Ancient Egypt continues to be inspiration for pop industry

Ati Metwaly, Friday 21 Feb 2014

Royal power and luxury of lavish ancient Egyptian civilisation continues to be incorporated into music videos, songs, and live performances in pop industry

Ancient Egypt, pop industry
Top two photos: Stills from newly released Katy Perry's music video 'Dark Horse'. Bottom: Still from Michael Jackson's 'Remember the Time [L] and Rihanna in 2012 [R] (Photo of Rihanna: Reuters).

Katy Perry's release of her music video 'Dark Horse' yesterday created a great deal of buzz among fans on a wide variety of social media platforms. In the video, the American pop star poses as Katy Patra, an ancient Egyptian queen within an imaginary pharaonic setting infused with modern embellishments and also with what could be viewed as unfortunate visual simplifications of ancient Egyptian civilization. 

Perry is not the first pop star to incorporate ancient civilisations into her work. In fact, the phenomenon of displaying iconic cultural civilisations in music videos is known to attract the viewer's interest in impressive scenery and ancient history. Unfortunately however, these replications of ancient worlds are rarely faithful to the culture of interest, an issue that stems from focusing on its more lavish aspects for the sake of attracting viewers.

When observing referrals to ancient Egypt specifically, perhaps the most well-known examples are the 1986 hit "Walk Like an Egyptian" by The Bangles and Michael Jackson's 1992 video for "Remember the Time." While the Bangles incorporated a light-spirited, catchy reference to ancient Egypt in a repetitive line, Jackson replicated lavish ancient Egyptian scenery and ambience to create a sense of luxury and power.

"Walk Like an Egyptian" is a song about people walking on a ferry and struggling to keep their balance. Its music video was disappointing as it was low quality and failed to illustrate the song's concept. Realising the value of the visual incorporation of Ancient Egypt, the Bangles re-issued the single in 1990 with cover art displaying a row of figures on the walls of Egyptian temples and graves. Unfortunately this did little to revive the song's initial success.

"Remember the Time" is a song from Jackson's eighth studio album Dangerous; the music video features appearances by Eddie Murphy, Iman, and basketball player Magic Johnson. The video was well-received by fans and was described by critics as a "gorgeous ancient Egyptian extravaganza."

In the video, Jackson demonstrates his ability to portray the more extravagant aspects of ancient history in a manner that attracts viewers. "Remember the Time" was a one of the most lavish productions in pop history, something that Katy Perry seeks to reincarnate in "Dark Horse."

Power and luxury set within the royal environment of an ancient culture intertwined with additional fables and imaginary elements has proven to be an excellent tool in guaranteeing commercial success to producers. Moreover, the depiction of the royal lifestyle of such ancient societies as opposed to the less colourful lives of average citizens from the same era makes it easy to display such extravagance. Moreover, the videos often have little to do with the song's lyrics, showing that visual abundance is the pop industry's driving force.

In addition to videos and songs, live performances have also served as an outlet for multitude of artists to profit from the luxurious visuals of ancient civilisations. Famous Barbadian singer, Rihanna showed up on stage seated on a pharaonic throne under a pyramid and in front of a backdrop displaying the Sphinx when she performed "Where Have you Been" in Hackney Weekend 2012. Previously known as One Big Weekend, Hackney Weekend is a festival taking place in the UK which features several performances by internationally renowned artists.

Only one month prior to Hackney Weekend, Rihanna performed several songs dressed as an ancient Egyptian queen at the 22nd Annual Robin Hood Foundation benefit concert held in New York City.

Among the thousands of costumes she has worn throughout the years, American singer and songwriter Cher has donned personifications of ancient Egyptian queens and goddesses on several occasions.

One of the more recent live performances which incorporated the more lavish elements of ancient cultures came from longtime queen of pop Madonna. During the 2012 Super Bowl Meldey halftime show. The 53-year-old superstar sung a compilation of her most well-known hits within the context of an amalgamation of ancient civilisations such as Egypt, Babylonia, and Sumeria. The performance broke a record in the show's history, garnering 114 million viewers.


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