Gwen Stefani's “Hollaback Girl” is one of the most baffling pieces of music of the modern age. It's got something to do with cheerleaders—that much is clear, judging from the chanting and the marching band that's honking and tooting in the background. Beyond that, good luck deciphering the song's ambiguities. We were so vexed by the mystery that is “Hollaback Girl” that we have devoted countless hours to its study. Our conclusions are below. The first thing you should know, though, is that Gwen is notsinging “I ain't no Harlem fat girl”—at least, we don't thinkshe is.
Gwen is introducing us to her shit.
This talk of shit and stomping has nothing to do with actually stepping on feces. But what doesit mean? From a reading of the later text, we can conclude that the song takes place in the world of high school athletics, and that Gwen is apparently leading the girls in a calisthenics exercise. The “shit,” we surmise, is what she calls the exercises she's teaching the other girls.
Here, Gwen exhorts the girls to try harder as they jog around the track, reminding them that physical fitness is “not just gonna happen,” but must be worked at.
These lines are the most confusing, but their meaning will become clearer later.
Gwen repeats this four more times. She wants to make sure that we are well acquainted with her shit.
Gwen has been the victim of some slanderous high school gossip, and she doesn't appreciate it. Gwen is 35 years old sliding into MILF status at this point, but we'll grant her some poetic license.
Gwen is going to round up a “posse” of her girlfriends and retaliate against the person who's been talking “smack” about her.
Gwen is going to beat up the person who wronged her, after she completes the cheerleading routine that will inspire the football team to score a touchdown. Gwen has interesting priorities.
It seems the entire cheerleading squad is going to beat up the person who spoke ill of Gwen; they have put down their pom-poms, and they are now “fired up” to exact swift and terrible vengeance on Gwen's behalf.
Gwen is apparently the captain of the cheerleader squad; she is the girl who “hollas” the chants, not one of the girls who simply “hollas” them back. Given that the squad is preparing to beat somebody up on Gwen's behalf, she's picked a strange time to remind them that she is their leader and they are her sheep-like followers. Gwen obviously rules her squad with an iron fist.
Again with the shit.
We learn that it was a “dude” who gossiped about Gwen. She challenges him to a fight at the bleachers. If he imagines it will be a fair, one-on-one fight, he is sadly mistaken. Gwen and her aforementioned “pack” will pounce on him like rabid wolves.
Gwen's pack of furious cheerleaders leaves the boy a quivering, bloody heap behind the bleachers for the groundskeeper to discover the next day.
Having completed their ghastly work, Gwen's squad members return to the field and resume their cheerleading activities, as Gwen reminds them once more that she is the boss and they are all her bitches.
By calling her exercise routines “shit,” Gwen is showing us that for all her bravado, the character in this song secretly suffers from profound self-esteem issues. She is a complex antiheroine for an age of changing gender attitudes and expectations.
Here, Gwen steps away from this bloody spectacle for a moment to comment on the madness and ugliness of what we've just witnessed, and, by extension, the petty rivalries of high school in general. This shit is bananas, Gwen tells us, and we can only agree. And lest we miss the point, she spells it out. And repeats it another three times.
Back on the field, Gwen is still bullying the squad to carry out her routines. But now we see her in a new light, as the sad, lost creature she truly is.
As the song fades out, Gwen is left only with her “shit,” the mindless exercises that bring her no comfort from the raging emptiness within. As much as she “hollas,” no one hears her cries for help.