Single Review: “Dark Horse” (Katy Perry)

A perfect storm, indeed.

Released earlier this week by fan vote (beating out other potential preview track “Walking On Air”), “Dark Horse” is the second full-length look at the singer’s forthcoming third album, ‘PRISM,’ out October 18. “Dark Horse” is not, in fact, a single—but it is very, very good.

Vocally, this song is a pop music fan’s delight. Katy offers a veritable buffet of audible delight with her decisions on “Dark Horse,” the most immediately obvious being the slinky R&B swag to the verses. Present, too, is the über-satisfying shout-sing styling of “Firework,” but—as ever—Katy’s real ace is in her killer ad-libbed harmonies, sung (nay, wailed) with utmost urgency over the last chorus.

Undoubtedly the older sister of Katy’s wildly popular No. 1 single “E.T.,” “Dark Horse” has a similar feel: dark, dangerous, sexy.The urban angle is a bit more blatant this go ’round, but it’s also that much more enjoyable; the trap influence on the track is both unexpected and thrilling, and something about the pairing of Katy’s own style with the R&B lean delivers a vibe that both “Jewels & Drugs” and “Work Bitch” (though thrilling in their own rights) didn’t quite deliver. I think what ultimately makes these more mature forays so satisfying from Katy is the break—however brief—from the wink-wink, nudge-nudge she favors heavily in much of her music and promotion.

Unfortunately, the feature from rapper Juicy J doesn’t have the same stellar sparkle as Kanye West‘s appearance on Katy’s radio remix of “E.T.” In fact, J’s verse gives his section of the song something of a sluggish feel; worse than anything, what he’s spitting feels all but forgettable and doesn’t really add much to a song that could have easily stood on its own. (The rap feature in this instance feels put into place more for the urban “cred” than for the actual enhancement of the track; I’d much have preferred more of Katy’s thrilling falsetto or a wickedly theatrical addition by, say, Nicki Minaj.) On the bright side, it’s not terrible—just one of the very few things that could’ve noticeably been improved on an already great song.

As with “Roar” before it (the eighth No. 1 single of her career), “Dark Horse” is an intriguing glimpse at a very highly anticipated album (especially considering her previous is the only by a female artist in history—like, ever—to spawn five No. 1 singles). The track’s promotional value is apparent, since it tackles the complex tasks of displaying growth for Katy as an artist and also rises to the expectation to take radio in a different direction. Perhaps moreso than any other leading lady at the moment, Katy’s got a right hook ready when the standard one-two punch won’t do—and she’s got the eye of the tiger.

Have a listen below and see what you think for yourself.

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What do you think of “Dark Horse”? Are you looking forward to ‘PRISM’?
 Let me know on Twitter: @Litzwich

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