The song itself doesn't even seem that excited to exist. It's a hybrid of Perry's usual Dr. Luke-assisted pop style and the minimalist rap production that's dominated the past year in music; it's nearly the same formula that Lorde follows but without the sneaky subversive streak that makes her stuff so endlessly compelling. It's an unexpectedly edgy and up-to-date move for Perry, who's usually content to explore new musical territory only once it's been thoroughly checked out and road-tested by other pop stars, but although she deserves an A for effort, the result is a squishy, lifeless blob. Perry just isn't cut out for subtlety, and when she's not playing to the cheap seats her songs crumple.
Juicy J, the former Three 6 Mafia front man turned unlikely go-to guy for rap verses on pop songs, doesn't help matters much. Ever since "Bandz a Make Her Dance" became an unexpected smash a year and a half ago, Juicy's been hired to jump on a seemingly endless number of other artists' singles, and on nearly each and every one of them he's phoned it in so half-assedly that it makes 2 Chainz's one-take quickie guest features seem like epic feats of giving a shit by comparison. Although stripped-down beats like "Dark Horse" are his bread and butter, he seems thoroughly less than engaged, and his verse sounds like it was copied and pasted in from an entirely different song, which isn't entirely outside the realm of possibility. Only in the last couple of lines, when his lyrics take a sharp if unsurprising turn toward raunch, does his performance even register a temperature.
Unlike Beyonce's "Partition," which is being pushed up the charts thanks to choreographers who've created some really breathtaking DIY YouTube videos for it, "Dark Horse"'s rise to the top seems like it was driven less by passionate fans than by the sheer momentum of the Katy Perry machine. After sending a record-setting five singles from Teenage Dream to the top of the Hot 100 and thoroughly trouncing Lady Gaga in their duel for chart control, Katy Perry singles have started to seem inevitable and unstoppable. You can complain about "Dark Horse," but in terms of it actually doing anything it's about as effective as complaining about the weather.