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"California Gurls" garnered positive reviews from music critics, with the majority of them labeling it a "summer anthem", as well as complimenting its production and chorus. Originally intended to be sent to mainstream and rhythmic airplay on May 25, 2010, the song debuted on May 7, 2010, after clips from the Teenage Dream album were leaked online. It was subsequently released to iTunes on May 11, 2010 as the album's lead single. The song was a worldwide success, peaking at number-one on the Billboard Hot 100 for six consecutive weeks, giving Perry her second US number-one single in and Snoop Dogg his third. The song also reached number-one in ten other countries, including Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
Perry found Snoop Dogg as a rapper with whom to collaborate on "California Gurls" through a search on Wikipedia.
In an interview with HitQuarters, Perry's A&R at the time, Chris Anokute, said that while travelling back from an Oscar after-party Perry texted him to say she did not think the album was finished and that it needed one more song. She said that she wanted to write a song about California girls. During a Rolling Stonephoto shoot in April 2010, Perry revealed details about the song, allegedly a response to Jay Z's "Empire State of Mind", she stated:
"It's so great that 'Empire State of Mind' is huge and that everybody has the New York song, but what the fuck? What about LA? What about California? And it's been a minute since we've had a California song and especially from a girl's perspective. We took the references of Prince, which is always a great reference, and we took a lot of the '90s, ... almost that house music, some of those references."
Initially the song was titled "California Girls", but the spelling was changed to "California Gurls" after the passing of Big Star member Alex Chilton as a nod to their song, "September Gurls". After the song was leaked online, Capitol Records decided to release it early, and it was posted on Perry's official website, and the radio date was moved up from May 25, 2010, to May 7, 2010. The artwork was also released, featuring Perry laying out on the beach sand with a bejeweled bikini.
Perry used popflock.com resource to research which rapper she wanted to collaborate with for "California Gurls", browsing West Coast artists before selecting Snoop Dogg. The publishing company for The Beach Boys had allegedly threatened a lawsuit due to Snoop Dogg's line "I wish they could all be California Girls", which they consider to be one of the classic lines in the band's song "California Girls".
"California Gurls" received many positive reviews from critics. The song was given five stars from Nick Levine of Digital Spy who commended Perry's "charismatic" vocals on the song as well as its "unstoppable pop chorus". Leah Greenblatt of Entertainment Weekly and Katie Hasty of HitFix called it "the summer jam" of 2010. Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone said that the song sets the tone for Teenage Dream. Chris Richards of The Washington Post praised the song, calling it "fresh" and "fierce". He commended the expertise of the song's arrangement and its "buoyant" chorus. Richards went on to say that "California Gurls" is "an ever-lasting gobstopper of a tune" and that "summertime megahits rarely feel this good".Brian Wilson from American band The Beach Boys commended Perry's vocal on the song and described its melody as "infectious".
Glenn Gamboa of Newsday reviewed the song saying, "'California Gurls' is a fizzy-pop concoction of empty calories, but it sure does stick with you." He went on to note that the craftsmanship of the song was of a high standard. Steve Leftridge of PopMatters called "California Gurls" the radio jam of the summer of 2010 and "the gargantuan singalong fantasy that delivered on the promise built by the disco thump of hits like 'I Kissed a Girl' and 'Hot n Cold'." Leftridge also praised the song's musical composition, lyrical content and its chorus which he said "you know by heart halfway through your first listen." The track was deemed as a highlight on Teenage Dream by Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic. Michael Cragg of musicOMH praised the song, "First single California Gurls is brilliant, brattish fun, Perry sounding sweet and coy on the verses before that huge chorus erupts".Edna Gundersen of USA Today said that the track is "an effervescent toast to summer fun." Greg Kot of Chicago Tribune, however, dismissed the song as "relentlessly mechanical". He went on to describe Perry's vocal performance on the song as "a series of syllables digitally stitched together." The single received a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals. On May 25, 2012, Billboard ranked the song number one on a special The 30 Summer Songs of All Time listing.
Perry in a soundcheck at the MuchMusic Video Awards in 2010
"California Gurls" sold 294,000 digital downloads in its first week and debuted at number one on the US BillboardDigital Songs chart. It debuted at number two on the Billboard Hot 100, making it Perry's highest debut on the chart at the time. On the issue dated June 19, 2010, the song reached number one, becoming Perry's second number-one song and Snoop Dogg's third. "California Gurls" became the first single by an artist signed to Capitol Records in nearly 43 years to ascend to the number-one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in its fourth week since Bobbie Gentry's single "Ode to Billie Joe" reached the top after four weeks on the chart. It is Perry's third number one on the Pop Songs chart. "California Gurls" became the first song to top the 300,000 mark in digital sales more than once in 2010 with 318,000 and 359,000 copies sold in the first and second week of June, respectively. Within seven weeks of its release, "California Gurls" sold over two million downloads, which is the second fastest pace to do so in digital history behind Flo Rida's "Right Round". It debuted at number 31 on the BillboardRadio Songs chart and in the July 10, 2010, issue it reached number one on the magazine's Hot Dance Airplay chart, giving Perry her second number-one single on that chart. As of January 2015, the song has sold 5.7 million copies in the US.
Elsewhere, "California Gurls" reached number one in Canada and debuted in the top 20 in Belgium (Flanders and Wallonia), New Zealand and Norway. On May 24, 2010, "California Gurls" debuted on the Australian Singles Chart at number three, and later reached the number-one spot. On the RIANZ Top 10 Radio Airplay Charts, the song came in at number one in New Zealand and also received Gold certification from RIANZ. "California Gurls" entered the UK Singles Chart on June 27, 2010, at number one, becoming her second chart topper in the country. The single sold 123,607 copies in the UK in its first week (the second highest number in 2010 after the Helping Haiti charity single "Everybody Hurts"). After two weeks, the song sold 216,000 copies in the UK. On October 29, 2010, the British Phonographic Industry classified the single as a "platinum record" (meaning it has sold over 600,000 units). As of October 2013, the single had sold 780,787 copies in the United Kingdom, becoming Perry's third best-selling single there behind "Firework" and "Roar".
Perry in the music video, seen as she engages in a battle with Snoop Dogg
The video was directed by Mathew Cullen and was inspired by the work of Will Cotton, who was also the Artistic Director of the video. Filming of the video began on May 14, 2010. It premiered on June 15, 2010. Perry explained the use of a candy theme rather than a beach theme for the video, saying, "It's definitely something to watch when you have the munchies. ... It's all edible. We named it 'Candyfornia' instead of 'California', so it's a different world," she said. "It's not just like, 'Oh, let's go to the beach and throw a party and then shoot a music video!' It's more like, 'Let's put us California Gurls in a whole different world!"
In the music video, Perry is a game piece in Candyfornia, a game based in poker and board games. The settings are inspired in part by Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the board game Candy Land, with much of the set decorated with cupcakes, ice creams, cotton candy, and lollipops. Snoop Dogg appears in the video as a king named "Sugar Daddy" that is holding several young women (Queens of Candyfornia) captive throughout the game, using candy related devices to hold them. Perry moves around, experimenting with objects. She moves through the land, making discoveries and freeing the women. In the chorus, she appears lying down on a cotton candy cloud, naked. Snoop Dogg tries to block her advances in many ways. When all the women are free, Perry leads them in a dance on the beach. Seeing the women freed, "Sugar Daddy" becomes enraged, marching on the women's position with an army of gummy bears. Perry, dressed in a red Wonder Woman like costume, quickly defeats the army with whip cream guns attached to her breasts, after which the stunned king throws down his staff and surrenders. The video ends with "Sugar Daddy" buried up to his neck in the sand by the women, nonetheless admiring their beauty and (in a nod to the Beach Boys song) wishing that women everywhere could be California girls. Various California landmarks appear in the video, such as the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Hollywood Sign and some West Coast beaches which were all made out of confectionery.[original research?]