I resisted. For a long time. To the tune of nearly six admirable months. Maybe it was the derivative trap beats, the three-years-too-late dubstep references, the forcefully languid drag of the background vocals. Maybe it’s because I’m a snob. But after a mere ten decidedly assaultive seconds, I declared Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” utterly unlistenable, never affording to hear it out in its entirety… until I was driving in my car last week and I accidentally caught the song on the radio, right in the middle of its thumping, sort-of-predictably soaring hook:
So you wanna play with magic?
Boy, you should know what you’re falling for
Baby, do you dare to do this?
Cause I’m coming at you like a dark horse
Are you ready for, ready for
A perfect storm, perfect storm?
And in that moment, Katy Perry, like a voice coming down from the heavens, spoke directly to me. I hadn’t felt this way about a pop song since Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life,” which seemed to be the only entity in the world who understood what a horrible disaster middle school was, earning its place as my personal prepubescent anthem for at least two years. I was thirteen. It was the ‘90s. Cut me some slack.
“Dark Horse” – in all its bastardized musical misappropriation – is bizarrely empowering. There is an assumption of worth and value that I’ve been forced to forfeit in choosing to live and date in New York City, a place that runneth over with Peter Pans and commitment-phobes, man/boys all waiting for the next pretty girl to turn the corner so they can pretend to like them for a week. After four years of being single here, you become all too familiar with the game: a sloppy sport of catch and release — the boys with their lines, their reels, the girls like tired, bloody-lipped goldfish. You get let go enough times, you stop feeling like magic.
And so you stop believing that you’re magic, and you stop treating yourself like magic, and the boys, in turn, don’t see you like magic, either. So you wanna play with magic? I can barely comprehend the line. If it were my song, the lyric would read something like this: “Some people think I’m okay and I’m not that old and ugly yet. Do you think you might maybe like to hang out with me for a few weeks? Because if not, it’s not a big deal. I totally get it; you’re busy.” This is why Katy Perry is the one hired to write pop songs. I’m more of the Elliot Smith downer ilk who silently contemplates her lonely life using a computer and wearing pajamas.
But here Katy Perry is, singing to a boy with the insistence she is magic, that she’s in the one in the power position, capable of making demands like “Make me your Aphrodite” and “Make me your one and only” when I’m too scared to even ask a guy out for drinks without being nervous I’ll scare him away with my beverage-based neediness. After having the gaping hole in my self-esteem revealed to me while listening to a generic pop radio station for three minutes, in a song sung by a girl who wears lollipop bras, I realized it might be time for a magical reboot. Or probably some therapy.