And she'll have fun, fun, fun, till her lawyers take the money away...?
"California Gurls" may be intended to evoke images of the cool Pacific Ocean surf, but Katy Perry may be in a hotter kind of water over her smash hit's homage to the Beach Boys' "California Girls." The latter song's writers, Brian Wilson and Mike Love, have both gone on record as being big fans of Perry's tune. But the company that owns the copyright on behalf of Love and Wilson, Rondor Music, is more interested in compensation than flattery.
Roncor has reportedly threatened to sue if Perry doesn't hand over royalties on her single, which has sold more than 3 million digital downloads, and tied a record by reaching that figure in just 11 short weeks. If Wilson and Love do end up getting a piece of that action, needless to say, they'll be able to buy themselves and their grandchildren a lifetime supply of Hawaiian shirts.
Perry has borrowed song titles before and not gotten in trouble for it. Her breakthrough hit was "I Kissed a Girl," which bore thematic as well as titular similarity to the Jill Sobule single of the same name. If anything, Perry would have seemed to be in less danger with "California Gurls," which bears no similarity to the Beach Boys' oldie beyond the title. Well, except for the line "I wish they all could be California girls," uttered late in the song as part of a seeming improv by guest rapper Snoop Dogg. As far as Rondor Music is concerned, that one borrowed lyric crosses the line from tribute to plagiarism.
The dispute went public in a big way today after a report in the New York Post publicized Rondor's threat to sue Perry. But any attentive Rolling Stone readers already knew that trouble was brewing, if they got past her barely-lingerie-clad cover shoot to the accompanying story. In the article, Perry seems to be saying she's taking Snoop Dogg's line off the album version of the track, due to a demand that Wilson and Love should get credit and compensation.
"As much as I want a Beach Boys credit on my album, we have to take it out," Perry says in the Rolling Stone article.
That's right: When Perry's sophomore album, Teenage Dream, comes out August 24, Snoop will no longer be heard wishing they all could be California girls. Which may make the copies of the song that have already been sold collectors' items--all 3 million of them.
One of her managers is quoted in the Rolling Stone piece as saying: "You want a Brian Wilson credit, not a Mike Love credit." She responds: "Well, you said it, not me."
It's possible those remarks put an end to Love's sense of being flattered. Just a few weeks ago, Love was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying: "I think she's really clever. We have a lot in common now: We both have done songs called 'California Girls' and we've both kissed girls and liked it...[It] obviously brings to mind our 'California Girls,' it's just in a different vernacular, a different way of appreciating the same things. The Beach Boys have always accentuated the positive, and hers is a positive message about California Girls, so what's not to like?" In Billboard magazine, Love even referenced the rap portion of the song, saying, "I think it's probably a stroke of genius to have the king of canine cool, Mr. Dogg, do his thing."
Wilson, for his part, also waxed appreciative to the L.A. Times, at the time. "I love her vocal," he told the paper. "She sounds very clear and energetic...The melody is infectious, and I'm flattered that Snoop Dogg used our lyric on the tag. I wish them well with this cut."
Rondor has reportedly said that it's taking the action on behalf of Wilson and Love, but the two Beach Boys (who continue to be professionally estranged from one another) both said through their reps that they have not initiated any of this action themselves.
Odds are that this will all be settled out of court, though we can amuse ourselves considered the possibilities for followup lawsuits. Maybe Perry could sue Snoop for bringing on this trouble with his overly referential lyric. Maybe Snoop could sue the marijuana industry for impairing his judgment.
And Perry has said that the "U" in "Gurls" is an homage to the '70s cult rock band Big Star, who introduced the misspelling into the pop vocabulary with their song "September Gurls." No word yet on whether the Alex Chilton estate plans to sue for its own cut of Perry's royalties.
What do you think, readers? Do Brian Wilson, Mike Love, and their publishing company deserve songwriting credit and a cut of Perry's royalties for Snoop's fleeting homage? If Perry goes broke because of it, will this put an even bigger dent in her already evidently limited clothes budget? And would that be a bad or good thing?