I know a place
Where the grass is really greener
Warm, wet n' wild
There must be something in the water
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“California Gurls,” performed by Katy Perry (featuring Snoop Dogg), and appearing on her 2010 album entitled Teenage Dream
, is an ingenious music-industry invention. Anyone that’s ever imagined a (vaguely Italian) suit-wearing fat cat behind a desk with a cigar, puppeteering our music tastes and consumption through the clever manipulation of musical stereotypes, advertising, hype, and desire, has to give “The Man” some credit for this one. Written by a team of five writers (six if you include Snoop Dogg), “California Gurls” was designed from every angle to be California’s summer anthem of 2010, to have people donning their most provocative swimwear, slapping on coconut-scented suntan lotion of the lowest possible SPF, and stampeding California’s Pacific coastline. And they succeeded on all counts: the song was Billboard
’s No. 1 for six sun-filled weeks.
Of course, the industry brought in Max Martin on this one; they were taking out the big-guns here. Martin is the Swiss watchmaker of contemporary pop music (unfortunately, he is Swedish, or the analogy would have worked perfectly). He is the mastermind writer behind singles like “…Baby, One More Time” performed by Britney Spears (1999), and Perry’s debut hit “I Kissed a Girl” from 2008. Far from looking like a vaguely Italian fat cat, this typical blonde-haired-blue-eyed baby-faced Scandinavian is not what you would expect after turning the industry cockroach onto its back. Looking into those innocent clear blue eyes, you could almost forgive him for the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync singles you’ve had to endure over the years. But then you remember recently being tortured by the savage ear-worm “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” (Taylor Swift, 2012), hives break out, and you start to wonder why such marvellous talent was given to someone with such pure evil in his heart.
More California Gurls!
“California Gurls” is Katy Perry’s answer to Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind,” according to the buxom woman herself in a Rolling Stone
interview where she said, “It’s so great that ‘Empire State of Mind’ is huge and that everybody has the New York song, but what the f--k? What about LA? What about California?” But I see things differently. Apart from the fact that Alicia Keys’ lick from “New York” is vastly superior, musically and emotionally, to anything to have dropped from Perry’s cherry lips, the only real thing the two songs have in common is their status on the Billboard
charts. Perhaps of more concern: it seems that Perry has let Brian Wilson and the original “California Girls” hit from the legendary Beach Boys 1965 album Summer Days (And Summer Nights)
slip her mind…
If anyone ever wondered why Wilson wrote “I wish they all could be California girls,” well, Perry explains in her song: “California girls, we’re unforgettable, Daisy Dukes, bikinis on top. Sun-kissed skin, so hot, we’ll melt your popsicle.” In Perry’s “California Gurls,” the only one getting his popsicle melted is good old West-coast veteran rapper Snoop Dogg, who seems only happy to oblige (Snoop was the lucky winner of Perry’s Wikipedia
search when looking for a rapper to feature in her song.) To be fair, the last line of Snoop’s lyric does actually pay homage to the Beach Boys (“I wish you all could be California girls”), but clearly they did not feel the homage from the likes of the Doggfather was enough, because they sued.
Perry and the songwriting team’s vision of California is as artificial as Perry’s blue wig, as sultry as the Sunset Strip after sunset, and as delicious as a candy store. In fact, it is depicted in the music video as “Candyfornia,” a place where “sex on the beach” is not a chargeable offense, and “we’ve got white sand in our stilettos” is genuinely as fun as it sounds and not one of the main causes of discomfort and chafing among its poor, post-coital citizens.
~ Douglas MacCutcheon
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