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Doubt It

No Doubt
George Sakkestad

Cover Girl: Endless play on MTV and too many magazine covers for lead singer Gwen Stefani have pushed No Doubt's demographic down to the under-10 set.

No Doubt sinks to the age of its audience at Shoreline concert

By Gina Arnold

TWO YEARS AGO, No Doubt appeared at the Concord Pavilion on the WARPED tour, and the only reason the band stood out was because it was the only group with a girl in it (barring headliner L7, whose members look and sound exactly like boys). Playing a lackluster set taken entirely from its then-new LP Tragic Kingdom, the band faced a front of the house that was entirely empty except for a few little squealy girls.

Two years later, No Doubt is still on the road and still playing the same music as it did at Concord, but everything else is as different as can be. No Doubt's Shoreline gig May 30 was sold out, and when it took a flower-bedecked stage, 18,000 kids rose up as one and shrieked nonstop for the next 90 minutes.

What has changed? Two things. First, in 1996, No Doubt was given nonstop airplay on MTV, and lead singer Gwen Stefani became a cover girl on periodicals like Details and Spin. More importantly, No Doubt has clearly found its natural audience, and it's not the 16-year-old skate-rat punk boys it courted for so many years. It is 6- to 10-year-old girls.

Okay, so 10 may be an exaggeration--but not by much. Most of the fans at Shoreline were under 15, and many of them well under. This makes sense, because Stefani's persona is exactly what a 10-year-old girl wants to be when she's 20: cute but sexless, a little bit of a tomboy and totally covered in spangles.

Despite its punk-rock beginnings, No Doubt is now self-consciously playing the kiddie game for all it's worth. From the opening circus music and pinball lights to a set that mimics the scary apple orchard from The Wizard of Oz with the poppy fields in the distance to the way Stefani talks to the audience as if she were Miss Mary Ann on Romper Room, everything is specifically geared to the 10-year-old mentality. The band even encored with "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," the only rock song most 7-year-olds know the words to.

That wouldn't matter, really, except for the fact that 10-year-olds are so very easy to fleece. A 16-year-old only has his allowance in his pocket, but a 10-year-old comes with a parent and, thus, more cash-potential ("Daddy, Daddy, buy me a T-shirt!")--not to mention no musical standards whatsoever, which is just as well, since musically, No Doubt leave a lot to be desired. The band's ska-driven pop is tuneless, and Stefani's voice, though on key, is so shrill that only people who are used to elementary-school playgrounds can bear it for long.

To give No Doubt credit, it put on a good show for the money. Thanks to the addition of two great horn players and a backup singer, No Doubt now sounds great and, thanks to the effervescent, video-savvy Stefani, are imminently watchable, even if it's true that the band has so little material that it must stretch each song with chants ("Okay, I wanna hear all the boys yell, 'I'm just a girl In the world!' ").

For all that, it's hard not to like No Doubt, which is hardly an undeserving flash-in-the pan group. No Doubt formed in 1988 and has taken a long hard road to the top. On the way up, one member committed suicide, while another--Stefani's brother--quit just before they made it. No, No Doubt has worked hard for this moment of success, but it hasn't really succeeded in a very honorable fashion. Fortunately, the band's punishment for pandering to minors is imminent: given the short attention span of kids, the future of No doubt is in doubt.

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From the June 5-11, 1997 issue of Metro

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