Explaining the Video: Katy Perry’s ‘California Gurls’
When Lady Gaga’s video for ‘Alejandro’ premiered, Katy Perry posted an oddly timed comment to her Twitter page:
Katy has since ammended the statement to a French radio station, and pointed out that she just feels using blasphemy is “cheap” in general, and the statement was NOT aimed at Lady Gaga.
Of course, Katy Perry addressing this is no shock. For there is absolutely NOTHING cheap in any of her performances or videos. Her new video for ‘California Gurls’ is RIFE with HIGH CONCEPT IMAGERY and is, in fact, a rallying cry to other women against the oppressive forces of the patriarchy.
Let’s begin, shall we?
The opening shot is of a game board, and while it speaks of the “Queens of Candyfornia,” the largest and most obvious face on the game box is that of a man, portrayed by Perry’s collaborator Mr. Snoop Doggy-Dog.
Mr. Doggy-Dog is shown as presiding over the “gameboard,” or, as we’ll come to see it, the universe which Perry resides in. He rules over it and controls it, as the patriarchy attempts to control the world women live in.
In fact, the first shot we see of Perry herself is as a game piece, nothing more than an object for the Player (notice how “Player” and “Patriarchy” both being with “p”) to move about the board as he pleases. She has no autonomy, no will, no desire, no drive. She is simply there to be manipulated.
When Perry does become human, we see her regarding her world in an innocent state, full of child-like wonder. This obviously serves as a statement that, according to the patriarchy, women are to remain pliant and innocent at all costs.
The first thing Perry does is taste an ice cream cone. While you could potentially interpret this as a play on “mother’s milk” (ice cream being milk-based), I find it far more likely this is meant as a phallic image. Perry, and all women, are to be kept completely innocent, but must still be able to tend to men’s sexual pleasure, such as, say, licking his “ice cream cone.”
The first other inhabitants Perry meets are two, obviously male, gummy bears, who accost her.
Perry is shocked and off-put by this. She has so far followed the rules set out for her and has done, as far as she can tell, nothing wrong. So why the hostility towards her? All she has done is exist.
Despite all of this, she is STILL not in control of herself. For her entire life can change with a roll of the dice by the Player.
However, this is the part where Perry begins to defy and reject her role in this game. She comes across another woman, even less free than she is, for she’s trapped in a bubble where she can observe the world, but not participate.
Perry, however, frees her with a high heeled shoe, an obvious symbol of the disguised power every woman holds within her.
Eventually, Perry comes across what appears to simply be a forest of candy canes.
But at her touch, they transform into snakes, which surround her and urge her to climb the nearest “tree.”
And here is where it truly becomes deep, for our next shots are of Perry, completely nude, resting on a cloud as if she is some sort of deity herself.
This, my friends, is some of the most BLATANT Eve/Garden of Eden imagery I have ever seen in a music video. And of course, we must not forget that before the snake was woven into the story of Adam and Eve, even before patriarchal society became the norm, the snake was a symbol of female power. Medusa, before being recast in Greek myth as a snake-haired beast, was in fact known as a very knowledgeable priestess who consulted her snake familiar for visions of the future.
Here, we see Perry RECLAIMING that power. The snake in this case does not cause Eve to realize she is naked, but to FREE HER from the constraints of male power and give her confidence in her own sexual identity.
What is so amazing here is that Perry shows all of this, but does so WITHOUT BEING BLASPHEMOUS and therefor cheapening the message she is attempting to send. Brava, Katy Perry. Brava.
However, with knowledge comes struggle. For no longer is Perry’s journey limited to white and safe trees. No, now she is forced to cross a dangerous ravine with the threat of death surrounding her.
And through it all, the Player watches, having lost a certain amount of control over his “game piece,” but still acting as a larger-than-life influence on Katy’s journey.
Katy does come upon another trapped young women, this time in a cube of green Jell-O. Perhaps the green is meant to signify being trapped by male greed? Or, since Jell-O is food and the patriarchy regards women’s role as being confined mainly to the kitchen, it may be saying that she is trapped in the kitchen.
Perry, having accepted her role as champion of women-kind, frees this girl as well.
However, the journey will not be without perils. For the girls come across another foe. A gingerbread man.
Yes, a gingerbread MAN.
However, Perry and her companions disguise themselves as Girl Scouts, a symbol of female innocence, and confront the gingerbread man.
This also acts as a commentary on the fetishization of young women and their innocence. The public fetishization of virginity, especially, is a social plague which only serves to confuse young women being constantly sent a message that virginity is desirable, ignore your own sexual urges and remain “pure” for your future husband.
Once close to the gingerbread man, Katy cannot help herself and takes a bite out of him.
This is extremely important. This is STRONGLY SYMBOLIC of a sexual act. And despite Katy’s earlier nudity, she has not, as of yet, shown any inclination towards sexual acts.
But now, she and her friends are awakened as sexual beings and they do what men are afraid female sexuality will do: they DEVOUR the gingerbread MAN.
As they continue on their journey, Katy comes across another trapped young woman.
This girl is trapped in a plastic bag. Almost as if she is wrapped in a body bag. CLEARLY this is meant to comment on male violence against women and it’s ultimate potential ramifications.
Katy, of couse, frees her from the confines of the bag.
None of this is sitting well with “The Player.”
Possibly because Katy and her growing army have found his stronghold and are prepared to challenge him.
BUT FIRST, we see the girls with strategically positioned candies and baked goods. You see, the comment is on the male desire for the female via Freud’s oral fixation. Yes, candies and cupcakes are delicious and will, in fact, feed a person and satiate their hunger, but for HOW LONG? The idea is that an alternative must be found, since male desire for the female body will NOT satiate their own sexual hunger UNTIL his partner becomes a willing participant in the act and finds pleasure in it herself.
In challenging all of this, Katy does something astounding. She PULLS THE PLAYER DOWN TO HER OWN LEVEL.
In the meantime, we also see another phallic image challenging her, however…
…this time it melts completely within her fully accepted and actualized presence.
But The Player will not have this, oh no. He raises an army to challenge Katy.
And this is where we reach the most empowering sequence in the entire video…possibly the most empowering sequence in any music video in the past decade.
You see, Perry takes the whipped cream canisters and places them over her breasts. This is obviously symbolic of women’s ability to create and nurture life. Not only can women bring forth life from their womb, but they can sustain it and nurse it via the milk from their breasts. Katy has taken the earlier “mother’s milk” symbolism of the ice cream cone and has turned it against the patriarchy. She is no longer a child, she is a woman, capable of being a mother and giving life, something the patriarchy ultimately fears and, as it has been posited, ENVIES.
This power is so strong it is able to defeat The Player completely.
And Perry finishes the video by placing The Player, the man who controlled her life, beneath her.
COME THE FUCK ON.
Yeah, I managed to BS some “deep” stuff here but folks? EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS VIDEO IS CHEAP. It isn’t a commentary on women in society. It’s not drawing attention to any social issue or human condition. It’s Katy Perry shooting whipped cream out of her bra. How, precisely, is that high concept? Or meaningful?
YOU’RE DRESSING UP LIKE A SEXY GIRL SCOUT AND SHOOTING WHIPPED CREAM OUT OF YOUR GOZANGAS. DO NOT TRY TO CLAIM THAT’S NOT CHEAP.
I don’t care if Perry likes or dislikes Lady Gaga’s video. I don’t care if anybody does. But you don’t get to run around criticizing people for being “cheap” when they have actually TRIED to make a video with a message behind it, whatever that message may be, while you’re running around in day glo wigs with pastries on your tits. Sorry. The world does not work that way.