What You Waiting For?

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This article is about the Gwen Stefani song. For other uses, see What Are You Waiting For?
"What You Waiting For?"
Single by Gwen Stefani
from the album Love. Angel. Music. Baby.
Released September 28, 2004 (2004-09-28)
Format
Recorded
Genre
Length 3:41
Label Interscope
Writer(s)
Producer(s) Nellee Hooper
Gwen Stefani singles chronology
"Let Me Blow Ya Mind"
(2001)
"What You Waiting For?"
(2004)
"Rich Girl"
(2004)

"What You Waiting For?" is a song by American singer and songwriter Gwen Stefani from her debut solo studio album, Love. Angel. Music. Baby. (2004). Written by Stefani and Linda Perry, the song is the album's opening track and was released as Stefani's debut solo single. "What You Waiting For?" details Stefani's lack of inspiration, fear of producing the album, as well as her reaction to pressures exerted by her record label. It is primarily an electropop song and introduces Stefani's four back-up dancers, the Harajuku Girls, who had a major input into the album's production.

"What You Waiting For?" was released as the album's lead single; according to Stefani, as an "explanation for doing the record".[1] The song was well received by critics, and was frequently cited as a highlight of the album. The single was commercially successful, topping the chart in Australia and reaching the top 10 in several countries. It was certified gold in the United States, and was nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 47th Grammy Awards. The song has been remixed a number of times, and was covered by the indie rock band Franz Ferdinand and singer Marina and the Diamonds.

Background and writing[edit]

During the night of the 2003 Grammy Awards, Perry forced Stefani into a chokehold, and demanded that they were "gonna write songs together!", to which Stefani reluctantly agreed.[2] Soon after, Stefani finished the Rock Steady Tour with her band No Doubt, and took a call from her label, who informed her that Perry was in a studio ready to collaborate, and that Perry "only [had] five days out of the whole year to work with [her]."[3][4] Stefani has since admitted that she was frustrated by not being able to see her husband Gavin Rossdale, and was intimidated at the thought of collaboration, in particular with Perry, who she did not feel was qualified to write dance music. Stefani was exhausted by the recently completed tour,[3][4] and shortly afterwards suffered an emotional breakdown, which she spent in bed crying.[3]

During their first day of work, the two wrote a song titled "Fine by You", which Stefani later described as "a stupid love song, but really good".[5] Perry remarked that the song "wasn't right", and the track was excluded from the album.[6] The session was unproductive, due in part to Stefani's self-consciousness and writer's block, and she at one stage broke down in tears in the studio.[7][8] Stefani has since admitted that writing songs without her band members felt "humiliating and intimidating even if they're sweet and excited, because you're drowning in their creativity".[7]

That night, Perry began work on another track, which she played for Stefani the next day to motivate her.[5] Stefani was impressed with the track, and Perry asked her, "What are you waiting for?"[3] According to Perry, Stefani took the question as a dare, replying, "You're totally challenging me, right?"[6] The two began writing lyrics for the new wave-styled song based on Stefani's writer's block and fears about making a solo record, and it grew into "What You Waiting For?"[1]

Stefani came up with the idea of the Harajuku Girls while writing the song. Stefani first saw the women of Harajuku, known for their unique style drawing from Gothic Lolita and cyberpunk fashion, in 1996 and had admired them since.[5][9] She decided to mention them in the line "You Harajuku Girls, damn you got some wicked style", and the concept grew into a running theme on Love. Angel. Music. Baby., which went as far as to feature one song named after and dedicated to them.[5]

Composition[edit]

"What You Waiting For?" combines the genres of electropop, new wave, dance-rock, and funk,[10][11][12] and was composed in common time and in the key of G minor.[13] It is written in verse-chorus form,[13] and its instrumentation derives from the guitar and electronic keyboard.[14] The song opens with an emotional piano solo as a tribute to Stefani's time with No Doubt.[13][15] The verse begins at only 60 beats per minute and gradually slows,[13] mixed with sounds of applause from the audience.[16] A beat set at 138 BPM begins, and Stefani repeats the phrase "tick-tock", commonly interpreted as a reference to her maternal clock and the pressures she felt about producing the album.[13][17]

Stefani creates an argument between lyrical personas by alternating her vocal range and point of view. Stefani's vocal range spans two octaves in the song, from G3 to G5.[13] In a melody similar to that of Weezer's "Hash Pipe",[18] one side of Stefani's personality sings in a higher range in the first person, and the other, more confident personality sings lower in the second person.[15] During the verses, the more nervous personality discusses her concerns about leaving No Doubt for a solo career as well as the ephemeral success of female singers in the music industry.[19] The chorus is a boost of confidence for her[15] and continues the song's time motif with the lines "Look at your watch now/You're still a super hot female". Backed by perfect octave dyads,[13] Stefani sings a verse about her excitement for her future, and the two personalities merge into one during the coda.[15]

Critical reception[edit]

"What You Waiting For?" received positive reviews from critics. Nick Sylvester of Pitchfork Media gave the song a strong review, rating it four and a half stars, and labeled it "fucking great".[16] The website went on to rank the song 16th on its list of the Top 50 Singles of 2004.[20] RJ Smith of Blender noted the song's new wave influence by stating that it could start a revival of Missing Persons,[21] and Amy Linden of The Village Voice compared the "giddy, yodeling vocals" to those of Lene Lovich's 1981 song "New Toy".[22] Jason Damas from PopMatters was mixed on the song, calling the opening "awkward" and the refrain "ridiculously dumb", but arguing that the song "is so frivolous and stupid that it winds up being brilliant; it pretends to be nothing more than party bubblegum and achieves its artistic criteria beautifully."[23] Slant Magazine's Sal Cinquemani agreed, stating that "it's this impishness that helps make 'What You Waiting For' one of the hottest 'arrival' songs of all time".[24] Richard Smirke of Playlouder found the track's production "crisp" and "edgy",[25] and Jennifer Nine of Yahoo! Music called the song "itchily irresistible".[26] Jemma Volp-Fletcher, writing for Contactmusic.com, rated the song nine out of 10, commenting that it has "irresistible commercial pull and a melody to die for" and that the track "makes the most of her unmistakable vocal and reflects that off-the-wall Stefani personality perfectly."[27] Natasha Tripney from musicOMH gave the song a negative review, stating that "it'll become one of those tracks that's irritatingly catchy—but on this initial listening, Ms Stefani's debut solo effort is just plain irritating."[28]

Many reviewers considered the track one of the album's highlights. Entertainment Weekly critic David Browne gave Love. Angel. Music. Baby. a C+ rating but called the track "one of the album's undeniable highs".[29] In its review of the album, Nick Sylvester of Pitchfork Media believed that "we can't expect 12 more cuts as personal or urgent as debut single 'What You Waiting For'", while naming it "one of the best electro songs this year".[30] Lisa Haines of BBC Music stated that it "stands out as the best track on the album for the way it pits storming beats against enthusiastic lyrics" and compared the song to Goldfrapp's 2003 single "Strict Machine".[31] Eric Greenwood of Drawer B, who felt that the album "fails on every level", also commented that "if this album had even two more songs this immediate and catchy, then I'd stick my neck out for it, but, sadly, it's the only song worth listening to."[18] In 2009, The Daily Telegraph listed the song at number 82 on their list "100 songs that defined the Noughties."[32]

Commercial performance[edit]

Stefani closed performances on her 2007 Sweet Escape Tour by performing "What You Waiting For?" during an encore

In the United States, "What You Waiting For?" debuted at number 93 on the Billboard Hot 100 on the issue dated October 16, 2004.[33] It reached a peak of number 47 on November 27, 2004 and remained on the chart for a total of 20 weeks.[34] The song topped the Hot Dance Club Play chart, but only had moderate success on the pop charts, reaching number 17 on the Mainstream Top 40 and number 24 on the Adult Top 40.[35] The song was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on February 25, 2005.[36] Additionally, it was nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 2005 Grammy Awards, but lost to Norah Jones' "Sunrise".[37]

Elsewhere, the song's reception was stronger. In Canada, it debuted in the top 40 on the Canadian Singles Chart before reaching number 24 in late January 2005.[38] In the United Kingdom, "What You Waiting For?" debuted and peaked at number four on the UK Singles Chart and remained on the chart for 15 weeks.[39] The single performed well across most of the rest of Europe, reaching the top five in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, and Norway, and the top 10 in Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Sweden.[40][41][42][43]

In Australia, "What You Waiting For?" debuted atop the ARIA Singles Chart on November 14, 2004 and stayed there for two weeks. It remained within the top three through January 17, 2005 and dropped off the chart after 15 weeks.[44] In 2014, the single was certified double platinum by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA).[45] The song reached number three on New Zealand's RIANZ Singles Chart and spent four months on the chart.[46]

Music video[edit]

The song's music video was directed by Francis Lawrence and produced by Caleb Dewart of DNA Inc.[47] The video deals directly with the lyrics' theme of Stefani's search for inspiration in songwriting. It opens with a lengthy non-musical section in which Stefani arrives in Los Angeles off of No Doubt's Rock Steady Tour. She receives several calls from Interscope label head Jimmy Iovine, who attempts to push her forward with her solo debut project, but she replies that she is tired and uninspired. After a failed studio attempt, Stefani sees a flyer advertising help for writer's block. Upon arrival she is asked to fill out a suspicious questionnaire, where the camera pans to the questions which will be important. She is then told that she will be billed when she is finished. She asks for clarification only to discover that she is already back in the studio by herself. When Stefani picks up an oversized pocket watch from the piano, a rabbit knick-knack that she had previously seen jumps across the room. She throws the watch at the knick-knack, causing her to fall back on her chair and find herself transported to a fantasy world based on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.

Stefani in the Alice in Wonderland-inspired music video for "What You Waiting For?"

Stefani portrays several characters from the books, including Alice, the White Queen, and the Red Queen, in dresses by British-Gibraltarian fashion designer John Galliano.[48] The video frequently cuts to Stefani back in the studio to show her singing and performing in semi-synchronization with her actions within her fantasy world. As this transpires the song is recording itself. Stefani ultimately rediscovers her confidence, and her full awareness is transported back to the ordinary reality of the studio just as she dances in front of her four giggling Harajuku Girls. She then is presented with her bill by the consultant as a wooden chair topples to the floor.

There are four versions of the video. The full, long version is one minute longer than the Making the Video version, while the cut version omits the scenes in which she leaves the airport and is sleepy and in which she fills out the questionnaire. The short version begins with Stefani practicing on the piano and her finding the watch just seconds after that. Her being billed is not shown in this version, so the video ends with the Harajuku Girls laughing at her performance.

The music video was well received by many reviewers. Sam Bloch from Stylus Magazine referred to it as a short film, comparing it to Michael Jackson's Thriller, and commented, "I sigh with admiration and wish every video was this alive."[49] The video debuted on MTV's Total Request Live on October 19, 2004 at number 11.[50] The following month it reached the top of the chart and was there for three non-consecutive days,[51] remaining over five weeks on the program.[50] At the 2005 MTV Video Music Awards, the video won the award for Best Art Direction and was nominated for Best Editing.[52] In Canada, it only reached number 11 on the MuchMusic's Countdown, though it remained on the chart for eight weeks.[38] At the 2005 MuchMusic Video Awards, the video was nominated for Best International Video but lost to Usher's "Caught Up".[53] It won the award for Best Dressed Video at the first MTV Australia Video Music Awards,[54] and was also nominated for Video of the Year and Best Pop Video.[55]

Alternative versions[edit]

Stuart Price (also known as Jacques Lu Cont) made the most well-known remix of the song, titled the Thin White Duke Mix, which was included on the CD single. The track, over eight minutes long, is carried by a guitar riff and occasional chimes.[56] The remix received positive reviews from music critics. Aaron Mandel of Pitchfork Media labeled it "outstanding",[57] and John M. Cunningham of Stylus Magazine stated that it "endowed [the song] with a sense of grandeur".[58] DJ InVincible from About.com viewed the remix as "moody and a bit hypnotic", commenting that it is "best suited for early-evening sets." Armand Van Helden created two remixes, the Armand Van Helden Remix and the Armand Van Helden Dub, which use only some of the original vocals and a new bassline constructed with synthesizers and some electric guitar. Felix da Housecat created the Rude Ho Mix, which uses more bass guitar and leaves out the original background vocals by Mimi Parker until the final verse.[56]

Alex Kapranos, guitarist and lead singer of Scottish indie rock band Franz Ferdinand, wore a Gwen Stefani pin on a Members Only jacket as a tribute to "What You Waiting For?".[59] In December 2005, the band performed a cover version of the song on Live Lounge, a segment of The Jo Whiley Show on BBC Radio 1. The cover includes the chorus from Billy Idol's 1983 song "White Wedding". In October 2006, the song was released as a part of the Radio 1's Live Lounge compilation, and the cover received mixed reviews. Jack Foley from IndieLondon called the track "completely insane", stating that it "really has to be heard to be believed."[60] The Guardian's Dorian Lynskey found the cover smug, adding that "one of Alex Kapranos's eyebrows [is] raised so high that it practically vacates his head."[61]

Welsh indie pop singer Marina and the Diamonds covered "What You Waiting For?" during some of her early live performances in 2009.[62][63] Mary Bellamy of Drowned in Sound referred to her debut album The Family Jewels (2010) as "an extended album length re-write" of "What You Waiting For?".[64]

Track listings[edit]

Credits and personnel[edit]

Credits adapted from the liner notes of Love. Angel. Music. Baby.[14]

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Australia (ARIA)[45] 2× Platinum 140,000^
Norway (IFPI Norway)[112] Gold 5,000*
Sweden (GLF)[113] Gold 10,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[114] Silver 222,000[115]
United States (RIAA)[36] Gold 500,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

References[edit]

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