What up guys Frazier here for Complex News. To accompany the surprise release of their long-awaited collaborative album, Beyoncé and JAY-Z unleashed what might be a new contender for video of the year for the Pharrell-produced, “Apeshit.” You might recognize the visual’s setting...in and around several iconic works of art in the most famous museum in the world, The Louvre.
As much as a shocking flex as that is, it’s also the logical conclusion of Bey and Jay’s longstanding love for this art shit. Jay name-dropping Basquiats and Rothkos goes back several albums, and as their net worth increases so too does their private collection. Let’s not forget Picasso Baby, a Christies theme song that even featured a Marina Abramović cameo in the video.
JAY and Bey’s appreciation for art—evidenced by the pair dropping $4.5 million on a Basquiat piece (Mecca, 1982) back in 2013— has even rubbed off on their daughter, Blue Ivy, who purchased a piece by Tiffanie Anderson for nearly $20,000.
How did the “Apeshit” video end up getting shot in the Louvre, though? A spokesperson for The Louvre told Vulture that The Carters presented a concept that “showed a real attachment to the museum and its beloved artworks” in May of 2018.
You don’t need an art history degree to know that the Louvre is the largest art museum in the world bringing in over 8.1 million visitors in 2017 alone. The museum is home to some of the world's most famous works of art, including the Mona Lisa and Virgin and Child with St Anne. On sight, filming a video in such a famous venue is the ultimate flex—which one of your faves not named JAY-Z or Beyoncé could ever pull this off?
When you dig deeper into how Bey and JAY incorporated the Louvre’s famed work in “Apeshit,” there is plenty of powerful symbolism to unpack. Rest assured, nothing The Carters do is by accident.
1. Beyoncé reclaiming her power.
The Neoclassical pieces featured in the “Apeshit” visuals appear for a potent purpose. Beyoncé’s French-Creole ancestry (on her mother’s side) give her ties to the slave trade and Napoleon III, who colonized Europe, North Africa, and other areas during his reign from 1852 to 1870. In the video, Beyoncé appears with her dancers in front of Jacques Louis David’s The Coronation of Napoleon—which features Napoleon crowning Josephine—while singing about her “expensive fabrics”. Twitter user Queen Curly Fry points out the depth of this moment’s significance: Napoleon’s wife Josephine was crowned an empress while rocking expensive clothes during the coronation. Bey renting out the Louvre for a video and stunting head to toe in Burberry in front of many famous works of art could be seen as Bey getting her Josephine on.
Again, at face value, it could just be a slick reference intended for art history nerds. But considering Bey’s ancestry, it feels like a deeper statement about how Beyoncé has turned the pain of colonialism on its head, standing defiant.
2. The power and beauty of black women
One of the most evocative works to appear in the “Apeshit” visual is Jacque-Louis David’s 1799 painting, The Intervention of the Sabine Women, which is shown a number of times throughout the video. This particular piece illustrates a Roman story about a woman, Hersilia, intervening during a battle between her husband and her father. Her intervention forces her husband, Romulus, to think twice before striking her father with a spear and marked "a recognition of the power of women as peacemakers."
These images are juxtaposed with images of Bey’s dancers, empowered black women of all shades, be it on a staircase in the Louvre or alongside Bey in front of the aforementioned Coronation of Napoleon. Coming from a dominant artist like Bey whose career reflects a consistent effort to highlight the fierce black women in her art this is an affirmation of the power and beauty of black people, and black women in particular.
3. Love is strong
For an album that many view as the third installation— and musical conclusion—of JAY and Bey’s relationship saga following Lemonade and 4:44, there are a number of instances where the art featured seems to directly speak to what The Carters have been through together.
In a number of shots, JAY is seen standing in front of The Raft of Medusa, which captures the horrific spectacle of the Méduse, a shipwreck that resulted in just 15 people of the 147 set adrift surviving. It’s a piece that highlights the chaos and struggle the surviving passengers endured, which could be read as a metaphor for how JAY narrowly avoided ruining his marriage to Beyoncé when he repeatedly stepped out on her.
On the flipside, Bey kicks her verses while standing in front of Winged Victory of Samothrace while rocking a costume that mirrors what Victory is wearing in the statue. One could say that this symbolizes Bey emerging victorious from the battle—she endured a rough spot in her marriage and still came out on top. Maybe that’s why JAY and Bey are eventually seen standing in front of Venus de Milo (aka Aphrodite, the goddess of love) together.
4. Violence in the black community
Aside from Portrait of a Black Woman, the only images of black people we see in the museum depict them as animals or are otherwise problematic. This idea mirrors the French Slave trade (again, harkening back to Beyoncé’s creole heritage), where black people were effectively seen as “stock” for sale. Comparisons can also be drawn to police brutality and the senseless violence that has led to unarmed black people being killed on a regular basis, proving that black people are still seen by some as sub-human.
Images of black men kneeling while JAY takes shots at the NFL and explains why he turned down doing the Super Bowl are reminiscent of the National Anthem protests, which are still a heated debate topic in the NFL. It was rumored back in September of 2017 that JAY specifically turned down the NFL’s Super Bowl performance offer as a show of solidarity to Colin Kaepernick, who was the first in the NFL to protest the National Anthem, saying that he was simply "not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color."
With just a few images, Bey and JAY linked up centuries of oppression against black people, making the struggle relevant for today’s audience. Ultimately, you can see this video as the ultra-expensive sequel to Watch the Thone’s “Niggas in Paris,” but showcasing a much bigger, much more important flex. For a couple of people who were once seen as “gorillas” by the people highlighted in the imagery throughout the Louvre, Bey and JAY aggressively reclaim the space, using the opportunity to create a powerful visual statement that takes the past to task while shining light on the continuing persecution their people face today. The result is high concept hip-hop that’s much more than an empty flex.
For more stories unpacking The Carters new album, keep it locked right here to Complex News on YouTube as well as complex dot com. For Complex, I’m Frazier.