In order to write her smash “California Gurls,” a glossy, SPF-500 celebration of suntanned flesh and West Coast pride that she calls “like rollerskating on a rainbow,” Katy Perry asked herself one (strange) question: WW2D — What Would 2Pac Do?
It started in March, at a swanky Oscars afterparty she attended with guests like Oprah and Madonna. At one point, Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” came on the stereo, and Perry — who grew up surfing in her native Santa Barbara — watched as a room full of L.A. glitterati went crazy for a song about New York. “If 2Pac were here, he would not be OK with this!” she remembers thinking. “I felt like he was rolling in his grave.”
Inspired by Golden State classics like “California Girls” and “California Love,” Perry decided to craft a response. With a battalion of song wizards — Max Martin and Dr. Luke among them — she cobbled together a sun-kissed jam that sounded tailor-made for BBQs and beach parties. “I don’t like to say this publicly,” Dr. Luke says, “but I knew it was a hit while we were making it.” Just to be safe, Perry also recruited Snoop Dogg for a languid verse about bikinis and martinis. “An original west coast O.G.,” she says. “The perfect cherry on top.”
As John Ivey, program director for L.A.’s KIIS FM, tells it, the song’s impact “was immediate. The first day, we played it every hour.” It hit Number One on iTunes instantly, sold 1.1 million downloads in four weeks, and topped Billboard’s Hot 100 within a month. The speed is what’s most impressive: According to Ivey, “For a record to get into power rotation” — a hundred-plus spins per week — “usually takes six or eight weeks. “California Gurls” took 13 days. This week, the song busted another airplay record with 13,167 spins in one week.
A song about Daisy Dukes and girls “so hot [they’ll] melt your Popsicle,” timed to land just as summer heated up? “A perfect storm,” Ivey says. For her part, Perry says she was “pretty confident”: Her first hit, “I Kissed a Girl,” logged seven weeks at Number One in the summer of 2008, and she “was hoping people would dust that spot off for me.” She admits “California Gurls” “isn’t the deepest song,” and “is kind of a no-brainer.” But on summer vacation, she says, people “don’t want to be bogged down with some hard-to-swallow message. The sun’s starting to shine, everyone’s stripping off their clothes. And this is a great soundtrack for it.”
And there’s more where that came from. Perry’s second album, Teenage Dream, is due in August, and it’s already sparked buzz about possible follow-ups. Contenders include the innuendo-laden “Peacock,” which Perry likens to “Hollaback Girl”; “Firework,” an inspirational dance jam; and the title track, about first loves. “They could pull four or five [hits] for sure,” Ivey says. “It sounds like it’s gonna be a really deep record.”