The Meaning Behind “Bathwater” by No Doubt and What Olivia Rodrigo Said About Gwen Stefani’s Influence on Her

Olivia Rodrigo recently joined No Doubt at Coachella for a surprise performance of “Bathwater.” It was the first time either artist performed at the festival.

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Rodrigo cites No Doubt as an influence and praised singer Gwen Stefani as a “true artist.” She said she heard Return of Saturn when she was 15 and was inspired by how Stefani sang about women. Rodrigo’s GUTS World Tour began in February, and she’s often worn an “I’m Just a Girl” t-shirt, referencing the band’s 1995 hit.

Stefani and Rodrigo represent multiple generations of confessional songwriting by women. No Doubt’s “Bathwater” is the kind of song that wouldn’t be out of place on Rodrigo’s latest, GUTS.

Gwen Stefani’s Insecure Condition

In “Bathwater,” Stefani sings about chasing the bad boy. However, his indifference makes her want him even more. She doesn’t feel she compares to the other girls and regrets admitting to her simpleness.

You and your museum of lovers / The precious collection you’ve housed in your covers / My simpleness threatened by my own admission

“Bathwater” is a song about insecurity, and Stefani often writes autobiographically. The band’s famous single “Ex-Girlfriend” is aimed at Bush’s Gavin Rossdale, whom Stefani married and later divorced.

So why do we choose the boys that are naughty? / I don’t fit in, so why do you want me / And I know I can’t tame you, but I just keep trying

Just a Mistake

Guitarist Tom Dumont told Complex, “‘Bathwater’ is another one I remember writing at [producer] Glen Ballard’s house, and that one came really quick. It was easy to write.”

Stefani added, “That song was just a mistake. It was just me and Tony [Kanal, bassist] sitting on the couch, and then it kinda came out, and who would have thought?”

“Bathwater” begins with a New Orleans jazz funeral brass band and drummer Adrian Young beatboxing. The band enters with bouncing minor chords before launching into their signature ska punk sound.

No Doubt co-produced their fourth album Return of Saturn with Ballard, Jerry Harrison (from Talking Heads), and Matthew Wilder. It followed the extraordinary and surprising success of Tragic Kingdom (1995).

Interscope Didn’t Believe in No Doubt

When No Doubt released their self-titled debut in 1992, grunge dominated popular culture, and the Orange County, California, ska band didn’t fit in. Following the poor sales of their first album, Interscope Records refused to fund the next recording. So, the band produced their second album, The Beacon Street Collection, independently in a home studio.

The album sold 100,000 copies, renewing Interscope’s interest in No Doubt. However, Interscope then reiterated its lukewarm faith in the band by licensing Tragic Kingdom to a subsidiary, Trauma Records.

No Doubt proved the record label wrong when Tragic Kingdom reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and sold 16 million copies worldwide. Return of Saturn debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. Though not as successful as its predecessor, it nonetheless featured band classics like “Bathwater,” “Ex-Girlfriend,” and “Simple Kind of Life.”

Olivia Rodrigo on the Influence of Gwen Stefani

Rodrigo explained Stefani’s influence to Nylon, “Gwen sang about being a woman moving about this world in detail that I had never before heard put to music. She unapologetically sings about things ranging from wanting to make out with someone to fantasizing about having a husband and kids. There’s so much heart in every word she says, and every song feels like it’s ripped from the diary of the coolest girl you know.”

You can hear Stefani’s imprint on Rodrigo’s “Bad Idea Right?” when she sings, And I know we’re done, I know we’re through / But, God, when I look at you / My brain goes, ‘Ah.’

In 2022, Rodrigo covered No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” at a concert at The Met Philadelphia. But before she played the song, she said to the crowd, “Anyone that knows me knows that I am the biggest Gwen Stefani fan in the world.”

Return of Gwen Stefani

Both Rodrigo and Stefani are cultural icons, and watching them perform “Bathwater” together at Coachella solidified the timelessness of No Doubt’s music. Their songs from 25 years ago still sound fresh today.

It was nice seeing Stefani return to the stage with her band. There’s a song on Return of Saturn called “Magic’s in the Makeup.” The lyrics mirror the sentiment behind Smokey Robinson’s “The Tears of a Clown.” But, to play on the title, there’s real magic when Stefani stands on a stage with No Doubt. Hopefully, it doesn’t end at Coachella.

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Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for Coachella

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