Long Reads

This is the significance of Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s Apes**t video

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Bolu Babalola
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Beyoncé and Jay Z in their new music video for Apeshit filmed in the Louvre

“It is a brazen, smug and mocking guffaw in the face of the lies of white supremacy”

The Carters are disrespectful. They have spread themselves across the world’s largest museum and brought their people to lay on its steps, skin to marble, like it’s their home. They will throw a trap rave, lavish, hectic and pulsing, for The Great Sphinx of Tanis, which has the head of a king and the body of a lion, to witness. They will not give a damn about its majesty because, to quote Jay-Z in No Church In The Wild, “what’s a king to a god?” Its power cowers in the face of theirs.

The couple’s sovereignty is asserted through opulent gowns sweeping the floor, the prowling of the foregrounds like they are guarding what is theirs, and daring us to question them if we bad. The Louvre is now Carter Regis. This is Apes**t.

Braggadocio, ownership, control, its possession and its abandon, being bold with blackness, wealth, love and what that powerful trifecta creates when it is melded into the juggernaut that is Beyoncé (and Jay-Z ). It is not a radical statement - anything that is reliant on the possession of wealth is inherently incapable of being so - but it is potent. 

“They have brought their people to lay on its steps, skin to marble, like it’s their home.”

The Louvre represents Western high-culture, and is a site that has historically created an uncomfortable environment for black people to visit. It does this not only through colonial memories (the only pre-20th Century painting that portrays a black person as the main focus is Portrait of A Negress, featured in the video), but also through lingering vestiges of white supremacy, insidious societal notions of respectability that shut black people out of art in general. In Anne Braginin’s Of Art And Plunder, a black curator states that white curators “control the narrative” of art. Broadening this out further, historically “black” forms of art such as hip hop are considered low-brow, palatable, or as one curator describes, “subsumed, buried in the smoke of global pop-culture”.

In a voluminous, structurally majestic white dress, Beyoncé dances jerkily in front of The Winged Victory of Samthrace, a sculpture of the Greek goddess of Victory. The movements look deceptively frantic, bordering on the verge of mirroring the sporadic movements of a receiver of the Holy Ghost - but this seeming abandon is controlled. It is an exercise of freedom, and in physically positioning herself in front of this statue, not only is Beyoncé placing black art in the forefront of this traditionally and culturally white space, but she is also positing herself as a rightful usurper.

This isn’t so much de-colonisation, but a retaliatory assertion of power, reparational plunder. Yes, that is a 2,000 year old statue of the goddess of Victory in all her Hellenistic glory, but in front of her is 36-year-old Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter, Queen of Whatever She Touches, Black Woman Hero, Baddest In The Game, H-Town Vicious. She literally overshadows and overpowers Niké, claiming victory over Victory herself, rapping in swaggering tones over a brash trap beat, “you can’t be toppin’ (her) reign”.

“The Louvre is a site that has historically created an uncomfortable environment for black people to visit”

White supremacy is a liar. Diamonds drip blood and palaces are built from bone, and yet it still posits Western culture as the pinnacle of all that is civil. Through its contorted lens, where whiteness is viewed as proper and orderly, blackness is tainted as animalistic, brutish, wild, unevolved. “Monkey” is bandied as a slur. In 2013 in France, the country where Apes**t was filmed, the then-Justice Minister, Christiane Taubira, a black woman, was compared to an ape by a member of a far-right party. So when Jay-Z raps, “I’m a gorilla in the f**kin’ coupe,” and makes reference to Rafiki, the wise baboon in Lion King, whilst swaggering outside the Louvre pyramid, it is a brazen, smug and mocking guffaw in the face of the lies of white supremacy. Respectability is a fallacy designed to oppress, shut out, so why not have fun whilst destroying it, go apes**t in the Louvre whilst decked in designer threads and diamonds, “living lavish” in front of pieces of art worth millions? The Carters can, so the Carters will.

“It is a brazen, smug and mocking guffaw in the face of the lies of white supremacy”

In Picasso Baby, from his 2013 album Magna Carta Holy Grail, Jay-Z raps, “house like the Louvre… ‘cause I be going ape at the auction… sleeping every night next to Mona Lisa” and here, in the space of Apes**t at least, The Carters and all they represent - black wealth, black love, black feminine power - look right at home. Black women, led in formation by Beyoncé, move fluidly in front of The Coronation of Napoleon, with command, grace and regality. 

In the painting behind them, Josephine de Beauharnais kneels for her husband to crown her; before her, black women are an authority onto themselves. Intimate frames of a black couple kissing, the man’s head cradled against the woman’s chest as the woman combs an afro-pick through her lover’s hair, are interspersed between scenes of a bejewelled and finery-cloaked Bey and Jay at the Louvre. The pair are shown rapping together, standing together, sitting together with their hands clasped and dancing together (or rather, Beyoncé is dancing while Jay-Z stands by in support, which is understandable because how could you dance next to Beyoncé and look anything short of a flailing buffoon?) 

The alchemy of their closeness and strength as a couple, combined with their wealth and cultural capital, manifests in a power that enables them to commandeer an institution. Their love is beautiful, black and rich as f**k and they’re going to show off about it, go off about it, sound off about it, loudly, over a thrashing, frenetic trap beat.

At the start of Apes**t we sweep into the Salle de Etas and see Beyoncé (and Jay-Z), gazing stoically towards us, stood before one of the most iconic images in the world. The Mona Lisa stares between them and their clasped hands, her inscrutability challenging theirs. The frame poses a question: who can match the iconic duo that is team Carter? During the last few seconds of Apes**t the couple smirk to the camera while leaning on each other, and then laugh to themselves, as if mocking the question itself. In Picasso Baby, Jay-Z likens Beyoncé to Mona Lisa. The Apes**t video asserts that there is no comparison. The Carters are disrespectful - and here, disrespect is power. 

Images: Beyonce Vevo/Youtube