There has always been a certain discrepancy between the American states New York and California on an artistic level. Groups such as the 1960’s Velvet Underground embodied the realistic, cold, direct style of New York in opposition with California’s hippy ideal represented by The Grateful Dead or The Jefferson Airplane. Woody Allen captured the same clash of attitudes in his classic movie Annie Hall, through the two protagonists. In the 90’s world of hip-hop, the conflict between the East and the West Coast led to the shooting of both sides’ most representative rappers, 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. And although far removed from that type of violence, Katy Perry’s California Gurls is a direct response to Jay-Z & Alicia Keys’ New York ode from the previous year, Empire State of Mind.
In an interview with MTV, Perry explained that it all started out of envy: “When I came up with the idea of California Gurls it was because I was a little bit jealous of all the love that was given to the East Coast”. But at the same time, she took the opportunity to express her admiration of the state that she grew up in: “I thought it would be perfect timing for a California anthem, and especially one from a female perspective, because there’s never really ever been a female perspective about California. […] Like, you know the boys always dream about maybe dating a California girl, just because we’ve got the sun shining through 365 days a year.”
When looking for the right rapper to be part of her Californian anthem, Perry admitted to researching Wikipedia. Snoop Dogg, one of the pioneers of the West Coast hip-hop genre was her eventual choice – the rapper adds a verse to California Gurls. His closing lyric references the chorus of another famous anthem, The Beach Boys’ California Girls: “I really wish you all could be California girls”. The Beach Boys have allegedly threatened to sue Perry over the line.
California Gurls spent 6 consecutive weeks at number one in Billboard Top 100, before being dethroned by Eminem’s Love the Way You Lie (featuring Rihanna).