Our investment in Beyoncé and Jay-Z's relationship is just as valuable to them as our dedication to their music is. The cynics among us would describe their joint On The Run II tour (and the surprise album that dropped in the middle of it) as a really intelligent, almost sinister way to capitalise on that interest. That said, though, it'd be hard for even the most reluctant of pop culture spectators to pretend not to be interested in the third installment of one of the worlds most well-documented, chart-topping love stories.
The BeyHive, Club Carter and inherent believers in romance, though, might suggest it's simply an opportunity for a couple in love to cement their reconciliation after those two momentous albums, Lemonade and 4.44, about the drama that caused that infamous, elevator show-down. And while their enduring love is very much where our attention is directed - calling the album Everything Is Love is a heady statement in itself - behind the images of stolen kisses, purposeful hand holding and lyrical reaffirmation of their post-fidelity union, the real message from the Carters' first record is one of irrevocable power.
Allow us to re-welcome you to the Louvre, but not as you know it. In the visuals for Apeshit, the second song from the new album, the Carters take us on a tour of the sacred home of Western art. The song is dripping in the sweet hip-hop arrogance the genre feeds on - we rich, we famous, we happy, we in control. But in the video this command of wealth and identity is boasted in a poignant nod to the historic, cultural context that Beyoncé and Jay-Z have grown out of.
We take a whistle-stop tour of history's most celebrated masterpieces, however this time the likes of The Mona Lisa, the Portrait of Madame Récamier, and The Coronation of Napoleon fade into near obscurity. In some scenes you'd be forgiven for not even noticing the centuries old oil paintings in the background. In the Apeshit video Jay and Bey take this Parisian pinnacle of predominantly white art and claim it as their own. They've made themselves at home in history and have redefined it's significance through a decisively black lens.
Beyoncé and her dancers - all women of colour - move in fluid formation in front of the giant Jacques-Louis David Coronation of Napoleon painting and you barely notice it's there. Sat on the floor in a huge white dress beneath the famed Winged Victory of Samothrace, Beyoncé raps, juts and commands our attention towards her now aptly owning the space that the sculpture built to honour Nike, the Goddess of Victory used to preside over. She joins Jay-Z before the armless Venus de Milo and the Great Sphinx of Tanis whose otherwise distinguished presence is only peeped when the gaps in Beyoncé's movements allow.
There's a brief yet important shot of a group of performers taking a knee in reference to the NFL football players' series of protests against police brutality. The only artwork the Carters don't physically position themselves in front of is Marie-Guillemine Benoist's Portrait d'une Négresse; a portrait of a black woman looking as intently at us as we are at her. This, one of the Louvre's few signposts to people of colour, holds its own significance that the Carter's don't need to redirect.
The most poignant reference to black culture within a typically white space takes place in front of the Mona Lisa, though. Where Beyoncé and Jay-Z repeatedly appear hand in hand, nonchalantly staring into the barrel of the camera wearing pastel coloured suits that forcefully direct our attention to the foreground, we later see a woman combing a man's hair with an afro pick. It's an intimate and poignant expression of the black ownership of a space that blackness is made to feel intrusive. It's a statement of belonging in a realm that the black community have frequently been excluded from. And it's the affirmation of the power held between the Carters as The Carters, as reinforced by their shared identity with this anonymous a man and woman, that allows them to place themselves there.
Apeshit's lyrics reiterate the sentiment, of course. 'I can't believe we made it, this is why we thankful', Beyoncé raps. 'Give me my cheque, put some respect on my cheque', she says. 'I said no to the Super Bowl, you need me I don't need you', Jay-Z adds in his verse. 'Tell the Grammys f_ck that 0 for 8 sh_t', he says in reference to his zero wins despite 8 nominations for his 4.44 album. The Carters need not bother themselves with the fickle, unwelcoming world of mainstream entertainment when they've just staged an unopposed coup of the Louvre. They've come a long way from 2002's Bonnie and Clyde, but their status as power couple is now being defined by it's lack of physical or financial parameters.
Everything Is Love drives home this idea of a lasting power that Jay-Z and Beyoncé have built (and proved) for themselves. It's endurance is a huge part of their relationship story, their new family and their public reconciliation post- Becky with the good hair. It's a legacy that they're confidently driving the narrative around and no, of course there are no signs of slowing down. They're confident, they're aware and they know that we know just how important they are, too. 'Don't need to ask you heard about us', Beyoncé sings in the intro to _Heard About Us. '_I can do anything', co-producer Phaerell Williams sings repeatedly in Nice.
Their power comes from what has passed - the song titled 713 is a reference to Beyonce's hometown of Houston's area code, both Beyoncé and Jay lyrically reference Hip Hop greats Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre in 713, Black Effect regularly cites the influence of Martin Luther King and Malcom X and of course the album is peppered in reference to their various relationship woes. But their authority is also deeply rooted in what they have ahead. Blue Ivy holds a significance presence in this record, and beyond their existing children, well - 'My great-great-grandchildren already rich. That’s a lot of brown children on your Forbes list', Beyoncé slurs in Boss.
There has never been a moment that Beyoncé and Jay-Z haven't been in control of this narrative, and that's in part why they've managed to sustain such a level of influence and we've all been so eager to be a part of it. Under the guise of a turbulent love story's happy ending, this has always been about power, their kingdom and the untouchable Carter empire. The fact that Everything Is Love is bookended with the two most romantically referential songs Summer and LoveHappy isn't a coincidence.
In their respective Lemonade and 4.44 albums we watched them assert themselves as powerful, defiant and self-assured individuals performing a shared relationship story though separate perspectives that all the while crucially signposted issues of race and black belonging as equally important drivers of their music. Against this backdrop, Everything Is Love is about what they're able to do together as a romantic couple and parents for sure, but most significantly as a united living breathing legacy in music and the wider culture.
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