All of Gwen Stefani’s Solo Singles, Ranked from Worst to Best
Today, Gwen Stefani — a true pop culture icon who’s been releasing music in one form or another for more than 20 years — turns 47.
To celebrate Gwen’s birthday and to honor but a fraction of Gwen’s musical output over the years, I have taken it upon myself to rank her solo singles. (Sorry, No Doubt fans!) In the process of putting this list together, I had the pleasure of rediscovering a love for her music that I had neglected to tend for many years, and in doing so I realized just how many fantastic songs she’s #blessed us with since her solo debut in 2004. ‘Cuz isn’t it true that a bad Gwen Stefani song is still a pretty good song by most other measures?
Please note, I have only included solo singles on which Gwen is featured as the lead artist, so smashes like Moby’s “South Side” and Eve’s “Let Me Blow Ya Mind,” both of which prominently feature Gwen, are not included. Under that criteria, we have 16 solo Gwen songs to get through. Let’s start at the bottom…
16. “Spark the Fire”
“Spark the Fire” is a classic case of an artist who’s been out of the spotlight for a long time attempting to recapture the magic from the era of her peak popularity. It would have worked as a Love. Angel. Music. Baby. B-side, maybe, but as a comeback single released a decade after her massive debut, it was a complete and total misfire.
15. “Now That You Got It” (Feat. Damian Marley)
For the most part, Solo Gwen operates in one of two modes: grand emotional power-pop statement maker or cheeky urban-pop super-brat with with an unfortunate penchant for dipping her toes in the waters of cultural appropriation. “Now That You Got It” falls into the latter camp, and it pales in comparison to superior songs made in that mode, the most notable of which is obviously “Hollaback Girl.”
14. “Wind It Up”
The Sound of Music yodeling interspersed throughout the song remains endearingly odd, but otherwise everything about “Wind It Up” is an uninspired attempt to recapture the magic of “Hollaback Girl.”
13. “4 in the Morning”
“4 in the Morning” has all of the elements of a Gwen Stefani single that should make it A Great Gwen Stefani Single — a clear, sweet melody; an innocuous contemporary urban beat; more than a few ’80s references — but for some reason it doesn’t congeal correctly. It’s Minor Gwen imitating Classic Gwen, and ain’t nobody got time for that.
By the time This Is What the Truth Feels Like finally dropped, we’d already been subject to a couple of false starts, a couple of official singles, and several promotional tracks. The album felt like less than event than it should have, and I would argue it didn’t exactly live up to the expectations set by a 10-year gap between solo albums. As Truth’s third (and, so far, final) single, “Misery” does a pretty perfect job of representing that cultural shoulder-shrug: it’s fine, though nowhere near great. It’s a decent taste of what to expect from the album, but it also retreads the same ground as the album’s first two singles. It’s another song that’s kinda-sorta about Blake Shelton, a theme which became less interesting every time Gwen talked about it, which was (and is still) a lot.
11. “Luxurious” (Feat. Slim Thug)
R&B Gwen is not The Best Gwen. “Luxurious” is the weakest of the singles taken from Gwen’s debut solo album, which is not to say it’s bad. It’s just uninspired. It relies too heavily on its core sample and ultimately just feels like Gwen doing a cartoon impression of Bedtime Stories-era Madonna. It does have some hooks — especially the “Working so hard every night and day…” and “Cha-ching!” parts — but not even those moments elevate the song above its mediocre framework.
10. “Baby Don’t Lie”
“Baby Don’t Lie” was the first of two “test the waters” comeback singles Gwen released in 2014 (the other being “Spark the Fire”), and though it certainly isn’t on par with Gwen’s greatest, it’s actually pretty catchy and very nearly stirring. That said, it’s easy to understand why it didn’t make its way onto the album Gwen eventually did release.
“Crash” was a favorite of mine from Love. Angel. Music. Baby. at the time of the album’s release, and as I re-listen to it today, I can see why. It’s an energetic little exploitation of ’80s sounds and motifs with the perfect shout-along chorus. With some distance, though, and in the overall context of her discography, it definitely works better as an album cut than as a single.
8. “Make Me Like You”
“Make Me Like You” is a funk-disco adrenaline rush that manages to make the listener feel good in spite of the fact the song is hopelessly, not-so-secretly vanilla. It’s the kind of song you forget exists until you hear it, and once you hear it, you think, “Oh yeah, this is pretty catchy actually?” Removed from Gwen’s real-life romance narrative, the song is even more tolerable, but it will forever kinda-sorta be That Song That’s About Blake Shelton.
7. “Rich Girl” (Feat. Eve)
Looking back, what an oddity this song was. It is a remake of a remake of a song from Fiddler on the Roof, and it somehow peaked at No. 7 on the Hot 100. What a world. I’m deducting points because all of its memorable melodics are straight-up jacked from the source materials (and because of the appropriation of dancehall culture by a white woman artist), but still: you can’t deny that back in the day, Gwen and Eve — who also worked together on “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” — were a pretty perfect dream team.
6. “Used to Love You”
After two failed singles (“Baby Don’t Lie” and “Spark the Fire”), Gwen finally hit upon something with “Used to Love You,” a song that eventually became the lead from her third solo album, This Is What the Truth Feels Like. “Used To” tastefully capitalized on the tabloid frenzy created when Gwen split from her longtime husband Gavin Rossdale while simultaneously proving she hadn’t lost her knack for sweeping, gut-punch pop melodies.
5. “Hollaback Girl”
This will likely forever be the song Gwen is remembered for, her eternal “trot it out for the encore” tour stop topper. The song experienced b-a-n-a-n-a-s chart success, peaking at No. 1 on the Hot 100. It is the perfect 2004 – 2005 cultural touchstone, and it was certainly a big influence on contemporary radio sounds. (Its DNA can be found in everything from Fergie’s The Dutchess, released two years later, to Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.”) But Gwen has better — much better — songs, and the novelty of this, her biggest hit, has worn off a bit in the interceding years.
4. “Early Winter”
Given that The Sweet Escape is essentially an album comprised of Love. Angel. Music. Baby. B-sides, it’s shocking how many hits it yielded and that even a few of the non-smashes are noteworthy.”Early Winter” is one of peak-era Gwen’s worst-performing singles, and that is a straight-up tragedy. Hands down, it is one of her best songs, allowing as it does Gwen to show off her more melancholic songwriting abilities, a talent she put to great use with No Doubt but largely ignored in her earlier solo efforts. (With, of course, the exception of No. 2 on my list.)
3. “The Sweet Escape” (Feat. Akon)
Though “The Sweet Escape” has a decidedly 2007 feel to it, the fact remains that it is Gwen’s biggest earworm and her most enduring solo hit. From Akon’s “Woo-hoo, yee-hoo!”-ing to the chorus to the bridge, this song has more hooks than a Fame Monster-era Lady Gaga song, and every one of them sticks in your head like sweet, sweet candy.
While most of the singles taken from Love. Angel. Music. Baby. worked hard to redefine Gwen as a bonafide pop star, “Cool,” the fourth single taken from the set, could very easily have fit in on basically any post-Tragic Kingdom No Doubt album. And that’s what makes it so, so great. For my money, Gwen is at her best when she ditches the bratty bombast and gives her voice over to the breezy, bittersweet melodies that suit her so well. That’s exactly what she does on “Cool,”and the result is a damn timeless pop gem with a message that is equally personal and universal.
1. “What You Waiting For?”
You might be surprised to learn that Gwen’s first solo single, and one of her most iconic, had a relatively modest run on the Hot 100, peaking at No. 47. “What You Waiting For?” deserved more. In terms of first singles by already-famous band front-people attempting to go solo, this is the gold standard. It’s one of those rare pop songs that just is what it is; it doesn’t really have any direct ancestors, nor does it really have any direct descendants. That makes it the quintessential Gwen Stefani single and therefore the perfect announcement of her bid for pop stardom. She’d go on to have bigger songs, but very few of them would touch the pure pop greatness of her first.