Review of Katy Perry's Song "Dark Horse"

Katy Perry Dark Horse
Katy Perry - "Dark Horse" featuring Juicy J. Courtesy Capitol

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Written by Katy Perry, Jordan Houston, Lukasz Gottwald, Sarah Hudson, Max Martin, and Henry Walter

Produced by Dr. Luke, Max Martin, and Cirkut

Released December 2013 by Capitol

Pros

  • Katy Perry's powerful vocals
  • Dark trap meets pop mix
  • Mood-setting lyrics

Cons

  • Weak featured rap

"Dark Horse" finds Katy Perry exploring both a darker feel to her commentary on relationships and the use of elements from trap music in a pop song.  She has stated she wanted almost a "witch" style to the words used in "Dark Horse" depicting someone threatening to weave a spell on a potential lover stating, "There's no going back."  This spell is musically tricked out with elements from Southern hip hop's trap movement.  Those include a minimalist beat in the background, chopped and screwed vocal samples augmenting the main vocal line, and sweeping strings that feature in many trap productions.  Katy Perry's vocals are powerful and seductively pull the listener into the song.  She sings of, "A perfect storm," and much of "Dark Horse" stirs up a cyclone of listening pleasure.  It stands out on mainstream pop radio as something other than a cookie cutter production.

Unfortunately, the inclusion of Juicy J's featured rap pulls the entire production down.  His reference to Jeffrey Dahmer feels unnecessarily tasteless.  It is followed by a Sleeping Beauty mention that is cartoonish and seems to miss the mark of strong accompaniment to the rest of "Dark Horse."  A key rap feature in the past for Katy Perry was the addition of Kanye West on "E.T.," and Juicy J's "Dark Horse" rap does not come close in quality.  Kanye West's rap was essential to the success of "E.T."  "Dark Horse" has scaled the charts despite Juicy J's contribution.

Fans do seem happy to forgive the weakness of "Dark Horse's" rap feature.  The song has turned into the second #1 smash hit single from the album Prism.  Katy Perry herself has seemed surprised by the song's commercial success.  "Dark Horse" had a long path to release as an official single.  Back in August 2013, a snippet of the song was released along with one from "Walking On Air."  Fans were asked to choose their favorite and the winner was released as an advance promotional single for Prism.  "Dark Horse" won that competition, but it was passed over for the honor of being the second official single from the album.  Instead, the inferior "Unconditionally" was released and it became Katy Perry's first official single to miss the top 10 since 2009's "Thinking Of You."  When "Dark Horse" was finally released as the third official single, it became obvious fans were right, and the song rose to the top of the Billboard Hot 100.

One of the most exciting aspects of the success of "Dark Horse" is that it proves that pop fans will follow Katy Perry into new musical territory.  While she doesn't make major steps outside the lines, Prism does have more exploratory music than .  Here Katy Perry proves that her voice is a powerful enough instrument to entrance listeners when stripped down and made the center focus of a minimalist production.  Hopefully, this record points in the direction of a next album that continues the artist's musical evolution.

Music Video

The accompanying music video for "Dark Horse" is a big budget production that fits with a pop artist at the peak of her commercial success. Director Matthew Cullen previously earned Grammy Awards for directing Weezer's "Pork and Beans" and the Black Eyed Peas' "Boom Boom Pow." He also directed Adele's striking "Chasing Pavements" clip and Katy Perry's own "California Gurls."

"Dark Horse" adopts an Egyptian theme. It presents Katy Perry as a character Katy Patra who entertains suitors but soon destroys them when the gifts they present displease her. Some criticized the music video for its appropriation of Egyptian cultural material. Matthew Cullen defended the work by saying ancient Egypt is different from contemporary cultures in being a "shared collective mythology" for the world. In June 2015, "Dark Horse" became the first music video by a female artist to surpass 1 billion views.

Legacy

"Dark Horse" not only reached #1 on the pop singles chart. It was a hit across multiple radio formats. It went to #1 at mainstream pop, #2 adult pop, and #6 adult contemporary. "Dark Horse" also topped the dance chart and climbed to #16 on the Latin songs chart. It was a top 10 pop smash around the world. In the US, "Dark Horse" became Katy Perry's first song to spend a full year on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Duo or Group Performance.

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