BY MIN CHEN
Last month, the internet naturally went apeshit for “Apeshit,” the first video to emerge from Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s surprise joint project, Everything is Love. Filmed in the Louvre, the short sees the Carters posing, cavorting, and generally hanging out amid the museum’s world-beating art collection. Since neither the couple nor director Ricky Saiz have shed light how these artworks were picked for the film, rants, raves, and essays have been generated on its significance and symbolism. And rightly so, for there is a lot to unpack—from the video’s juxtaposition of black bodies against an Eurocentric art tradition to the added framing of art as commodity.
Of the latter, both Beyoncé and Jay-Z are no strangers to: their videos for “7/11” and “Picasso Baby” name dropped art casually enough. In “Apeshit,” too, lyrics on “expensive fabrics” and “expensive habits,” and a litany of luxury brand names (Richard Mille, Lamborghini, Alexander Wang, to name a few) are aligned with snatches of art and opulent views of the Louvre. In the Carters’ universe, where wealth resides, art is not very far behind.
The art featured in this video, though, is not hung with air quotes or treated with an over-awed hand, but pictured alongside a more contemporary art form: the power union of Beyoncé and Jay-Z. In still and stately poses, the couple stages an intervention and claims themselves a place in the Louvre’s halls, announcing their arrival in the hallowed tradition of art, whether you like it or not. Their conquest is writ large enough in the featured artworks from Jacques-Louis David’s The Coronation of the Emperor Napoleon to the imposing Greek sculpture Winged Victory of Samothrace, while throughout the track, rings the refrain, “I can’t believe we made it.”
Of course, there’s Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa too, which bookends the video. The Carters flank the canvas (mirroring a selfie they snapped in the same spot in 2014), pictured in a manner and image that dares to be as potently and powerfully iconic as the painting itself. As choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui told Pitchfork of the dancers in the video, “When they are inside of that space—just right on the stairs or suddenly moving in the group—you have the feeling that they could be those ancient mythological goddesses of the hunt or of wisdom. My projection of that was that they were embodiments of goddesses.”
Portraits of people of color may not blanket the walls of the Louvre (save for nameless, passive subjects as in Marie-Guillemine Benoist’s Portrait D’Une Négresse, also glimpsed in the video), but Beyoncé and Jay-Z here issue a corrective, disrupting the Western art world’s practice of tokenistic black representation and instead, spotlighting their already-renown bodies and beings—right, front, and center—as heirs to the kingdom. And considering that the Louvre now offers a 90-minute walking tour based on the “Apeshit” video, considering this video so boldly and unapologetically exists, the Carters have, as they say, made it.