By Rachel Smiles
Filmed back in May of 2018, and made public in June of the same year, Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s music video for APESH*T still continues to have a cultural impact today. Shot entirely in and around the Louvre Art Museum in Paris, the six-minute music video parallels striking images of classical artwork and perfectly in sync dance sequences.
The artwork is featured in a variety of ways; the Carters flank Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, remaining largely motionless but mimicking her famous smirk. Jacques-Louis David’s Madame Recamier is centred in a stunning shot during a few moments of a silence in the music video – as the camera slowly zooms in on the painting and the two black dancers sitting poised beneath it, dressed in head wraps that have the potential to evoke the image of servants or slaves. The image is not too different from the short yet piercing gaze of Marie- Guillemine Benoist’s Portrait d’une Négresse, which when intercut with the images of the Carters smiling gleefully among their success and lyrics such as “Can’t believe we made it,” creates a powerful dynamic of change and of representation.
The music video recontextualised not only Western classical art and its set of largely Eurocentric aesthetics, but exposed classical art to the world of pop culture. The Mona Lisa, for fans of Beyoncé and Jay Z, is now more than just a famous Renaissance painting but is associated with this relevant billionaire duo. The 188 million people that have so far viewed the APESH*T music video were more than likely watching it for the content of the music duo – rather than a musical tour through a French art museum. And yet the Louvre has reaped the rewards in the time since the measly $17,500 one-day shoot, with visitor numbers rising by 25% to 10.2 million in 2018 (more than any museum has had before). The Louvre even has a dedicated tour designed to cover all of the shots from the video – certain to attract avid fans.
Did the Carters manage to redefine what a museum is and what its artwork can represent in today’s world? This may be one of the clever ploys to keep museums and galleries relevant and thriving in the 21st century, but we must question at what cost? The music video – if we can assume the large increase in visitor numbers can almost entirely be attributed to it – certainly brought about a renaissance of sorts of classical art appreciation, especially to a wider audience that perhaps would not have cared for it before. The debate is whether these new visitors truly appreciate the art, or just wish to see the set of a famous music video – can we judge that? Amidst the potential for social and political statements in the music video, it’s just trying to make classical art ‘cool’ – evident in the final shot of the Carters turning to admire and appreciate the Mona Lisa.