Jay Z vs. Katy Perry, East vs. West

You can’t go anywhere in New York without hearing Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” with Alicia Keys scream-singing at the top of her lungs in the background. Neeew Yoorrrrrrkkk!! Wherever you go, the song is there. I’ve heard it blast out of Cadillac Escalade’s with 22-inch rims, I’ve heard it in bodegas, at sports games, through people’s ear buds on the subway, even at Top Shop. “Empire” is a New York anthem if there ever was one, not that the city really needs the publicity.

So it was obviously only a matter of time before some other pop tart took a stand against all this New York egoism and was like, “Okay, people, there are other cities in the U.S. besides New York!”

Oh there are?

So who better than former lesbian Katy Perry to take on New York? Her new song “California Gurls” – the hottest iTunes download on the block – is Cali’s answer to “Empire.” The song is plenty colorful, fun, and it’s all about California as a paradise. Who would argue with that?

Katy sings:

California Gurls we’re unforgettable
Daisy Dukes
Bikini’s on top
Sun-kissed skin so hot we’ll melt your popsicle.

So you’d better keep your popsicles together, people. “Gurls” is basically about California as that special secret hideaway where, no matter where else you go in the world, when you come back it’ll still be 70 degrees and fabulous, its Botox supply in tact.

I just saw the video for “Gurls” for the first time the other day and it really drives home the idea of a California Paradise. “Gurls” is set in “Candyfornia,” an obvious moniker linking California and Candyland, everybody’s favorite childhood game. In the video, a candy coated KP releases the girls from Jello, out of gingerbread cookies, and these candy bunnies all roll around on candied sidewalks, float on clouds, shoot whipped cream out of breasts.

I think the video is a really fabulous piece of work, but it’s not exactly the most womanist thing out there. Yeah, it’s happy and positive, but prefers to show women as sexualized play toys, candied, enjoyed, possessed. And you know what else? As pretty and delicious and enticing as “California Gurls” is, all the video does is reconfirm the stereotypes everybody already has about L.A. Katy basically says, Hey Look, You Guys! California is a great big party, so get off your ass and come over here and suck this whipped cream out of my tits. That’s what I got out of it, anyway.

Trouble is, the candy looks really sweet and great and everything, but if you eat too much of it, it’ll rot your teeth. The same goes for L.A.: beaches are really neat if you don’t mind breathing in smog, driving everywhere or living in the shadow of a giant earthquake that could strike any day now.

Nobody would say that New York is perfect either – what, with terrorism and everything. But “Empire State of Mind” is not just about a fabulous New York: it’s more about ambition.

New York
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There’s nothing you can’t do.

See how intellectual it is? In the “Empire” video, all those bird’s eye views of tall skyscrapers are supposed to give you a sense of awe; the height of the buildings mimics your ambition. If you can make it in New York, you can make it everywhere.

“Gurls” doesn’t really give me any kind of enlightening message, other than sex, which I do like a lot.

L.A. has always fascinated me. I’m a New Yorker, okay? But I’m still drawn to the vapidity, the sun, and the babes and beaches of L.A. Something about that is really enduring. The first time I went to L.A. I was at this opening reception for a boutique, and as soon as I pulled up the Model Hot Door Dude was DTF. That never happens in New York. And gotta be honest – it was kind of exciting, and if that’s a day in the life of an L.A. person then, um, I guess I get the appeal.

I like “California Gurls,” and I like California. But I don’t think I could ever live there. I’m cynical, so all that damn happiness would get on my last nerves. I’m the guy who’d be on the beach in a black Rick Owens asymmetrical one piece, black wedge boots, sitting on a marble beach towel. When you put “Gurls” and “Empire” next door to each other, you get the age-old stereotypes about the East coast versus the West coast. Everybody thinks New Yorkers are arrogant, fast, impatient, elitist, wear black, whereas L.A. people are virtually busting at the seams with Botox, candy, implants, and sex. Pick your poison!

Any other cities have anthems they want to put out there? How about “Alabama Racists” or “Fire Island Bottoms”? Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Author of How To Be A Pop Star.

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