In November of 2017, Jay-Z teased a possible joint-album with his wife Beyoncé, telling The New York Times, “We were using our art almost like a therapy session, and we started making music together.” The Beyhive hasn’t been able to stop buzzing about it since.
And in the (now) tradition of unexpected Beyoncé releases, the Carter family surprised the world by dropping a full-length album (nine tracks, plus a bonus track) called Everything is Love, as well as a visually stunning music video to accompany its lead single, Apesh*t.
Oscar Wilde once said, “One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art,” but this power couple is demonstrating that one can both be and wear works of art, in front of art, in the art world’s most significant institution, the Louvre.
The world wasn’t ready for the video’s bold styling choices by stylist Zerina Akers, which reimagined Beyoncé as some of art’s most powerful subjects, from Venus de Milo to Nike of Samothrace. It wasn’t ready for black bodies in a traditionally white-centric space, or the challenge to other white-centric institutions like the NFL and the Grammys.
Not only was this astonishing video a confident declaration that the Carter family has “made it”, but black empowerment and identity politics played a central role in the narrative. Standing in front of world-renowned art pieces in custom designs and couture clothes, Beyoncé and Jay-Z established their place in the hierarchy of art. Below is a breakdown of who made the video’s most powerful looks and the meaning behind them.
Staged in front of Jacques-Louis David’s The Coronation of Napoleon, Beyoncé swayed her hips in a revealing bra and legging look by Burberry. In the painting, Napoleon Bonaparte can be seen crowning his wife Josephine as Empress. During his reign, Napoleon was concerned with reviving the dying silk textile industry in Lyon, France.
Aware that luxury could be a powerful political tool, he insisted that Empress Josephine wear silk – even though the fabric was not to her liking – thereby urging French citizens to respond in kind by embracing “expensive fabrics” and reviving France’s place as a preeminent textile manufacturer. Liberated from patriarchal dress codes, Beyoncé’s two-piece look is a radical act.
In this sequence, Beyoncé wears a complete MCM look custom created by celebrity stylist Misa Hylton, which features a bustier, shorts, a hat, earrings, and a trench coat all made from MCM ‘Viseto’s fabric. In ancient Egyptian culture, the Sphinx, pictured in the background, represents a living image of the king.
In this shot, Jay-Z and Beyoncé claim their throne as the King and Queen. Jay-Z’s stance in the background and Beyoncé’s position in the foreground signifies that this King is comfortable with his Queen taking the spotlight’s shine, thereby representing an supportive relationship. The survival and repair of their marriage is central to their message of “black excellence”.
In one of our favorite moments of the music video, Beyoncé reclines against Jay-Z in a full Versace look, reimagining herself as the Portrait of a Negress painted by Marie-Guillemine Benoist in 1800.
It was one of the very few portrayals of a black woman who wasn’t a slave in early 19th century art. Here she is owning her black identity, acknowledging the anglocentric nature of neoclassical art, and rewriting its rules.
Stephane Rolland & Alexis Mabille
One of the most powerful moments of the video takes place on the steps leading up to the sculpture of The Winged Victory of Samothrace. She is wearing an extravagant wedding dress by Stephane Rolland worth roughly $140,000, perhaps in a nod to her recent marriage vow renewal with Jay-Z that is part of the video backdrop to their On the Run II tour.
The look is accessorized with a ruffled cape by Alexis Mabille Haute Couture. In several shots, first with models splayed out on the steps and moving to the music, and again with Beyoncé stripping off her jacket and thrashing around holding her ivory folded skirt, she embodies the Greek goddess of Victory – Nike of Samothrace — both literally and figuratively.
In the beginning and end of the music video, Beyoncé and Jay-Z are positioned in front of the Louvre’s most famous work, the Mona Lisa. At first, their backs are turned to the painting – they are the central focus of the shot upstaging the valuable art piece. She is wearing a pink suit by Peter Pilotto and an “ice ornament” by Messika – a look which represents both the masculine (by way of tailored menswear) and the feminine (by way of its pink hue and the diamond choker that tops the ensemble).
At the end of the video, they turn to face the Mona Lisa, returning her steady gaze back. From start to finish, they have infiltrated the Louvre and demonstrated their own artistic vision, showing that modern art can also be a form of entertainment and that black art has just as much right to be elevated as any other.