No doubt it’s a great look. Katy Perry calls you – or, well, it’s likely her manager who does it — but either way, she wants you, famous rapper, to be on her next single. You consider this for about a half a second and say yes faster than one turns their swag on. Congratulations, it’s pretty much guaranteed to become a number one record, just know that your verse will be absolutely terrible and that this look comes with a price.
See, for all of Ms. Perry’s talents (see GQ’s Feb. cover) and her tremendous consistency for rising to the top of the charts, she does not bring out the best in rappers. I came to this conclusion last night after watching Katy’s new video for “Dark Horse,” what is currently the number 1 song in the country. The song is two parts trance, one part pop, and a pretty big smash, the way almost anything Katy Perry and Dr. Luke do becomes. But the video, well that’s an LSD fever dream. It’s a relic unearthed from the Michel Jackson video vault, first crammed into a washing machine with glitter, opiates, and cat memes. I was a hair below sober at the time of viewing, but felt like I was involving myself in some sort of full blown Cleopatra meets Rita Repulsa meets Falco psychotic episode. It’s really, really weird and the fact that Juicy J is involved makes it weirder and adds to Katy’s strange track record when collaborating with rappers.
Remember, if you can, all the way back to 2010, when Perry was first introducing us to what would become her mammoth record Teenage Dream. The lead single for the record, “California Gurls,” was a pop confection, so cloyingly sweet that the video takes place in some Candy Land-esque fantasy world. Featured on the track is former Death Row rapper Snoop Dogg, who appears in the video as a cupcake-suited gamesman or something. The video was best remembered for Katy’s whipped cream shooting brassiere, but let’s not forget that the Dogfather himself was dragged into this Bazooka Joe affair, rapping lines like, “Bikinis, tankinis, martinis / No weenies, just the King and the Queenie.” On YouTube, the video has over 100 million views and the song stayed atop the Billboard Hot 100 for six consecutive weeks.
Nine months after “California Gurls” was first released, as the Teenage Dream locomotive continued to barrel forward, the listening public was offered “E.T.” It was the fourth single off the album and featured Kanye West. Whereas “California Gurls” was all cotton candy powder puff, this was intergalactic boning music. And the video was freaking out there. Katy Perry is an alien or is in love with an alien rummaging through some planetary garbage dump and Kanye West is floating around in some space station all Sandy Bullock “Gravity” style, spitting raps like “I’m tryna bathe my ape in your Milky Way” and “Tell me what’s next? Alien sex / I’mma disrobe you / Then I’mma probe you.” His verses match the song’s motif, but c’mon! This is Kanye, who killed “Run This Town,” and before you say, ‘well, that was a rap song,’ he’s killed pop verses, too – Estelle’s “American Boy,” his “Diamonds” remix – and did the whole space raps thing better two years before on “Walkin’ On the Moon.” The “E.T.” video has over 259 million YouTube views and spent five non-consecutive weeks atop the Billboard chart.
And so Juicy J is next in line, lending a verse to “Dark Horse,” getting his shine. It isn’t terrible, though the standard of scrutiny for Mr. J is lower than that of Mr. Dogg and West. It’s more the video here that makes Juice look all corny and shit. He comes out the tomb, all “Uh, she’s a beast /I call her Karma / She eat your heart out / Like Jeffrey Dahmer.” What?
A note to the next rapper in line for a Katy Perry feature: Understand that you’re likely to get dragged into some pretty suspect shit. It might be worth it though, for that Grammys performance or that sure fire Billboard top spot, but try your hardest to maintain your integrity. It’s won’t be easy and I’d bet you’re persuaded to do otherwise, to file away your rough edges and fit into pop’s perfect circle. Just know that there’s a price to pay in playing Katy Perry’s sidekick – one that probably goes against all of the rap ethos from here to Candy Land, Egypt, and outer space.