Main Point of Discussion: The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:17)
IMPORTANT NOTE TO LEADER 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 students. At the same time, we would never hope to introduce a student to a negative influence that they haven’t already encountered. This balance is a delicate one.
In our experience most students, 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.
This music video is not in good taste. Katy Perry is scantily clad through most of it—no surprise—but also spends significant time naked (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, rather triumphantly. So we don’t recommend you show the video, despite the fact that many kids in your group likely have already viewed it. Instead we recommend playing the audio only, or just passing out the lyrics of the song—the suggestive lyrics’ lack of subtlety will more than get the song’s message across.
The Song: “California Gurls”
Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” is #1 on iTunes and Billboard’s Hot 100 this week. She performed it live at the MTV Movie Awards recently. Most kids are familiar with the song. The question is: To what extent have they considered the message this very, very catchy and supremely popular tune is communicating?
You know when you eat really good potato chips or ice cream? Once you take a bite, it’s hard to eat just one. Pretty soon you’ve devoured the whole thing and wish you hadn’t. Listening to really well-done pop music has a similar effect: The hook and beat draw you in, and before you know it, you’re singing the lyrics (at least in your head) and nodding your noggin’ in agreement with the singer, no matter how far out of bounds the lyrical subject matter is.
“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.
Introducing the Song—SAY THIS:
“Here’s a song that’s #1 right now on iTunes and the Billboard charts. I definitely don’t endorse the message of this song—and even though many of you have already seen the official music video or the live performance of the song on the MTV movie awards, I’m not going to show the video here. Very little is subtle or hidden in this song, so let’s examine its messages and weigh them with what we know to be best for us in the long run.”
Play the song “California Gurls” (audio only—not the video)
Large Group Questions—SAY THIS:
- What are some of the messages you heard from this song?
- Check out the first lyric lines I just read to you: “You can travel the world, but nothing comes close to the golden coast / once you party with us, you’ll be falling in love…” In Katy Perry’s mind, who do you suppose is “you”…and what does she assume is foremost on “you’s” list of life goals? (“you” represents those who’re desperately lost and looking for happiness and fulfillment in their lives)
- Why do you suppose she doesn’t address “California Gurls” to people who’re satisfied with where they are (i.e., who don’t need to “travel the world” to find a place or way of life to fall in love with)? Isn’t the idea of experiencing “California Gurls” enticing to even the most fulfilled person?
- 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”? (Sex, obviously.)
- 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? (She probably knows deep down 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.)
Let me read a small portion of the lyrics:
Song Lyrics: “California Gurls”
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)
Transition Statement—(Before Dividing into Small Groups):
Katy sounds pretty confident in this song that she’s locked in to the ultimate lifestyle—and that we’d be crazy not to want it also.
None of us is immune to feeling unfulfilled at times. Life can get tough and grind you down. But how close do we come to buying into what Katy is selling so aggressively in this song?
Divide into Small Groups:
Let’s go ahead and split up into our discussion groups, and then afterward we’ll come back together for a final word.
CLICK HERE for a quick training article on how to maximize your small groups using our small group format—a great resource to equip your small group leaders.
- AROUND THE CIRCLE: Let’s go around the circle, share our names, and tell each other our favorite things to do during the summer.
- ASK A FEW: What things does Katy say we’ll get to share with her if we buy into the California Gurls ideal? (fame, fortune, good looks, good times, great weather, sexual fantasies come true, and, to top it off, we’ll find love, too)
- ASK A FEW: Is it a sin to be tempted by these things she’s selling? (no, temptation comes to us every day whether we like it or not—it’s all about how we respond to temptation)
- ASK A FEW: How realistic is it that we’d find all those things even if we took the plunge?
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.
Wrap Up—SAY THIS:
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 that no beach or bikini can ever provide.
We know what direction we should head toward—and the consequences of making the decision that Katy already 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 seems too good to pass up—can I name all the ways God offers me an infinitely better deal?
Close in Prayer
By Dave Urbanski
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Bullying Breakthrough; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on TheSource4YM.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.