video then. Wasn’t a big fan of them at the time, but my old guitarist warmed me up to them in time. Liked your analysis on the song. I agree with Amy about the ska influence too. Seen many ska bands in he day and most of the ones I knew had female lead singers. But if you want to talk about rock and reggae, you should check out Fishbone and Bad Brains.

  6. nicole Said,

    October 28, 2010 @ 8:01 pm

    I really liked your analysis, it was very informative about the musical aspects of the song and band style. Gwen Stefani being a female and lead vocalist in an all male band was so different from other bands at the time. Her unique voice and indiviual style definitely contributed to the success of the band and gave females a rockstar to identify with. This song was perfect for the band and I agree with you that it became a female anthem in the 90’s.

  7. williamdabney Said,

    October 30, 2010 @ 10:49 am

    I like how in-depth you were with your analysis. You went all the way back to the origin of how the group started. Me personally I don’t know to much about No doubt. So this analysis helped me out a lot on what the group is about. I do like the lead singer Gwen Stefani. I heard her song “holla back girl” and i became a fan.

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    July 12, 2013 @ 2:30 pm

    The creation, performance, significance, and even the definition of music vary according to culture and social context. Music ranges from strictly organized compositions (and their recreation in performance), through improvisational music to aleatoric forms. Music can be divided into genres and subgenres, although the dividing lines and relationships between music genres are often subtle, ;:,:

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