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Gwen Stefani & Blake Shelton Unpack The Lyrics Of “Purple Irises”

“You still create drama in your own mind.”

From the wounded anthems of No Doubt’s breakout 1995 album, Tragic Kingdom, to her 2016 solo album, This Is What the Truth Feels Like, Gwen Stefani has always poured her heart out in her lyrics. On her most recent single, “Purple Irises,” a duet with husband Blake Shelton, NYLON’s new cover star sings about aging, insecurity, and the ups and downs of marriage with the kind of striking vulnerability that reminds listeners why the pop-rock icon’s work has endured for so long.

Despite the constant media attention on her personal life, Stefani explains in NYLON’s Spring/Summer 2024 print issue that she doesn’t think twice about opening up in her music. “When you’re in love and have truly aligned values, nobody can get to us. You can say whatever you want to say about our relationship — I mean, a week ago we were getting divorced again or something,” she says, referencing tabloid rumors. “It’s just lies. The truth is the truth, and we know what that is. And so that [negativity] would never penetrate just by me being vulnerable and sharing a song that I didn’t write for anybody else but myself and Blake.” Below, Stefani and Shelton explain the lyrics of “Purple Irises.”

“Everything fades, everything dies / Put me in a vase, but you can’t, you can’t stop time”

“Every single reference in the song is about the insecurities we sometimes feel,” Stefani says. “You can’t hold on to time, you have to keep evolving and moving forward — that’s true with love as well. There’s all different kinds of love, and it always evolves and changes. That's really what the song is. That was the intention of the song.”

“It’s not 1999, but this face is still mine / The way you look at me, I swear my heart hits rewind”

“The reference to ‘99 was a line thrown out by one of the songwriters, and then I said, ‘But this face is still mine,’” Stefani recalls of the track, which was co-written with Niko Rubio and Swedish writers and producers Jack & Coke (aka Jakob Hazell and Svante Halldin). “That exact lyric was a collaboration between both of us.”

1999 marked the transition between Tragic Kingdom and 2000’s Return of Saturn. “I think 1999 identifies a highlight of my career,” Stefani says. “It’s a recognizable time for me when I look back, like, ‘Wow, that was a peak moment.’ So it was very intentional to reflect the whole idea of the first opening line.”

“But if someone comes along and tries to love you like I love you / Don’t know what I’d do, don’t wanna lose you”

“I had been going through those times where you’re questioning: ‘Oh my gosh, am I just getting older? Am I cute?’” Stefani says of the song’s inspirations. “In my own relationship, even though I know the truth of what’s happening today, you still create drama in your own mind about your insecurities and what might happen. I was in that phase of the relationship with Blake and getting paranoid.”

Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton attend the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards (2020)Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

“Wonder why you took a risk / On a broken hеart you cannot fix”

When Shelton came aboard, Stefani says they didn’t have to overhaul the song, but a few changes were necessary — like these lines near the end of the chorus. “When I wrote it,” she says, “it was like, ‘Why’d you take a risk on a broken girl?’ It had different lyrics there.”

“No, I never knew a love like this / Now we’re picking purple irises”

The titular flowers are a very real: In 2020, while isolating at Shelton's Oklahoma ranch, Stefani says, “We found these irises that were growing. We were all together, the kids, everyone, and we're pulling them out. We transplanted them. This sounds crazy, I know. But we picked up hundreds of them and planted them where we were living at the lodge. And then years later, they'd make babies and keep growing, and they start getting these beautiful purple flowers.”

To Stefani, the irises have become a symbolic reminder to get out of her head. “The truth is I am in love with my best friend,” she says, “and all this sh*t I’m thinking of in my brain, that’s all it is — I’m overthinking.”

“I got you, and you got me / And do you still think I’m pretty? And are you happy?”

The insecurities Stefani talks about weren’t a surprise to Shelton, who tag-teams the second verse in addition to sharing duties on the chorus. “It’s an insecurity we both have,” Shelton says. “These are conversations that she and I have with each other: ‘Are you still going to love me when I’m old or if I forget who I am?’”

“It’s not 2014, but you still look good in those jeans / Lookin’ in the mirror, do you see what I see?”

Though Shelton sings these lines, Stefani says she and her co-writers included the reference to 2014 as a nod to the time “my entire life changed,” Stefani says. That year, she gave birth to her third son and also joined The Voice, where Shelton was a coach. “I went from a difficult time in my life to giving birth to Apollo. Getting pregnant with him was really the start of [a series] of miracles,” she says. “It was almost like a restart to my life — the second chapter.”

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