Breaking Down the Hidden Meaning in Beyoncé and JAY-Z's 'APESH*T' Video
In their "APESHIT" video, there's a reason why Beyoncé and JAY-Z specifically chose to film it at The Louvre in France. Here's a look at how Bey and JAY used their knowledge in the arts to drive home deeper messages about black oppression, female empowerment, and more.
To accompany the surprise release of their long-awaited collaborative album, Everything Is Love, Beyoncé and JAY-Z (or, The Carters) unleashed a powerful visual for one of the Pharrell-produced tracks, “Apeshit,” which was shot at the Louvre in Paris.
Even without a visual reference, the lyrics to “Apeshit” read as a testament to black excellence; as artists, both Bey and JAY have made crowds go “apeshit” the world over, both via their releases and during their live shows. The longevity of their success as artists has made the two of them incredibly wealthy, which has resulted in the pair moving in different, more refined circles—circles that include fellow artists like Swizz Beatz, who can drop a couple mill on a piece of art, for example. Hell, on 2017’s “The Story of O.J.,” Hov spoke on how the artwork he’s purchased has increased in worth over the last few years, dividends that he plans on passing down to his children.
I bought some artwork for one million
Two years later, that shit worth two million
Few years later, that shit worth eight million
I can't wait to give this shit to my children
Hov even turned his Magna Carta... Holy Grail single “Picasso Baby,” a song about his growing love for art, into a performance art piece alongside Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović.
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.
Even if you aren’t an art historian, you’ve probably heard of the Louvre; It’s 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.
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.
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 (just look at the Lemonade film, featuring everyone from Serena Williams to Michaela DePrince), this is an affirmation of the power and beauty of black people, and black women in particular.
Love is strong
For an album that many view as the third installation— and musical conclusion—of JAY and Bey’s relationship saga (following Beyoncé’s 2016 opus Lemonade and JAY-Z’s side of the story in 2017’s 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 (Nike) 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.
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, hearkening back to Beyoncé’s Creole heritage), where black bodies 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 (“I said no to the Super Bowl, you need me, I don’t need you / Every night we in the endzone, tell the NFL we in stadiums too”) 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."
Ultimately, you can see this video as the ultra-expensive sequel to Watch the Throne’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.