A Quick Music Discussion Guide for Parents
Main Point of Discussion: We shouldn’t spend our lives pursuing the things the world offers; what matters is giving our lives to God—and to others. (“The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”—1 John 2:17)
The Song: “California Gurls” by Katy Perry
Vital Info Before You Get Started: (The following should help you contextualize this very popular song so you can have a great discussion about it with your kids.)
- IMPORTANT NOTE TO PARENTS ABOUT DISCERNMENT: We at The Source for Youth Ministry believe that certain elements in our youth culture can serve as good discussion jump starters with youth. At the same time, we would never hope to introduce teens to a negative influence that they haven’t already encountered. This balance is a delicate one. In our experience most teens, churched and unchurched, keep pretty current with music and music videos. Thanks to YouTube, MTV.com, and iTunes, the most popular music videos and songs are free to access only a click away.
- “California Gurls” (especially its music video) is not in good taste. In the video, Katy Perry is scantily clad or seemingly naked (e.g., lying on a “cloud” on her stomach) and tops it off in a ridiculous scene where she plants whipped cream spray cans to her breasts and shoots the contents into the air. Not that you need our advice here, but we don’t recommend watching the video with your kids, despite the fact that they’ve probably seen it. The audio alone will make your points well enough.
- A perfect time to start a discussion is if this song comes on the radio when you’re with your kids in the car—but given Perry’s huge cultural popularity, asking your kids questions about her (and then the song) at other times is also a good way to go.
- “California Gurls,” besides being filled to the top with catchy hooks and melodies, boasts provocative lyrics and sexually brazen thematic elements that coax listeners—at the very least—to take a voyeuristic leap into a universe where anything goes and all wishes are fulfilled, which is attractive to most fans of pop and rock music. This discussion will use the song as a springboard to talk about how we can respond when our culture (or at least the songs of our culture) beckons us to live selfishly, far away from the place God wants us.
You could travel the world
But nothing comes close
to the golden coast
Once you party with us
You’ll be falling in love
Oooooh Oh Oooooh
Bikinis on top
We’ll melt your popsicle
Oooooh Oh Oooooh
Fine, fresh, fierce
We got it on lock
West coast represent
Now put your hands up
Oooooh Oh Oooooh
Sex on the beach
We got my sand in our stilettos
In my jeep
Snoop Doggy Dogg on the stereo (oh oh)
Three Simple Questions (with Answers You May Be Looking for):
Q: What’s the message of this song?
A: Sounds like the beaches of southern California are the answers to everyone’s dreams. Lots of partying and sex. And maybe even fulfillment deeper than that.
Q: How do you suppose we—as serious Christ-followers—should react to this song?
A: That our flesh and blood need to take second place to our spirits—and no geographical place or pretty singer can fulfill our souls. Only Jesus can do that.
Q: How can we move from healthy, Bible-based opinions about this song to actually living out those opinions?
A: Recognizing the constant temptation to raise the level of importance of—and partake of—the things this world offers. Then calling to mind Scripture that reinforces those facts. And being ready and willing to fight this battle every day.
Where to Take It from Here:
Wherever it feels natural. If these questions lead to a longer discussion on the topic, wonderful! (There’s a guide just after this paragraph that helps you do just that.) If your kids are barely uttering grunts, don’t get discouraged—the next time it feels right, try out another song. Keep engaging them.
For Deeper Discussion:
(If your kids seem into diving in deeper and looking at what the Bible has to say on the subject, the following discussion guide can help take you there.)
Want help getting your teenager engaged in conversation? CLICK HERE for a helpful article from our "Parenting Help" page providing you with 3 Essentials to Talking with Today's Teens.
Let’s examine this song’s messages and weigh them against what we know to be best for us in the long run, not just spiritually, but physically, emotionally, and psychologically.
More Discussion Questions:
- ASK ONE FAMILY MEMBER: Throughout the lyrics, Katy is heavily advertising this ideal of “California Gurls”—and using every marketing trick in the book. What’s her biggest “selling point”? (Parents—answer you’re looking for: Sex, obviously.)
- ASK A FEW FAMILY MEMBERS: Clearly she’s using sex as a selling point, but even before all the sexual imagery, she says right at the very top of the lyrics that we’ll be “falling in love.” Since sexual fulfillment sells all on its own, why is Katy wasting time selling “love” to us? (Parents—answer you’re looking for: She probably knows, underneath all her polished imagery and sexual desire, that there’s a deep longing in her—and in everyone else—for connection, intimacy, and acceptance.)
- ASK A FEW FAMILY MEMBERS: What things does Katy say we’ll get to share with her if we buy into the California Gurls ideal? (Parents—answer you’re looking for: fame, fortune, good looks, good times, great weather, sexual fantasies come true, and, to top it off, we’ll find love, too.)
Read the following passage from the Bible:
1 John 2:15-17
15Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
ASK ONE FAMILY MEMBER: What does this passage say we should avoid loving? (Parents—answer you’re looking for: the world and anything in the world)
ASK A FEW FAMILY MEMBERS: How does this passage describe those who do love the world and things in the world? (Parents—answer you’re looking for: the love of the Father is not in them)
ASK A FEW FAMILY MEMBERS: How does dealing with our cravings, our lusts, and our boastings (v. 16) apply to the message of the “California Gurls” song?
ASK A FEW FAMILY MEMBERS: After all this trouble and struggle, what hopes are provided for us in verse 17? (Parents—answer you’re looking for: first that we’ll soon be set free from the clutches of the world, and that we’ll live forever if we do the will of God)
If we haven’t already, we’ll all experience frustration and lack of fulfillment in our lives—that’s just what it means to be human and live on the planet, Christian or not. When those frustrations come, we also have the freedom to pursue the “remedies” Katy is selling in the “California Gurls” song…or lean on God to give us peace.
We know what direction we should head toward—and the consequences of making the decision that Katy made. But how do we keep ourselves from falling prey to Katy’s very enticing proposition?
Let’s answer that as we pray and close our time together. And as I pray I want you to focus on these two questions—they’re great starting points for steering clear of snares and traps that want you to chuck your faith in Christ:
- How far away is God when I need him most?
- When I’m faced with frustrations and temptations—and everything that the “California Gurls” song is selling—can I name all the ways God offers me an infinitely better deal?
Close in Prayer
by Dave Urbanski
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