Once again Katy Perry is letting her inner transvestite get her flame on in the video for "Dark Horse," a song whose drowsiness hardly brings Ancient Egyptian grandeur to mind.
She's trying to hit two retro themes at the same time: the Mid-century (Cleopatra 1963), and the '90s (mostly Michael Jackson's "Remember the Time" video, but also Stargate and maybe Aladdin). The result is an even mix of the two -- mid-century bombast and Nineties wacky zaniness.
It can be hard to remember how widespread the fascination used to be with the pastoralist belt stretching from Northern Africa through South Asia. The Exorcist opens in Iraq, the desert landscapes in Star Wars were shot in Tunisia, and of course all of the images of Egypt (whether shot there or nearby) -- Death on the Nile, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Jewel of the Nile, and so on. The second Indiana Jones movie was shot in Sri Lanka (meant to be India), and so were the videos for "Hungry Like the Wolf" and "Save a Prayer" by Duran Duran.
Back in the '70s and '80s, they just let the place be what it is -- tempting and thrilling, but also disorienting and dangerous. They didn't paint it only one way or the other -- either a placid vacation spot, or else a catastrophe waiting to happen. They conveyed the dual nature of the place, somehow realistic and fantastic at the same time.
Music videos didn't have big budgets like feature films did, but there were still a handful that were shot on location in the Near East. Below: "Living on the Ceiling" by Blancmange in Cairo, Egypt; and "Dominion" by Sisters of Mercy in Petra, Jordan (where the third Indiana Jones movie would be filmed).
More low-budget, though in the same spirit, is "Arabian Knights" by Siouxsie and the Banshees. In the video for "Night Boat to Cairo" by Madness, the music makes up for the low-budget visuals in setting up a Near Eastern theme. And it's too bad "Rock the Casbah" wasn't shot on location. (Film boards didn't want them to degenerate the faithful.)
Notice that it wasn't the Top 40 pop stars who wanted to evoke exotic places. It was the groups somewhat outside the mainstream who were keen on style. Now it's the mainstream that boasts a bombastic style, while the groups outside have cultivated an anti-style. Having style used to be cool.
By the mid-'90s, the Middle East only showed up in music videos as an exotic spa getaway kind of place. The harem secluded from all men, save the eunuchs -- that's become women's ideal in a cocooning age. See "My Love Is for Real" by Paula Abdul and "The Woman in Me" by Shania Twain. And then it was gone altogether, until "Dark Horse."
What's going on with the timing of greater or lesser interest in the Near East as an exotic, stylish place?
Egyptian Revival, as a stylistic phenomenon, only crops up during the later part of a rising-crime period (the early 1800s, the 1920s, and the 1980s). It's part of a broader interest in the exotic and Sublime. I'm not sure whether it's the rising crime rate itself or people's more extraverted mindset that makes them crave the excitement of strange new peoples, places, and things.
Falling-crime / cocooning periods, when they do show an interest in The Other, tend to take a distant, clinical, or ethnographic approach, and present it in a one-way-or-the-other fashion, rather than showing its dual nature. Cocooners don't mind a nice peaceful vacation, after all. But if there's the slightest threat of violence, it's overblown to the point of convincing them that they'd better stay home instead. Do not approach unless 100% harmless.