Laurie and Debbie say:
First things first. The video of “Apeshit,” from The Carters’ new album, Everything Is Love, is at the top of this post. Watch and listen.
Let’s look at what Beyoncé and Jay Z have done. By filming this in the Louvre, possibly the most famous museum of western art in the world, by choosing some of the most iconic art of Europe to work with, they have placed themselves and their work in “the canon,” that powerful, hard-to-define, frequently criticized bastion of art critics and pundits. “The canon” has historically been what a comparatively small group of mostly white, mostly male scholars and public intellectuals say it is.
And the first rule of the canon is “No one can put themselves in the canon.” No one can write a book or make a piece of visual art or create music and declare that they have added to the canon; the canon only exists because of the people who are usually not artists, who claim the right to define it.
The second rule of the canon is that the further outside the mainstream of white male art your work is, the harder time you will have getting a foothold, and the more grateful you have to be if any of the gatekeepers even breathe the idea that your work might belong there.
Enter Beyoncé and Jay Z, two brilliant artists and social commentators whose work is loved and admired around the globe, whose work (especially Beyoncé’s) is both extremely popular and highly regarded. Fortune magazine recently called Beyoncé “the most powerful woman in the music industry.” But her work is not generally taught in college classrooms outside of specialized studies (popular culture, hip-hop, African-American studies). It’s not regularly invoked in discussions of 21st century art trends … not, in short, in the music industry’s equivalent of the Louvre (where we would probably only find symphonic and operatic music, most of it a century old or more).
As you watch the video, you see how the Carters didn’t just use the Louvre as a video set, they made it their own. They used the art and the stairs and the walls and the ceilings; they re-envisioned the museum as the backdrop for what they wanted to do. And they made a video that is going to affect tens of thousands of museum-goers for a long time: if you watch “Apeshit” more than a couple of times, it will affect how you see the Louvre if you ever get there.
They wrote themselves into the canon in a way that no one can erase. And they did it with what certainly looks like supreme confidence, as well as extraordinary artistry. And then, to crown their achievement, they simply presented it to their audience: Look what we can do with one of the world’s great spaces.