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Full Meaning Behind “Californication” By RHCP

Californication is one of the most well-known songs by the rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers, and it received frequent radio play, even years after its release. While you might sing along to the track, do you know what it’s all about? Keep reading as we dive into the specifics and the full meaning behind Californication by RHCP below. 

The Origins 

Californication is both the name of the RHCP 2000 album and the title of one of the biggest songs on the album, along with tracks like Scar Tissue. Lead singer Anthony Kiedis and guitarist John Frusciante began to write songs for their album that were taken from their personal lives. For example, they wanted this record to be about how they went through cycles of drug addiction and struggling to get sober, and how they went through personal tragedies, some of which were a result of becoming famous. 

All members of the band, including Flea and Chad Smith contributed to writing Californication. The entire album is all about how people lost their souls and ways while trying to find the American dream in California. The track goes into detail how it has all shaped society in a very negative way and the impacts of the filth of California will last a long time. 

The Music Video 

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Californication (Official Music Video) [HD UPGRADE]

The music video for Californication was directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, and it’s essentially set up like a video game. Each member of the band is on an adventure in one of the big cities in California, such as San Francisco. 

While the music video shows the guys as avatars, it’s a little dated because computer animation wasn’t very good in 1999 when the music video was produced. Even with that, this video is nostalgic, and it’s meant to show the important locations in California and how they aren’t always as pretty as they appear. 

Towards the end of the video, an earthquake comes and then destroys everything, which is when you see each of the band members turn into real people instead of these video game avatars. To date, Californication has the highest number of views out of all of the RHCP music videos on YouTube. 

The Lyrics

Warner Bros., CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The beginning of the song talks about just how expansive California is geographic-wise since it mentions psychic spies that come from China and small girls from Sweden trying to make it in Hollywood on the silver screen. These two lines are talking about not only how consumerism has taken over America but also how when people go to California to make it big, they are often left disappointed. 

In the second verse of Californication, the track talks about how much Hollywood pushes California as the place to be and the belief that everything Western culture has to offer is found there. You will notice this in the line “It’s the edge of the world and all of Western civilization,” and it’s them being sarcastic at how Hollywood and California are portrayed to the rest of America and the world. 

We all know that plastic surgery is commonplace in California because of Hollywood and that is found in the bridge of Californication, saying “Pay your surgeon very well to break the spell of aging.” Then, the song goes into how sex is glorified without anyone talking about the reality of having sex, including a teenager getting pregnant while also being high on drugs. There is a lot of tragedy and sadness found within California and the hype of Hollywood, including that third verse. 

In the fourth verse of the track, there is mention of Star Wars and Kurt Cobain, along with other pop culture references. The last part of the song talks about how Californication will have lasting impacts on society, including how earthquakes can’t save the world from Californication. There is also mention in this last part of Good Vibrations, which is a Beach Boys song

So…What’s It About?

Californication is all about how society is deteriorating and how everything is now plastic and superficial in nature. Los Angeles and Hollywood both have resulted in our culture becoming more focused on drugs, sex, and physical appearance. In short, the track is a diss at the state of California and Hollywood for the horrible activities and how people lie just underneath that iconic sign. 

RHCP have a lot of experience with California given they had formed their band in Hollywood, so they have first-hand experience at the disgusting and perverse world that is within Hollywood. Desperation, lies, lack of morals, violence, money, and celebrity are all things that California and Hollywood manufacture and push into our culture. Everyone wants to become famous, even if it’s for a brief moment, and reality television has only increased that desire. 

When you look at the specific lyric “Dream of Californication,” it’s all about how we think Hollywood and Los Angeles are glamorous and full of movie stars, and it’s the American dream to become rich and famous. However, in that lyric, the song is talking about how California is the extreme, where you have beauty on the surface but decay and filth right underneath at the core of it all. People from all over the world travel to Los Angeles in an effort to become rich and famous, and it’s a pipe dream that often doesn’t work out. 

In the lyrics about space being the final frontier but it’s made in a basement in Hollywood, it’s clear that what they are saying is that what Hollywood is trying to sell you is all fake and has been manufactured. When you listen to it, you can understand that the band is trying to tell you that what you’re seeing isn’t real, and trying to imitate Hollywood is leading to everyone selling their souls for nothing. 

Chart Performance 

Californication was released in June 2000 and quickly went to 69 on the Billboard Hot 100 but landed at number one on the Alternative Airplay and Mainstream Rock charts. The song hit 17 on the Adult Alternatives chart and 28 on the Adult Top 40.

Outside of the US, the track was a hit too, landing at 16 on the UK Singles chart and landing at number one in Iceland and on the Canadian Rock/Alternative chart. 

Lawsuit 

RHCP sued the producers of Californication, which was a show that aired on Showtime, and the band had asked for restitution and damages. The lawsuit also went further and asked that Californication not be used further for the name of the television show.

However, the producers showed a 1972 Time magazine article where the term “Californication” had already been used. We don’t know the details of the agreement, but the case was eventually settled out of the courtroom for an undisclosed amount. 

Legacy 

Californication is one of the group’s most popular songs and a fan favorite with it being played at almost every single concert. The track has been played more than 500 times live by RHCP since it was released over 20 years ago, and that makes it the third-most played live song. Not only is Californication a catchy tune, but the lyrics have always been true and are still true to this day.

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