Happy 20th birthday, 'Tragic Kingdom'! Everything I learned from No Doubt's breakout album
On Oct. 10, 1995 – exactly 20 years ago today – a little album called Tragic Kingdom was let loose on the world. Though it was No Doubt’s third studio album, its unique amalgamation of ska, punk, rock, and pop, with a little reggae thrown in for good measure, was the catalyst that skyrocketed the band to eventually achieving the fame and legend status they have today. The song “Don’t Speak” from Tragic Kingdom is still regarded by many (including me) as the quintessential No Doubt song.
It also didn’t hurt that the band’s lead singer, Gwen Stefani, was a total rock star in her own right. Around the time Tragic Kingdom came on the scene, she quickly became known for her hypnotizing, energetic stage presence, outspoken-yet-somehow-also-shy demeanor, and wildly inspirational lyrics and fashion choices. Today, Stefani continues to be one of the most recognizable household names – not to mention one of the biggest female musical and fashion influences in the entire world.
“That album really defines me when I discovered I could write songs,” Stefani, who is currently one of the coaches on the hugely popular reality singing competition The Voice, told ET recently of her time recording Tragic Kingdom. “I didn’t really write songs before that and to be able to get that power, and to understand that about myself, that I had that gift…that’s what that whole album kinda represents.”
As someone who called up radio stations to request “Don’t Speak” so I could record it on my boombox/tape recorder (it was the ’90s, OK?), I learned so many lessons from not only that song but this entire album as a preteen that have bled into my adult life. Here are some of my favorites.
Being a woman is hard – even if you’re Gwen Stefani
“Just a Girl,” the lead single from Tragic Kingdom, hit me so hard as an 11-year-old that my friend and I spent an entire afternoon making up an interpretative dance to it and whined until my mother and her grandmother watched us put it on. I can still taste their secondhand embarrassment and am really glad they didn’t have video cameras. I feel for today’s kids, whose parents have smartphones at the ready.
But honestly, I’m not that embarrassed today because that song is so empowering. Its lyrics are complete satire about how women in society should behave, and a big middle finger from Stefani in the face of those expectations. “Just a Girl” inspired me, and still inspires me, to do the same.
Your future will involve a lot of phone-call screening
I feel for the members of No Doubt and anyone else who was a teenager in the ’80s and early ’90s. Caller ID was a bit of a luxury, whereas now cell phones make screening our phone calls way too easy.
“Spiderwebs” taught me that even glamorous, inspiring lady badasses like Gwen Stefani screen their phone calls (and today, ignore texts and block people on social media if needed). It also taught me that saying “No” is totally OK – especially if someone is annoying you by calling persistently. You get to decide how to spend your time, and you don’t owe guys a darn thing.
Dating within your friend/coworker groups is risky, but sometimes worth the risk
Tragic Kingdom is nothing if not an anthem for how tough relationships can be – especially when they start in your group of friends or at work, when you still have to be mature around each other, and everyone else, if it doesn’t work out. In No Doubt’s case, many of the songs – including both its most famous, “Don’t Speak,” and one of my personal favorites, “Sunday Morning” – are about the crumbling and aftermath of the romantic relationship between Stefani and No Doubt’s bassist, Tony Kanal.
Lesson learned? Follow your heart (because duh), but tread carefully in situations where you can’t immediately remove yourself from that person’s vicinity if things don’t work out.
But luckily, time healed everything in this case. Stefani even wrote the song “Cool” for her debut solo album, Love. Angel. Music. Baby, about the friendship she and Kanal developed over the years following their breakup. We could all take cues from these two about how to move forward in harmony.
There’s a dark side to everything – even fairytales
We already know Disneyland and Walt Disney World aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. But the band, who is originally from Disneyland’s digs of Anaheim, Ca., expanded a bit further on this by writing an entire song (the title track, “Tragic Kingdom”) about the underbelly of this “magical” place that tourists flock to, but in reality was just created by flawed humans like you and me. The music itself is creepy even if you don’t listen to the lyrics, and this song is an amazing commentary on why we should take a close look at the things around us – because they may not be quite what they seem to be on the surface.
Fruit can be fashionable
Seriously, though, Gwen Stefani could make literally anything fashionable. Oranges are no exception.
Happy 20th birthday, Tragic Kingdom! We’re all crossing our fingers for a new No Doubt album and tour ASAP, and can’t wait for Stefani’s next upcoming solo album in the meantime.