"Dark Horse" combines the genres of pop and trap music, creating what has been described as a "Southern rap-techno mashup." The track features a minimal production, with Perry's vocals being sung in a "seductive" and "mature" tone, while Juicy J is featured on the song's intro and rapped-bridge. Perry, in interviews, said she wanted the song to have a "witchy, spell-y kind of black magic-y idea", so she wrote it from the perspective of a witch warning a man not to fall in love with her because if he does, she will be his last. The song was part of a competition sponsored by Pepsi in which fans could vote via Twitter on whether they would prefer either "Dark Horse" or "Walking on Air" to be released as the first promotional single from Prism.
Upon release, "Dark Horse" received favourable to mixed reviews from contemporary music critics, who praised its experimentation with urban music and Perry's vocals however were divided on Juicy J's contribution to the song. "Dark Horse" has been a commercial success, charting at number one on the US Billboard Hot 100, Canadian Hot 100, and the Netherlands Dutch Top 40 and Mega Single Top 100 charts. The song has also reached number two on the New Zealand Singles Chart, the Venezuela Pop Rock Chart, and the Swedish Sverigetopplistan Chart. The song is Perry's tenth song to top the Billboard Digital Songs chart. Perry first performed the song live at the 2013 iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas on September 20, 2013. The song's first major television performance was at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards on January 26, 2014. The next day, a remix featuring Pitbull leaked online. A remix by DJ AKS was also released on 21st of February. And on March 2, 2014, a version with TEE was released. "Dark Horse" became Perry's ninth Billboard Hot 100 number one single on January 29, 2014. A music video was released on February 20, 2014.
Production and composition
Inspired by the 1996 film The Craft, Perry and American singer-songwriter Sarah Hudson wrote a first version of "Dark Horse", in Perry's hometown of Santa Barbara, California. Perry described the song as a "juxtaposition", as it mixed her, a pop music artist, with an "urban kind of hip-hop-flavored background soundtrack"; and its lyrics as "witchy and dark", written from the perspective of "a witch warning [a] man to not fall in love with [her]", and if so, she would be his last. Shortly after, Perry asked producer Dr. Luke to contact American rapper Juicy J, as she wanted him to record guest vocals for the track. The rapper said Perry had a "very professional" work ethic and took a great part in the song's development. He said: "My verse I did on that song, she was singing it. She's really a genius, she was by the mixing board and telling the guy what to take in and take out. She's really hands-on with her music, she knows music."
"Dark Horse" was recorded and engineered at Luke's in the Boo in Malibu, Conway Recording Studios in Hollywood, Playback Recording Studios in Santa Barbara, California, and Secret Garden Studios in Montecito, as well as MXM Studios in Stockholm, Sweden. It was engineered by Peter Carlsson, Mike "Crazy Mike" Foster, Clint Gibbs, Sam Holland and Michael Ilbert. They were assisted by Eric Eylands, Rachael Findlen, Justin Fox, Elliot Lanam and Cory Bice. It was mixed by Serban Ghenea, while John Hanes served as the engineer for mix. All instrumentation and programming was done by Dr. Luke, Max Martin and Cirkut.
"Dark Horse" has been described as a "Southern rap-techno mashup", combining trap, and hip hop, and has a length of three minutes and thirty-five seconds. Musically, the verses are built around icy rhythms and chopped and screwed vocal samples, while the chorus' feature Perry singing into a gradual crescendo. The song contains a grimy, "incredibly simplistic" production. According to Kathy Iandoli of MSN Entertainment, "Dark Horse" contains a mixture of elements from "trippy pop" and EDM. According to the sheet music published at Musicnotes.com, "Dark Horse" is written in the key of B♭ minor. It follows a chord progression of G♭ – D♭ – B♭m – B♭m/A♭, and the vocals range from the low note of B♭3 to the high note of D♭5. "Dark Horse" moves at a tempo of 66 beats per minute.
A writer for the Winnipeg Free Press described the song as "brooding, borderline sleazy trap-pop excursion that comes across like a stripped-down version of "E.T." mixed with "Grindin'" by The Clipse." Going on to call it unexpected, unconventional, and unstoppable. Upon release, the song's intro received comparisons to that of the late Indonesian lady rocker, Nike Ardilla, specifically her song "Tinggallah Ku Sendiri" (Leave Me Alone).
In a press release on August 20, 2013, Pepsi announced a partnership with Perry to promote her fourth studio album Prism: a social "tweet-to-unlock" voting program, where fans could unlock song titles and their respective lyrics by tweeting the hashtag #KATYNOW. The chosen tracks for the campaign were "Walking on Air" and "Dark Horse". Once tweets voting for each song reached a certain number, their respective samples were unlocked and fans could vote for which one they wanted to have an early release on digital retailers. The winner was "Dark Horse", which was released on September 17, 2013 on the iTunes Store. However, due to its commercial success, it was sent to contemporary hit and rhythmic radio stations on December 17, 2013 as Prism's third official single.
Marc Hogan from Spin called the lyrics a "cliché salad but believed that the song had potential to become a "hit", due to its "soaring hooks" and "sleekly sculpted production". Reviewing the song for Billboard, Jason Lipshutz commended it, writing that by exploring trap-influenced music, she had "score[d]" and "slay[ed]". Digital Spy's Robert Copsey questioned the decision to not have a proper chorus in "Dark Horse" and the inclusion of Juicy J, though he praised the "sleazy" beat and "sultry" vocals from Perry. He gave the track a rating of four stars out of five. Contributor Dylan Mial of Blogcritics said the "juxtaposition" of Perry's vocals and Juicy J's rap brought "the ingredients for a perfect musical storm" and favored Perry for the "uniqueness" of the single.
Keith Murphy from Vibe called the track "infectiously sexy", while John Walker from MTV Buzzworthy was similarly positive about the song, though he wrote that Juicy's verse was "phoned-in". Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine likened the song to avant-garde band Art of Noise's song "Moments In Love" and called it a "continuation" of "E.T.", and further labelled it as a "standout" from Prism. While she did not give her opinion of the song as a whole, Helen Brown from the publication The Daily Telegraph criticized Juicy J for his "daft" rap. For AbsolutePunk, Craig Manning classified "Dark Horse" as Prism's worst song, while also panning the rapper's contribution. Marah Eakin from The A.V. Club was not entirely critical of the song, though he noted that it was not among "Perry's best".
Consequence of Sound's Chris Bosman had a mixed response—while he praised the song for feeling "vital" and "forward-moving", he criticized the guest vocals and nonetheless deemed the trap influence "trap for soccer moms". Writing for ABC News, Mesfin Fekadu commented that "her team fare[d] better" in the song and observed that the "Southern hip-hop and electronic flavors" present on it were factors that made it "work". Pop music website Idolator's Sam Lansky opined that the "weird trap-lite" of the song "never quite coalesces". Natalie Palmer from Entertainmentwise also criticized Juicy J's rap and said that the song was not "mind blowing".
North America and Canada
On the Billboard Hot 100, the song debuted at number seventeen on the week ending October 5, 2013. It also debuted at number four on the Hot Digital Songs chart with 194,000 downloads. In response to the unexpected success of "Dark Horse", Capitol Records executive VP Greg Thompson stated: "Katy's well aware of [the success of] 'Dark Horse'" and "It might be the next single. We're watching it – and certainly appreciating the airplay – while still wanting 'Unconditionally' to have a full run". In December, following the success of the song as a promotional single, it was chosen as the third official single from Prism. On the week ending January 11, 2014, "Dark Horse" sold 285,000 copies (up 158%) ranking at number 7 on Hot Digital Songs chart. The following week the song rose to number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, and number 4 on the Digital Songs chart selling 229,000 copies. The song became the thirteenth Top 10 song for the singer, and Juicy J's first top 10 on chart. That same week, the song debuted at number thirty-four on Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs. The song also rose to number fifteen on Billboard Pop Songs, earning greatest gainer honours. The following week the song topped the Hot Digital Songs, selling 243,000 copies, and rose to number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. On the week-ending February 1, 2014 "Dark Horse" topped the Hot Digital Song for a second week, selling 263,000 copies and rose to number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The following week, February 8, the song still remains atop the Hot Digital Song adding other 294,000 units to the amount of copies sold during the previous weeks. On January 29, 2014, "Dark Horse" reached the number one position in the United States, giving Perry her ninth US number one and tying her with four other artists as the artist with the tenth highest amount of number ones in history, and also becoming Juicy J's first number one US hit. Perry also set a new record, becoming the only artist to have a number one single in each year of the current decade. As of February 2014, "Dark Horse" has sold 3,450,000 copies in the US becoming her 10th song to surpass the 3 million mark. The song topped the chart for four straight weeks, from February 8 to March 1. It has been replaced by Pharrell Williams' Happy.
Aside from topping the Hot 100, "Dark Horse" has also topped Pop Songs, giving Katy her 11th number-one. This feat tied her with Rihanna for most number ones on Pop Songs chart. "Dark Horse" has also topped the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs thus becoming her 13th number one and breaking her own record for most consecutive number ones. Her earlier record which was established upon her second single "Unconditionally" topping the chart was 12 consecutive number ones.
In Canada, the song has reached the top-spot position, becoming the singer's tenth number-one single in the country and Juicy J's first. It was certified 2x Platinum for sales of over 160,000 copies.
On the week-ending September 23, 2013, "Dark Horse" debuted at number ten on the New Zealand Singles Chart becoming Perry's twelfth top ten. Five weeks later, the song peaked at number two, and charted in the top 10 for a total of 16 weeks. In Australia, the song did not chart in the ARIA Top 100 Singles Chart but entered the ARIA Top 50 Digital Tracks at number 5.
In the UK, on 22 September 2013, "Dark Horse" debuted at number 21 on the UK Singles Chart. It re-entered the chart at number 19 on 2 February 2014. Four weeks later, it reached a new peak of number 4. On January 23, 2014 the song re-entered the Irish Singles Chart at number 47 then reaching a peak of 4.
On the week-ending October 10, 2013 the song entered the Dutch Mega Top 100 chart at number 74, when "Dark Horse" was just a promotional song from the album. More than three months later, when the song was released as the third official single, "Dark Horse" re-entered the chart at number 28. Six weeks later, the song topped the chart. The song also reached the top spot position on the Dutch Top 40. In North Europe the song made good impression in the charts, in particular in Sweden and Norway where it peaked at number 2. Instead "Dark Horse", currently, is a moderate success in Finland and Denmark where it respectively peaked at 12 and 8.
However, "Dark Horse" reached the top 40 in other European countries such as France, Switzerland, Spain, and Austria.
Katy Perry revealed the official artwork on January 10, 2013 through her Twitter account. The art was done by artist Yao Xiao. The DJ AKS artwork was done using Katy Perry's promotional artwork for 'Dark Horse'.
In an interview with Billboard at the 2014 Grammy Awards, Juicy J stated the video had been filmed; he added that it is "a major motion picture." He further teased the release by saying, "I can't really tell you because it's definitely going to be a surprise, but I'll tell you this much right here: you've seen her other videos, this one's gonna be just as big. Everything she does is like grade A."
With the announcement that "Dark Horse" had attained the top position on the US Billboard Hot 100 Chart, it was also stated that, regarding an official music video, "Perry is currently in the process of filming it." On February 5, 2014, Perry tweeted the video would be released "soon". On February 13, 2014, she released a preview of the music video onto her Vevo account on YouTube: the preview confirmed the Egyptian setting of the video. The protagonist was Perry's alter-ego named "Katy Pätra" (inspired by Egyptian Queen Cleopatra). The video was released on February 20, 2014.
The music video was directed by Mathew Cullen, who previously worked with Perry on her music video for the song "California Gurls". According to Cullen, Perry approached him with the idea of setting the video in Ancient Egypt, and situated it in Memphis, Egypt as a nod to Juicy J's home city of Memphis, Tennessee. Perry's idea for the music video was to combine Ancient Egyptian culture with Memphis, Tennessee hip hop. Speaking of Perry's concept, Cullen said "That's music to my ears — when an artist has a couple concepts that they want to mash up to create something fresh."
SynopsisDuring the video's opening, it is revealed that the music video takes place during "a crazy long time ago" in Memphis, Egypt. For the opening verses, Perry's character Katy Pätra, the Queen of Memphis, is shown wearing a white dress and white and blue wig while floating on a large barge during sunset, with pyramids and palm trees visible in the background. The video transitions to a different scene where Pätra, now wearing a longer dress and a black wig, sits in an extravagant Sphinx-like throne while pharaohs gather to bring her expensive gifts (such as a large diamond) in an attempt to "win her heart." After retrieving the first suitor's gift, she hits the man with lightning, turning him into sand, and takes his jewels which she wears on her teeth as a grill. A corpulent suitor brings her confectioneries such as candy, twinkies and spicy cheese puffs. After she burns her mouth with the hot cheese puffs, she turns the suitor into a large cup of water which she consumes. Pätra also appears painted grey in a scene where golden snakes and guardian statues swarm her, and in a scene with a blue background where she wears gold and several golden hieroglyphs levitate around her. During Juicy J's verse, the rapper exits a gold sarcophagus while Pätra continues to collect gifts at her throne, such as an Egyptian chariot with hydraulics. During the final chorus, a man brings Pätra a large gold and pink pyramid which she ascends. At the top of the pyramid, Pätra, dressed as the Egyptian goddess Isis, uses her powers to conjure up a "perfect storm" with pink and purple clouds. After doing this, Pätra turns the final suitor into a dog with a human head.
The music video received approval from various Egyptologists for its portrayal of Egyptian culture. Speaking of Perry's portrayal of Cleopatra, Robert K. Ritner, Professor of Egyptology at the University of Chicago, said: "Whoever put this together actually knew something about the myth of Cleopatra. There are a number of features in here that I could use in class." Ritner and David P. Silverman, Professor of Egyptology at the University of Pennsylvania and Curator of Penn Museum's Egyptian Section, commented on various features of the music video; for example, Perry's make-up in the video was praised for bearing resemblance to the make-up used by Ancient Egyptians. The scene in which Perry, as Katy Pätra, is painted in silver and surrounded by golden snakes was noted as a reference to Cleopatra's suicide through being bitten by asps. During one scene in the music video, Perry holds up a monocle bearing the Eye of Horus to inspect a jewel from a suitor, which was used by Ancient Egyptians as a symbol of health and stability. Although Cleopatra did not have supernatural powers like Perry exhibits in the music video, the Ancient Egyptians did believe that pharaohs possessed significant power and believed in divine royalty.
The music video was criticized by some for appropriating the symbols and imagery of Egyptian culture. Cullen, the director, defended the music video, saying that, while he believes it's dangerous to rip things directly from present cultures without adding anything to them, Ancient Egypt is part of what he calls our "shared collective mythology". He said: "The most important thing is that when you create something, and this is actually something Katy and I worked to do — you bring a new spin to it." Egyptologist Silverman praised the music video's use of Egyptian imagery and the interest it could generate to viewers: "[Egypt has] always been a part of popular culture. It encourages people to think of these things, and some of those people actually begin to learn a lot." The video was noted by conspiracy theorists for bearing resemblance to imagery used by the alleged Illuminati, but Ritner rejected the allegations, saying that "The many discussions of the Illuminati are nonsense" and that, in fact, the masonic imagery associated with the Illuminati is drawn from Egyptian imagery (as a common source for both).
Accusations of blasphemy
The music video caused controversy among some Muslims who criticized a scene in the video where a man wearing a pendant appearing to display the Arabic word for "Allah" is disintegrated and turned into sand by Perry's character. The scene took place 1 minute and 15 seconds into the video. A petition launched on Change.org accused Perry of "representing an opposition of God" and demanded that the video be taken down from YouTube. As a response to the controversy, the pendant was digitally removed from the video on February 26, 2014. The petition was closed with over 65,000 signatures.
"Dark Horse" was first performed at the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas on September 20, 2013. It was later performed at the iTunes Festival in London. Katy also performed Dark horse with Juicy J at the We can survive event at the Hollywood Bowl on October 23. Perry also performed "Dark Horse" on The Voice of Germany on December 13, 2013. Perry and Juicy J performed the song at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards on January 26, 2014. The "dark and mysterious" performance featured a "haunted forest" design with animatronic horses, broomstick pole dances, and a controlled fire. The singer also performed the song at the 2014 BRIT Awards and the performance featured a neon colored Egyptian theme, like the music video.
- Digital download
- "Dark Horse" – 3:35