Nothing represents the summer of 2010 quite like the sounds of “California Gurls” by Katy Perry, but does the song itself truly describe an American Gurl? This song addresses two concepts covered in the keywords essays, American and Girlhood, agreeing with some definitions and challenging others.
The keywords essay on the concept of being American explains how a seemingly straightforward concept can be defined in many conflicting ways. If you define being American by a geographic location, California is clearly within the United States. Based on other ways of defining the term such as residency, nationality, and language, Katy Perry is unarguably an American girl.
This song conveys a strong sense of pride for being American, and specifically from the Western portion of the United States saying things like “nothing comes close to the golden coast” and “West Coast represent.” This honor in being from California is a form of nationalism, which represents a greater part of American culture and belonging to this group. The way in which the culture and values of this Western American-ness is described share commonalities with cultural descriptions depicted in Little House on the Prairie. Laura Ingalls Wilder writes about how the people in the west, in “Indian Country”, are wild and uncivilized. Even though the demographic of the west has since changed from being predominantly Native American, the trait of a “Wild West” remains in the lyric describing California as “warm, wet’n wild.” Based on geographic, cultural, political, and many other factors, it is evident that the song California Gurls aligns with the keywords and other general definitions of being American.
So Katy Perry is an American, but what is a “Gurl”? Gurl, pronounced like girl, refers to Katy Perry and other females living in California in the song. According to the keywords essay on Girlhood, the term girl generally describes a female within a certain age range. The essay explains that while the markers for the start of womanhood aren’t universal, they usually have to do with a certain legal age, level of maturity, or presence of sexual activity. In 2010, Katy Perry was twenty four years old. Generally speaking, eighteen years of age is the legal age to enter adulthood in the United States so legally Katy Perry would not be classified into girlhood.
When analyzing the stereotypical behavior associated with girlhood, this song is also not in agreement with the keywords essay. In this song, California Gurls engage in “Sex on the beach” and “Sippin’ gin and juice”, two activities that are typically characteristic of adults rather than children. Additionally, the California Gurls are described in hypersexualized depictions of being “toned, tanned, fit and ready” and wearing “daisy dukes” with “bikinis on top.” In some instances such as this example, popular culture has taken the word “girl” and applied it to females as a general category. Other representations of girlhood in books like the American Girl Kirsten series depict a female child of nine with a certain level of innocence, quite the opposite of Katy Perry in California Gurls.
Is Katy Perry an American Gurl? I guess that depends on your definition of “gurl.”