In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present. Book Bonus Beat: The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal the History of Pop Music.

Greetings, loved ones. Let’s take a journey.

Earlier this week, Vanity Fair published a long article called “Can Anyone Fix California?” The answer matters less than the question. The state of California has plenty of problems right now: rampant wildfires, heartbreaking levels of homelessness, out-of-control housing prices, constant traffic gridlock. For those who work at all levels in the entertainment business, the out-of-whack streaming-service economy has been fucking everyone’s money up. In a very short time, the entire city of San Francisco has been seemingly transformed into a playground for ultra-wealthy tech dorks. Some of those problems are new, and some are perennial. But California is still California. Those of us who live elsewhere tend to get off a plane, feel the 73-degree weather, see a single palm tree, and immediately fall in love.

In 1965, the Beach Boys, a group that’s been in this column multiple times, reached #3 with their song “California Girls,” a shimmering reverie about “the cutest girls in the world.” (It’s a 6.) That song is a fantasy. The Beach Boys themselves were a fantasy — good-looking, bright-smiling young men layering up their choirboy harmonies to sing dizzy odes to surfing in the post-World War II promised land. In the years that followed, that fantasy would come apart. The world would learn all the dark parts of the Beach Boys myth: parental abuse, mental illness, drugs, exploitation, the Manson Family, death, family members suing each other, Mike Love hanging out with Donald Trump. The fantasy of the Beach Boys might be gone, but the fantasy of “California Girls” remains.

Forty-five years after that Beach Boys song, another fantastical number about California girls went all the way to #1. This one came from an actual California girl who never really felt like one. Katy Perry, born in Santa Barbara, spent her childhood moving around the country, while her Pentecostal-preacher parents launched one failed ministry after another. For Perry, popular music and its attendant fantasies were forbidden fruit, and that must’ve made the lure so much stronger. Eventually, Perry moved to LA, launched a pop career, and refashioned herself as someone unforgettable — a fine, fresh, fierce California girl who’s got it on lock.

Fantasy was what made Katy Perry famous. After struggling her way through the pop business for years, Perry finally took off with the softcore party-time manifesto “I Kissed A Girl.” That song alienated Perry’s original Christian-pop audience, and it had her own mother talking shit about her in the press, but it also launched her into the stratosphere. Once she had her hands on pop stardom, Katy Perry wasn’t going to let go.

For her second major-label album, Perry and her collaborators put together a bulletproof collection of gleaming hooks, an avalanche of sugar. That album made chart history, and it turned Perry into a titan. Teenage Dream piles one fantasy on top of another, from radical self-acceptance to alien sex. Perry led it all off with another fantastical ode to the girls of California. This time, the fantasy wasn’t about being with California girls, with wishing all girls could be California girls. Instead, the fantasy was all about being a California gurl.

Katy Perry didn’t have to worry about being a one-hit wonder. After “I Kissed A Girl” launched her straight to #1, Katy Perry landed two more songs in the top 10, and both of them were way better than her monster hit. (“Hot N Cold” peaked at #3. It’s a 9. “Waking Up In Vegas” peaked at #9. It’s an 8.) In between album cycles, Perry guested on minor hits from Timbaland and 3OH!3. She also got engaged to extremely tiresome British comedian Russell Brand in the midst of a whirlwind romance that started after a wild night at the VMAs. That relationship wouldn’t end well, but when Perry made Teenage Dream, she was still freshly in love, and her relationship kept her in the tabloid press.

In little more than a year, Katy Perry had propelled herself to A-list fame, but she’d also been around enough to know that fame can be fleeting. When it came time to follow her album One Of The Boys, Perry took no chances. Perry co-wrote every song on her Teenage Dream LP, but she had some very serious help. She went to work with a dream team of pop-music professionals: Stargate, Tricky Stewart, Cathy Dennis, Rivers Cuomo, Ryan Tedder, Greg Kurstin, Esther Dean. Not all of those hitmakers landed tracks on Teenage Dream, but all of them were in the mix, trying to help Katy Perry make hits. More importantly, Perry also had Max Martin, Dr. Luke, and Benny Blanco — three people who’d worked on “I Kissed A Girl” and who basically owned the circa-2010 pop charts.

Katy Perry has said that “California Gurls” is her answer to Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State Of Mind,” which fortuitously topped the Hot 100 when she was working on Teenage Dream. I don’t know whether I believe her, but I like the idea that the 2010 pop charts bore witness to a cartoonish, unthreatening replay of the fabled ’90s East Coast/West Coast rap wars. It’s even funnier when you consider that Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg, two characters in that saga, were involved in its fluffy reboot. In their video for the 1995 single “New York, New York,” Snoop and Tha Dogg Pound famously famously towered over the NYC skyline, kicking skyscrapers down. A few years later, on his song “Money, Cash, Hoes,” Jay asked, “What the dealings? It’s like New York’s been soft ever since Snoop came through and crushed the buildings.”

In any case, the Katy Perry of “California Gurls” does not sound particularly concerned about New York, and her collaborator Snoop Dogg does not come off like someone who’s ready to crush some buildings. These two aren’t about to run off and record a bubblegum version of “Hit ‘Em Up.” Even the Beach Boys felt like they had to compare California to other places, giving the East Coast girls and the Midwest farmers’ daughters their due. But on “California Gurls,” Perry only bothers with an offhand line about how you can travel the world but nothing comes close to the golden coast. On “California Gurls,” the state of California is a world unto itself. No other place bears mentioning.

Six people have writing credits on “California Gurls,” and many of those people are not California natives or girls. Max Martin is from Sweden, Dr. Luke from New York, Benny Blanco from northern Virginia. Snoop Dogg is from California, but he’d be the first to tell you that he’s not a girl. One of Perry’s collaborators, however, is another California girl. Bonnie McKee, raised in Seattle but born in Vacaville, got her start as a teenage phenom who was signed to Warner Bros. She released her debut album Trouble in 2004, when she was 20 years old. It was a commercial failure, and none of its tracks charted. In the great John Seabrook book The Song Machine, McKee says, “Basically, I went from industry darling to no one answering my phone calls. It was brutal. I felt like I was already washed up before I got started.”

After Trouble flopped, Warner put Bonnie McKee into career stasis — not dropping her, but not committing to releasing anything, either. McKee was desperate to either get pushed or dropped, so she devised a strategy. Here’s how she tells the story in The Song Machine:

I made a CD of my best songs, and bought a dagger at a smoke shop that had a tiger on the handle and a jewel for an eye, and went to the CEO of Warner Bros.’ house in the middle of the night and stabbed the CD into a tree right by his front door, and I wrote “Platinum Baby!” in lipstick on his car. The next day was his kid’s first day at school, so there was pandemonium — everyone thought a maniac had come in the middle of the night… Needless to say, I got dropped.

After she got her release from Warner, Bonnie McKee went broke and developed a problem with crystal meth. She happened to meet Katy Perry when she was selling clothes to a secondhand store on Melrose. At that point, Perry was also stuck on the industry shelf, and she and McKee became friends. While Perry blew up, McKee remained stuck. But while Perry was working on a song from Teenage Dream — one that will appear in this column very soon — she and her collaborators were stuck on some of the lyrics. Perry called McKee in to help, and McKee ended up co-writing three songs from the album, including “California Gurls.” From there, McKee became a hugely successful songwriter; we’ll see more of her work in this column.

“California Gurls” started off with Katy Perry and Bonnie McKee brainstorming together. McKee later told Songfacts, “The first line that we wrote was, ‘It feels like summertime’ and something about melting popsicles. We went home and slept on it, and the next day she came back and said, ‘OK, I’ve got it: “California Gurls.”‘ I was like, ‘Brilliant, I know exactly what to do with this.’” McKee might’ve experienced some real Californian darkness, but there’s none of that on the song. Instead, the “California Gurls” lyrics speak of “a place where the grass is always greener,” where you can sip gin and juice underneath palm trees, where Snoop Doggy Dogg is on the stereo and girls don’t mind sand in their stilettos.

Katy Perry might sing about freaking in Jeeps and skin so hot that it’ll melt your popsicle, but the fantasy of “California Gurls” isn’t really sexual. Instead, it’s an idealized vision of a party-all-the-time lifestyle where nothing matters. The music reflects that fantasy. The unholy troika of Max Martin, Dr. Luke, and Benny Blanco concoct a track that seems to pull whatever it wants from past pop eras — ’70s disco, ’80s synthpop, ’00s house. We get bubbly slap-bass, chicken-scratch guitars, vocoder sighs, Pixie Stix Vengaboys keyboard-bounce — all put in service of the kind of melody that’s custom-designed to get stuck in your head forever.

In a 2010 New York Times profile, Katy Perry, out on the promo rounds for Teenage Dream, hears “California Gurls” for the billionth time and huffs, “God, that song is so annoying.” She’s not the only person who’s ever felt that way. But the things that can be annoying about “California Gurls” are also the things that make it so effective. The song is mercilessly sticky, to the point where it feels eternal. When Perry chants about “daisy dukes, bikinis on top,” it feels impossible that these words, in this order, haven’t always existed together.

Max Martin is the reigning genius of the precision-engineered pop song, and he’s written some of the greatest bridges in pop history, but he didn’t really have to write one for “California Gurls.” Snoop Dogg did that job for him. By 2010, Snoop was part of California’s cultural firmament. Snoop was a few years out from appearing on Akon’s chart-topper “I Wanna Love You,” and he was continuing to crank out reliably decent G-rap albums that mostly worked as brand extensions. Snoop could still make a hit on his own, but those hits felt more and more like flukes. In 2007, for instance, Snoop used T-Pain’s Auto-Tune to purr an ’80s-funk sex track that sounded a bit like chillwave. “Sexual Eruption” — or, in its radio-friendly version, “Sensual Seduction” — made it to #7 early in 2008. (It’s a 6.)

On “California Gurls,” Snoop understands his role. He’s there for charm and local color. He jumps on the track for a few bars, says a few mildly horny things that won’t need to be bleeped out, and gives the track a quick shot of his laid-back gravitas without adding any of the edge that his presence would’ve once implied. He’s great, honestly. Snoop doesn’t pound an adrenaline needle into the song, the way someone like Ludacris would’ve done, but this song doesn’t need an adrenaline needle. It just needs Snoop to slide in with his series of partytime non-sequiturs: “Bikinis, zucchinis, martinis, no weenies/ Just the king and a queenie.” Snoop also rasps that he wishes they all could be California girls. The Beach Boys, who publicly endorsed the Katy Perry song, had copyright issues with that line, and it got removed from the “California Gurls” album version.

“California Gurls” marked the last time that Snoop Dogg appeared on a #1 pop hit, but Snoop remains a cultural institution, and I wouldn’t bet against him randomly landing another one in the future. Since then, Snoop has dabbled in reggae and synth-funk and Comedy Central roasts. (Snoop on Donald Trump in 2011: “I may not have half his paper, but I got twice the dick.”) Snoop has ambled his way into the top 10 a few more times. In 2011, for instance, Snoop teamed up with Wiz Khalifa and Bruno Mars on “Young, Wild & Free,” which made it to #7. (It’s a 5. Wiz and Bruno will both appear in this column soon.)

Snoop still makes music; he’s currently in the supergroup Mount Westmore with fellow Cali rap legends Ice Cube, Too Short, and E-40. Last year, Snoop got together with K-pop phenoms BTS and his “California Gurls” collaborator Benny Blanco, and their song “Bad Decisions” peaked at #10. (It’s a 6. BTS will be in this column a bunch of times.) But music seems like what Snoop does in between extremely entertaining sports-commentator gigs and business projects that always seem slightly mind-boggling. Snoop is now, for instance, the owner of Death Row Records, the label that once paid him — a pretty amazing turn of events, when you think about it.

Did you know that Snoop Dogg is the villain of the “California Gurls” video? This never even occurred to me until I read the plot summary on Wikipedia. The “California Gurls” video doesn’t even bother with an idealized version of California. Instead, the clip takes the song into the realm of even-more-abstract fantasy in the board-game land of Candyfornia.

Katy Perry, with a dress made of candy and a face full of Disney-princess wonder, walks through a strange place where everything is made of some kind of sugary treat. She eats an ice cream cone that she pulls off a tree, and then she’s mildly scandalized when a CGI gummi bear gives her the finger. Katy meets other Candyfornia gurls, imprisoned in bubblegum bubbles or Jello cubes, and they overcome the obstacles set forth by Snoop’s Sugar Daddy. Finally, Katy defeats Snoop and his gummi-bear army in the instantly-iconic scene where she mounts whipped-cream cans on her boobs and shoots white stuff everywhere. Apparently, Snoop’s not too mad to dance with Katy and her friends on the beach at the end.

I never even thought to look for narrative logic in the “California Gurls” video. Instead, it’s a total sensory experience — so removed from reality that the very idea of conflict seems impossible. Mathew Cullen directed he clip, but its visual language comes from the pop artist Will Cotton. (The Teenage Dream album cover — Katy Perry naked in a cotton-candy cloud — looks like a still from the “California Gurls” video, but it’s really a painting from Cotton.) Once again, the video seems sexual, but it never goes for titillation. Instead, it’s pure campy playfulness, too overwhelmingly silly to actively offend anyone.

I should mention the spelling of the “California Gurls” title. Alex Chilton, leader of beloved ’70s cult-pop institution Big Star, died suddenly in March of 2010. The title of “California Gurls” is Katy Perry’s salute to Chilton and to Big Star’s classic 1974 song “September Gurls.” Perry wasn’t a huge Big Star fan. Instead, the nod was a favor to her manager. She told Entertainment Weekly, “My manager, Bradford — he’s from Mississippi, and he’s a huge Big Star fan. And with the death of one of their members, I had just written that song, and he’s like, ‘Katy, just for me, will you please title it ‘California Gurls,’ with a ‘u’? People won’t even know!’ I don’t know the whole catalog of Big Star, but I did it because Bradford is one of my best friends, and I thought it was cool, and you know, the kids like those variations.”

Big Star made dozens of gorgeous pop songs, but they never found the mass acceptance that they so badly wanted. (I’m pretty sure Big Star never had a Hot 100 hit, though Alex Chilton has been in this column as the leader of the Box Tops.) “California Gurls” was never in any danger of suffering a similar fate. The song was a juggernaut, and its success seemed preordained. With “California Gurls,” Katy Perry tapped into the strain of frothy, EDM-friendly pop that was all over the radio in that moment, and she made all her competitors look like absolute amateurs. With its video, she gave her own wholesomely sexy spin on the all-out freakiness that Lady Gaga had introduced a few years earlier. The result was undeniable, and Katy Perry followed it with a single that was even more undeniable. She’ll be back in this column very soon.

GRADE: 8/10