There was a moment at the turn of the century when pop music rocked. I don’t mean it wore spandex or threw horn-shapes, but it had the fire, the fury and lust that made guitar-based music sound very flaccid in comparison. It had a confidence and mischief that made guitar music sound very boring, and the sort of ambition that made rock sound weak and naff. There was a moment when I typed out “f*** this, I’d rather listen to Kylie” in resignation to my editor, to a backdrop of sounds like this.
What You Waiting For? was born in a chokehold: specifically, Linda Perry mock-strangled Gwen Stefani at a gig and only released her with the promise that they work together. Dragged into a studio with only five days to write, Stefani was reluctant: what did the Four Non Blondes girl know about dance music? Gwen was tired, fed up and sceptical, and broke down in tears on the first day. To cheer her up, Perry started work on another song and played it to her the next day, with the question, “What are you waiting for?”
Gwen took that as a challenge.
All her anxiety, fear and frustration poured out of her into the song’s boldly confessional lyrics. Fear of failure, fear of ageing, fear of infertility, fear of getting it wrong.
They got it right.
What You Waiting For? hit the UK charts at number four and stayed in the charts for 15 weeks. The memorable video was directed by The Hunger Games saga’s Francis Lawrence.