How Katy Perry Made Me A Believer with "Dark Horse" and "Who You Love"
It took a while. At first, it's hard to be enamored with Katy Perry's dynamic as a male listener: You either get it or you don't right off the bat. Like any other modern pop icon, however, Perry's single are as grandiose as they are ubiquitous, especially with the massive success of 2010's Teenage Dream.
I, for one was not a Katy Perry fan. I wrote thinly-veiled criticism about her for my school paper. I eschewed the wholehearted fans. I hardly tolerated my girlfriend's full-blown Katy Perry obsession -- until recently.
Over the course of the past month, everything changed. Prism, Perry's highly anticipated follow up to Teenage Dream, drops on October 22, and its subsequent Dr. Luke-produced singles, "Roar" and last night's release of "Dark Horse," featuring ex-Three Six Mafia member Juicy J, are leading the Billboard charge while forcing me to reevaluate my stance.
Aside from the Sara Bareilles-"Brave" controversy, "Roar" is undeniably a KP signature -- a massive chorus tied into an empowering anthem over a sugary, bouncy set of crescendo-built verses. "Dark Horse," however, is the true result of Perry's rebranding, the embodiment of the girl who burned her famous blue wig for Prism's promo video. The production is the first thing that hits you, emphasized by Juicy's callouts and the club banger snap-clap percussion.
A Kanye-ready synth sample fills the emptier spaces, and the bass line makes one wonder how much DJ Mustard Katy was listening to toward the mixing stage of the single. She may face similar Taylor Swift-dubstep-phase backlash for dipping a toe into trap when she's been concreted into the pop pantheon, but there's enough slick melody here to keep the masses appeased.
Above all else, it's Perry's vocal restraint and the antithetical post-chorus "drop" that should have everyone talking.
Where you would expect a cathartic moment in the single, KP turns her formula on its ear and quietly leads off with "Mark my words / this love will make you levitate" in the most spaced-out vocal line yet. It's but one element of the new Katy Perry that has begun to shift my apprehension toward full-on fandom.
That's not to leave out Perry's recent verse and harmonies on "Who You Love," a central track to her boyfriend's latest album, John Mayer's Paradise Valley. She fully outshines Mayer's nouveau-troubadour musings with her dusky additions to the chorus and her tell-all, tell-off verse. Yes, it's a boyfriend-girlfriend duet, as clichéd as that is, but Perry's songwriting and lilting vocal melodies do something for the track that Mayer could never do alone.
And that seems to be the Katy Perry principle beneath it all: She is today's mainstream master of invention and re-invention, playing up her versatility across the board in the midst of shedding the candy-coated dream girl of yesteryear, while constantly reminding the listener that pop is not a four-letter word any longer. With Prism upon us, I can firmly say I'm a believer now, and while I may never be a Katycat, she's definitely captured my attention and anticipation.
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