Katy Perry: an American Gurl?

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.”

3 thoughts on “Katy Perry: an American Gurl?”

  1. This is really interesting and well written! I think that innocence plays a large factor in who is thought of as a girl. When Katy Perry sings the lyrics “daisy dukes” and “bikinis on top”, I personally picture teenage girls on the beach with wind blowing in their hair. Often times, little girls are depicted in pop culture running in an open field with their hair also blowing. I think that these two images go hand-in-hand and both can represent innocence within our culture. Maybe that is why Katy Perry categorizes them as gurls?

  2. I would have never thought about all the analysis that can be done with Katy Perry’s hit “California Gurls.” Back when I was in fifth grade singing along to this song with my friends, I definitely don’t think we matched Katy Perry’s definition of a “California Gurl.” It’s interesting to think about the fact that Katy Perry was past the classic age period of “girlhood” when she released this song and also to consider the hypersexualized descriptions she includes in this catchy song (which don’t align with what’s typically associated with girlhood activities and behaviors). It’s also noteworthy to consider the element pride not only to be an American girl, but a California girl, that Katy Perry emphasizes in this song. She clearly conveys that there’s something special about belonging to this group and that listeners should want to be part of it.

  3. I agree that pop cultural usually takes girl and apply it to female in general. Another popular example could be “Material Girl” by Madonna, she was about 26 years old when that song was released yet she still identified herself as a girl. Therefore, I think that the meaning of “girl” has definitely evolved throughout the times. At this day and age, I think it is very normal for a female above the age of 18 to identify themselves as a girl. You can even ague that the word “girlfriend” or “boyfriend” should be changed to “women-friend” or “man-friend”after one passes a certain age, yet that is not the norm at all. Thus, I agree that the definition of “girl” is very important in these analysis. Unfortunately, I find that “girl” is a word with a dynamic meanings, different for everyone.

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