Horses have been at the centre of some of the most powerful and emotive moments ever committed to page or screen. However, these majestic creatures have also lent themselves to some stellar metaphor work in some of the 21st century’s best pop tunes.
So, with Cheltenham Festival bets and Grand National predictions currently engulfing the worldwide horse betting scene, it seems an appropriate time to determine which diva is the favourite to win the best equine-themed ditty since 2010.
Lady Gaga – Highway Unicorn (Road to Love) – 50/1
Mother monster blew a heavy lead over the rest of the pop pack in 2011 with her second studio-album Born This Way failing to live up to hype. Galloping in the footsteps of pedigree hits The Fame and the The Fame Monster EP, Gaga’s sophomore LP failed to build successfully upon the potent imagery and catchy hooks of its predecessors. Instead, Born This Way stumbled over clunky religious subtexts, cluttered production and lack of coherency. However, despite being mauled by critics for this very reason, Gaga’s second album does contain moments of bonkers brilliance, with Highway Unicorn (Road to Love) being one of them.
Okay, so admittedly not about a horse exactly but, considering Gaga’s love of fantastical and surreal imagery, we can pretty much chalk this up as being as close as Gaga would get to a pop-ode to horses. Top American music publication Billboard magazine summarised Highway Unicorn as being ‘as bizarrely epic as the title‘, and that is certainly an apt description. Highway Unicorn features a galloping baseline, robotic refrains, supreme vocal gymnastics and a hook just a shade reminiscent of Pokerface. An odd fusion of classic Bruce Springsteen and Music era Madonna, Highway Unicorn filters good old-fashioned USA rock through industrial techno. The punchy lyrics conjure up images of galloping down a rainbow motorway and leaping over shadowy obstacles, completely non-sensical and unashamedly camp, Highway Unicorn is certainly worth a punt.
Taylor Swift – White Horse – 25/1
Taylor Swift knows a thing or 20 about heartbreak – just ask Harry Styles – and mournful soft-rock tune White Horse certainly demonstrates this. Featured on Swift’s second album Fearless, White Horse’s fairytale cynicism works as a weird counterpart to lead single Love Story’s tragic optimism. Whilst Love Story uses Shakespeare’s tragic love story Romeo and Juliet to vocalise the first rush of love in a blossoming relationship, White Horse uses the fairytale cliché of a prince on a white horse to criticise the unrealistic expectations these stories place upon real relationships.
White Horse, which was featured on the season premiere of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, is an almost acoustic ballad, with Swift’s quivering vocals gently skimming the sparse twangs of the guitar. The lyrics, like the majority of Swift’s work, combine tried-and-tested pop clichés with literary references and an age-defying worldly weariness. It does not exactly change the pop landscape, but White Horse is an intelligent teen-pop ballad that even manages to throw some laboured cultural commentary in to the mix. A steady and assured horse, White Horse only falls at the final hurdle.
Katy Perry – Dark Horse – 10/1
According to Perry, Dark Horse was based of the 1996 film The Craft. This quirky supernatural teen-horror featured a group of high-school witches, who take revenge on a heartthrob who has wronged them. It is easy to see the influence of The Craft in Dark Horse’s lyrics, where Perry threatens that any man who romantically pursues her must be sincere in his intentions, otherwise he will face Katy’s terrifying wrath. Perry threatens that she will come for him like a dark horse. One could only wonder how soon this track was written after Perry’s divorce from British comedian Russell Brand.
Dark Horse’s almost minimalist arrangement smoothly glides over swirls of unusual distorts before rising into a traditional arena-ready pop chorus. Perry’s vocals are distinctly echoed and unusually timed to add to the already surreal feeling of the soundscape. Featuring a plethora of hooks, the song is only let down by a largely pointless rap by Juicy J. The rap is not only bland and uninteresting but actively stalls the sneaky momentum of the song. Thankfully, Perry returns in the last moment for a killer chorus refrain to whip Dark Horse over the finish line.