5:37 pm - 02/22/2014

There’s a Very Good Reason Why Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” Video Is Set in Ancient Egypt

At first glance, Katy Perry’s latest music video, the Egypt-themed fantasy “Dark Horse,” seems to bear little resemblance to actual Egyptian history — but you might want to look twice. The clip’s director says there’s good reason for the Egyptian references, and prominent Egyptologists say that reason is good enough for them.

“[Perry] said that there’s actually a place in Egypt called Memphis, and she thought it was so interesting that Juicy J is from Memphis, Tenn.,” explains director Mathew Cullen. “She basically came to me and said, ‘I want to do something Egyptian and I want to combine it with Memphis hip-hop.’ That’s music to my ears — when an artist has a couple concepts that they want to mash up to create something fresh.”

Cullen says that while there was no on-site Egyptologist involved in the Los Angeles video shoot, they researched the period online to better “respect the symbolism” while having fun. Though Perry has been criticized for appropriating the symbols and images of other cultures — and has been under attack for “Dark Horse” for the same reasons — Cullen says he believes that while it’s dangerous to rip things directly from modern cultures without adding anything to them, ancient Egypt is part of what he calls our “shared collective mythology.”

“We’re only here because we build on the stories of every human being since the beginning of mankind,” he says. “The most important thing is that when you create something, and this is actually something Katy and I worked to do — you bring a new spin to it.”

And as it so happens, Perry and Cullen (who also directed the “California Gurls” video) did a pretty good job building on those stories.

Full disclosure: when I called up some Egyptologists to ask them about Katy Perry, I was fully expecting them to trash the video. The inaccuracies in her similarly-themed performance of the song at the Brits have already been pointed out, and fans who are sticklers for history were turned off the video. But the reality was very different.

“I find this really very wonderful, but I’m willing to bend my formal standards,” says Robert K. Ritner, Professor of Egyptology at the University of Chicago. “Whoever put this together actually knew something about the myth of Cleopatra. There are a number of features in here that I could use in class.”

Here are some of those points that get a hearty thumbs up, courtesy of Ritner and David P. Silverman, Professor of Egyptology at the University of Pennsylvania and Curator of Penn Museum’s Egyptian Section:

  1. The turquoise color seen in Perry’s make-up was used in Ancient Egypt; they often used colors inspired by nature, like the sky and water. Sealed tombs preserved the colors of their paintings, so historians can still tell what things would have looked like at the time.

  2. Queens like Cleopatra really did have significant power — and, though it didn’t include the lightning-bolt-style magic that’s seen in the video, there was a belief in divine royalty.

  3. The lyric about Aphrodite and Perry’s Greek-style dress have been called out by picky fans, but actually, they make perfect sense: Cleopatra wasn’t properly Egyptian; rather, she was descended from a Macedonian-Greek line, and her culture mixed Hellenic and Egyptian elements. In fact, Aphrodite is the analog to the Egyptian goddess Isis, who is represented by Perry’s winged ascent in the video.

  4. The “walk like an Egyptian” pose does have a reference point in ancient paintings. The artists didn’t use foreshortening, so the iconic pose was a Cubist-like attempt to portray three-dimensional people by showing them from different angles. It was not, however, a dance.

  5. The paintings on the wall behind Perry when she’s on the throne are clearly based on real tomb paintings.

  6. The scene with Perry and the snakes suggests a reference to Cleopatra’s suicide via asps. At the time of her death, Cleopatra was dressed as Isis, which also loops back to Perry growing wings in the video.

  7. The fan/monocle object Perry holds up shows the symbol of the Eye of Horus, a symbol of health and stability. (It has nothing to do with the Illuminati: “The many discussions of the Illuminati are nonsense,” says Ritner. Rather, the masonic imagery associated with the Illuminati is drawn from Egyptian imagery.)

  8. The cat references and the scene with Boo the dog may reference Roman anti-Cleopatra propaganda, which implied that she made Marc Antony her lap dog.

  9. Cullen and Perry even succeeded without trying: though Cullen says this wasn’t on purpose, Ritner sees a link between Perry getting a diamond grill to a myth that Cleopatra once dissolved a giant pearl in wine to demonstrate her wealth.

And even the parts that aren’t accurate at all — the Twinkies, for example — aren’t problematic. If Katy Perry fans do a little research about Ancient Egypt, they’ll follow a long line of people whose interest was sparked by Egypt-inspired pop-culture — from Boris Karloff’s mummy to Brendan Fraser’s, and from Betty Boop’s Cleopatra to Elizabeth Taylor’s.

“[Egypt has] always been a part of popular culture,” says Silverman. “It encourages people to think of these things, and some of those people actually begin to learn a lot.”

she really can do no wrong this era lol QUEEN OF POP & HISTORY
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tankmachine 23rd-Feb-2014 01:48 am (UTC)
sigh I wish the video wasn't so cartoony but I shouldn't have let my expectations convince me otherwise

idk the Unconditional video is beautiful tho
qween_frostine 23rd-Feb-2014 01:48 am (UTC)
For some reason this:

“[Perry] said that there’s actually a place in Egypt called Memphis, and she thought it was so interesting that Juicy J is from Memphis, Tenn.,”

Is the funniest sentence I have read all day. I'm cackling.
lillylilacs 23rd-Feb-2014 01:50 am (UTC)
tankmachine 23rd-Feb-2014 01:51 am (UTC)
nalaa1906 23rd-Feb-2014 01:51 am (UTC)
ikr lmao
stewie_e 23rd-Feb-2014 01:51 am (UTC)
lmao. right?
turbotastic 23rd-Feb-2014 01:52 am (UTC)
hypnology 23rd-Feb-2014 01:53 am (UTC)
lol ikr. Sounds like something I would think of when I'm drunk or high
scared_money 23rd-Feb-2014 01:55 am (UTC)
lmaooo forreal I was like "Bitch, the fuck"
blue_birds 23rd-Feb-2014 01:57 am (UTC)
thespockingdead 23rd-Feb-2014 01:59 am (UTC)
lol ikr. What kind of logic.
dubiously 23rd-Feb-2014 02:04 am (UTC)
ikr what kind of stretch rn
mrsdracula 23rd-Feb-2014 02:07 am (UTC)
same lool
leitao 23rd-Feb-2014 02:08 am (UTC)
LOL right? It's almost like the city in Tennessee was purposefully named after the original ancient capital of Egypt or something~ :P
sorryeden 23rd-Feb-2014 02:13 am (UTC)
lol ia
thebloomroom 23rd-Feb-2014 02:17 am (UTC)
avantgaurdian1 23rd-Feb-2014 02:37 am (UTC)
bitch what??? dead.
ophiodeiros 23rd-Feb-2014 02:48 am (UTC)
i wonder how psyched she felt when she visited europe for the 1st time and discovered a city that was inspired by london, ont. canada
20727 23rd-Feb-2014 03:19 am (UTC)
galaxized 23rd-Feb-2014 03:26 am (UTC)
omg cryinggggg
illuminaris 23rd-Feb-2014 05:57 am (UTC)
hangthemj 23rd-Feb-2014 07:41 am (UTC)
winegums 23rd-Feb-2014 12:38 pm (UTC)
or Paris, Texas
inwazyja 23rd-Feb-2014 03:09 am (UTC)
Came here to say this.
galaxized 23rd-Feb-2014 03:26 am (UTC)
athwartship 23rd-Feb-2014 03:39 am (UTC)
lol so airheaded
bananasnrum 23rd-Feb-2014 05:19 am (UTC)
lol this child
kkjddjefgbff 23rd-Feb-2014 08:27 am (UTC)
oneloveunited 23rd-Feb-2014 09:33 am (UTC)
She's like...a little girl in a woman's body.
agatharuncible 23rd-Feb-2014 12:36 pm (UTC)
to be fair, I always find it funny how in the US there's places with names like "Rome", "Athens", etc.
water_water 23rd-Feb-2014 03:17 pm (UTC)
ikr i'm destroyed
luckycherry_13 23rd-Feb-2014 04:30 pm (UTC)
Me too. I stopped reading right there.
bestsama 23rd-Feb-2014 01:49 am (UTC)
so after appropriating the cultures of LGBT, japanese, egyptian, who's next
jigglemypuff 23rd-Feb-2014 01:51 am (UTC)
turbotastic 23rd-Feb-2014 01:53 am (UTC)
Indian tbh
Legendary Lovers is coming
mila_s_garden 23rd-Feb-2014 02:01 am (UTC)
Didn't she already have an Indian themed wedding?
pancreas 23rd-Feb-2014 01:54 am (UTC)
tebtosca 23rd-Feb-2014 01:59 am (UTC)
Xenu. After which she will mysteriously go missing.
veritasaequ1tas 23rd-Feb-2014 02:10 am (UTC)
no one is safe
interrobamf 23rd-Feb-2014 02:17 am (UTC)
milkradio 23rd-Feb-2014 02:19 am (UTC)
hashtagpow 23rd-Feb-2014 02:21 am (UTC)
ur dumb
hazel_belle 23rd-Feb-2014 02:28 am (UTC)
fancycarousel 23rd-Feb-2014 02:51 am (UTC)

sustainablefuel 23rd-Feb-2014 03:29 am (UTC)
biebusfan 23rd-Feb-2014 03:40 am (UTC)
legendary lovers incorporates hinduism
deranged_queen 24th-Feb-2014 09:43 am (UTC)
What happens when all cultures are "appropriated?" Does the act of appropriating still have weight then?

(Disclaimer: serious question, not trying to stir shit.)
illiade 23rd-Feb-2014 01:50 am (UTC)
But is there a good reason for it to be a disjointed mess?
tellmeimawreck 23rd-Feb-2014 01:55 am (UTC)
It's Katy Perry. Coherency of images/ideas/etc. is not her strong point during this era.
illiade 23rd-Feb-2014 02:21 am (UTC)
Which is sad because her videos are the one thing she had going for her.
oneloveunited 23rd-Feb-2014 09:49 am (UTC)
Well Roar was good.
theleveebroke 23rd-Feb-2014 01:50 am (UTC)
this girl's videos are always a damn mess. Dark Ponyta is no different

also, "The cat references and the scene with Boo the dog may reference Roman anti-Cleopatra propaganda, which implied that she made Marc Antony her lap dog."

what kind of reaching lmao
jigglemypuff 23rd-Feb-2014 01:53 am (UTC)
I bet there isn't one person involved in this mess who could tell you what Marc Antony did.
maidenhell 23rd-Feb-2014 01:55 am (UTC)
She thinks he married J.Lo.
chibinaomidy 23rd-Feb-2014 01:56 am (UTC)
Everyone knows he married J.Lo. ~Duh~
littlehayzay 23rd-Feb-2014 01:56 am (UTC)
lbr if you asked

"i mean he was married to j lo and also was robbed of an academy award for his performance as a federal agent in hackers"
omgitsalexis 23rd-Feb-2014 04:31 am (UTC)
speshsnowflake 23rd-Feb-2014 01:50 am (UTC)
Is this appropriation?

Edited at 2014-02-23 01:51 am (UTC)
kerrigwen 23rd-Feb-2014 02:42 am (UTC)
Are you being sarcastic? (I can't tell).

I don't think there's anything wrong with borrowing ideas/imagery or immersing yourself in a different culture, but this was just a straight-up mess.

All those points are reaching! How many 'historians' did they have to contact before they got one that would cave for a bit of cash? Ugh. #smh

/classical historian here
secura 23rd-Feb-2014 03:20 pm (UTC)
um yeah
cantlogoff 23rd-Feb-2014 01:51 am (UTC)
the amounts of reaching in this post tho
tellmeimawreck 23rd-Feb-2014 01:53 am (UTC)
Lol I love how the defense of the video from the Egyptologists is mainly "Yes! Some of these things did actually exist in Egypt. ACCURACY ACHIEVED." Like really? Some of these points are less of a real defense and more of a "yes, basic research on Egypt was done."
aotearoagal 23rd-Feb-2014 02:04 am (UTC)
You know Katy Perry spent a good 5 minutes on wikipedia for this.
tellmeimawreck 23rd-Feb-2014 02:06 am (UTC)
*Katy Perry's team
galaxized 23rd-Feb-2014 03:29 am (UTC)
she probably just watched 'the mummy'
mrsdracula 23rd-Feb-2014 02:10 am (UTC)
The first point alone had me scratching my head. Who doesn't know about the turquoise make-up? That is like elementary school levels of knowledge.
cryinonthemetro 23rd-Feb-2014 02:24 am (UTC)
"Katy Perry google image searched Cleopatra after two bottles of red wine"
alchimie_amour 23rd-Feb-2014 02:49 am (UTC)
well when no doubt's lack of googling skills is the lowest you can go with cultural research . .. .
mjgchick 23rd-Feb-2014 01:54 am (UTC)
The most offensive part about all this is how crappy the song is.
u_aint 23rd-Feb-2014 01:54 am (UTC)
when will she apologize for "ur so gay" tho
licorrice 23rd-Feb-2014 03:01 am (UTC)
how many times will you make this comment?
nineteensix196 23rd-Feb-2014 01:55 am (UTC)
Wow what a very good reason...bitch you tried it.

Otherwise, the video is so gorgeous to me, the colors and bits are stunning - she'll win another VMA for it I'm sure.

Edited at 2014-02-23 01:57 am (UTC)
jigglemypuff 23rd-Feb-2014 01:55 am (UTC)
Actually, Memphis is the English translation of the city's name. It's actual name is Manf.
interrobamf 23rd-Feb-2014 02:24 am (UTC)
Memphis was the Greek name, based on Coptic Menfe. Manf is the Arabic name and is a more recent term. At least go on Wikipedia first if you're going to be pedantic.
rainbow_fish 23rd-Feb-2014 02:37 am (UTC)
lmao damn
onyxobsidian 23rd-Feb-2014 02:46 am (UTC)
nene718 23rd-Feb-2014 02:49 am (UTC)
tigermilk 23rd-Feb-2014 02:50 am (UTC)
O shit.
hussel 23rd-Feb-2014 02:58 am (UTC)
francesbcobain 23rd-Feb-2014 01:56 am (UTC)
I thought she looked pretty, but idk I wanted a witchy video.
chibinaomidy 23rd-Feb-2014 01:57 am (UTC)
Right? If she wanted cheese she could've referenced The Craft. That would've been fun.

Edited at 2014-02-23 01:58 am (UTC)
dafuqgetoffmeho 23rd-Feb-2014 01:59 am (UTC)
she would've reached for that haitian voodoo so quick
sorryeden 23rd-Feb-2014 02:14 am (UTC)
amber_protocol 23rd-Feb-2014 02:45 am (UTC)
Seriously, the tone was completely off. It should've been dark and foresty, not neon colours and sand. I love the song but the vid doesn't suit.
chantonii 23rd-Feb-2014 02:56 am (UTC)
Yeah, I think that would have suited the song better.
inwazyja 23rd-Feb-2014 03:15 am (UTC)
Yeah, I thought she'd go with that, especially after her grammy (I think?) performance. Wasted opportunity, tbh.
rainbowstevie 23rd-Feb-2014 03:58 am (UTC)
I will never accept any video other than that Grammys performance as reality, tbh.
thebloomroom 23rd-Feb-2014 04:20 am (UTC)
i think she didnt bc she did it here already

carolpd 23rd-Feb-2014 01:58 am (UTC)
everything she does gives me 2006 vibes
omgitsalexis 23rd-Feb-2014 04:34 am (UTC)
sallgoodman 23rd-Feb-2014 02:00 am (UTC)
Ok so knowing ONTD, people will probably come for me, but is this appropriation? That's not what Egypt is currently like. It's ancient Egypt which people reference in costumes, movies, clothes, etc all the time. I admit to not watching the video because, I mean, ew, but based on the pictures it doesn't look like they're making fun of anything in particular. I don't really understand how it's offensive I suppose
thespockingdead 23rd-Feb-2014 02:02 am (UTC)
Yeah, I really don't think this kind of thing is appropriaton. Unless there are still people out there worshipping Isis and Horus that I don't know about.
blue_birds 23rd-Feb-2014 02:04 am (UTC)
If by offensive you mean tacky then yes. Otherwise, I don't think this is considered appropriation.
smokesinatra 23rd-Feb-2014 02:22 am (UTC)
i'm fairly certain there's racism involved in this particular stylization of ancient egypt (as in, this mostly-white-people wearing fancy-beaded-costumes interpretation of ancient egypt is really prevalent and is in everything from katy perry's video to aladdin to the mummy and so on lol), but i really don't know if it qualifies as appropriation. ...also i'm not really the right person to say so either way tbh so imma go slink back off to eat my pizza
fruitariyun 23rd-Feb-2014 02:33 am (UTC)
also i'm not really the right person to say so either way

Lol Doesn't seem to stop the *ppl on tumblr
interrobamf 23rd-Feb-2014 02:38 am (UTC)
I don't think you can really put this video on that level when it doesn't claim to be anything but Katy Perry playing dress-up.

(The single Egyptian guy in Aladdin wasn't white.)
nefertitii 23rd-Feb-2014 02:26 am (UTC)
again. no it's not appropriation
this is coming from an egyptian and not a western egyptologist
numbedtoe 23rd-Feb-2014 02:37 am (UTC)
fuck no
numbedtoe 23rd-Feb-2014 02:38 am (UTC)
also that wasn't heated towards you bb. fwiw.
kerrigwen 23rd-Feb-2014 02:45 am (UTC)
It's not appropriation imo, but just goddamn awful, inaccurate, and tacky as hell (even for a Katy Perry video!). I, as a classical historian and general enjoyer of the world's many cultures, was cringing the whole time and was really confused at the dog there (made me think of Korn's video though.)
montag_heidi 23rd-Feb-2014 02:57 am (UTC)
no its not offensive at all. its just shitty. much of ontd thrives off being offended
windinthewires 23rd-Feb-2014 02:59 am (UTC)
No one linked to 'yourfaveisproblematic', that's a first.
agatharuncible 23rd-Feb-2014 12:44 pm (UTC)
I don't think that Ancient Egyptian imagery is necessarily appropriative. as you pointed out, modern Egyptian culture has changed a lot from what it was thousands of years ago, so it's a bit like doing a shitty music video inspired by Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome. there are still traces of that history but Italy or Greece aren't decals of the way they were 2000 years ago.

however, I do think that things like exotification can play a role in this and I think that part of things should be addressed. it's not even new, already back in ancient rome "oriental" things (which included egypt) were a source of a lot of mixed feelings.

so basically, I think it's weird if you're doing it just to be exotic and mysterious or condescending, but if it's because you think that ancient egypt was interesting or like art that is thousands of years old then I don't think it's as bad as appropriating something from a modern culture.

I hope this makes sense blah I need coffee
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