It’s official: Gwen Stefani is more famous than her music.
This was confirmed in the current issue of Us Weekly with the front page headline screaming “Gwen Saved My Life” over a photo of country superstar Blake Shelton.
Gwen is now a mononym, a tabloid regular whose last hit song was — when?
On Sunday night at Xcel Energy Center, Stefani, 46, tried to mix her music and her celebrity. But, frankly, both rang about as hollow as the largely empty arena. Sure, Stefani was sparkly — from her eyelids and fingernails to her short shorts and the tips of the tails hanging out the back of her various pants.
But what was missing was passion and personality. That was apparent when Stefani was joined by a couple of guests.
First came rapper Eve, who had opened the show. Like Stefani, Eve belongs to another decade. But she still knows how to light up a stage. She commanded the arena, throwing down “Let Me Blow Ya Mind,” their Grammy-winning duet from 2001. Her soulful moves, strong presence and forceful flow captivated the crowd. Did it matter that Stefani sang the choruses? Naw, it was all about Eve.
The twosome flipped roles on the ensuing “Rich Girl,” a 2005 hit from Stefani’s first solo album. It was built around a line sampled from “Fiddler on the Roof,” but Stefani couldn’t control the spotlight, partly because her dancing was more energetic aerobicizing than graceful choreography. And when Eve stepped forward to do her rap, it was clear whose presence was richer.
Eve’s appearance was no surprise. But was anyone really expecting Stefani’s “favorite person in the entire world” to show up?
Yup, we’re talking Blake, as in Gwen and Blake, the queen and king of NBC’s “The Voice,” where they met.
A roadie had set up an awfully tall microphone stand for the 6 foot 5 country hunk. And he locked eyes with Stefani as he began to sing “Go Ahead and Break My Heart,” their duet from his current album “If I’m Honest.”
To be honest, he showed more intensity and passion in that 4½-minute song than he has in all his Twin Cities headline shows combined. Blake and Gwen stood face to face, singing to each other, oblivious to the audience, totally lost in one another. He glowed with giddiness, she shone brighter than all the sparkles she wore all evening.
One was tempted to shout “Get a room!” but Stefani would have explained there were nine more songs on her set list.
The 26-song, 110-minute set was heavy on material from Stefani’s third solo album, “This Is What the Truth Feels Like,” which went to No. 1 when it was released in March but quickly disappeared from the charts. It’s been a slow seller, and most of the songs seemed unfamiliar to the crowd.
Some such as the ska-styled “Where Would I Be?” and the hip-hop “Asking for It” were forgettable. The ones inspired by Shelton, the classic MTV pop “Make Me Like You” and the soul-pop ballad “Misery,” connected, as did “Used to Love You,” the single about Stefani’s ex-husband, rocker Gavin Rossdale, the breakup from whom is the subject of much of the new album.
But fans wanted to hear older tunes, including Stefani’s hits with her band No Doubt. She seemed especially invested in “Don’t Speak,” the Spanish-flavored ballad about the breakup from her bandmate/boyfriend in No Doubt. And she seemed positively effervescent on “Just a Girl,” a girl-power anthem.
Stefani’s biggest solo hits, the invigorating “Hollaback Girl” and woo-hoo singalong pop slice “The Sweet Escape,” proved that fans didn’t care that Stefani has been supplanted in the pop world by the likes of Katy Perry, Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift.
Stefani made it clear that this album and tour are about her taking back her life, not her career. She showed she has her feet on the ground, giving a shoutout to her sister, who married a Minnesota guy, and his 26 relatives in the arena.
She seemed nonplused by the fact that there were only about 5,000 people in the X, a building in which Shelton will play two sold out concerts next month to 30,000. That’s the kind of disparity that can ruin a music-biz relationship.
But not with this couple. She saved his life and he saved her show.