beyoncé and jay z’s everything is love is actually all about money
On their new album -- the third act of their relationship -- instead of a new-found stronger love, we find lyrics about wealth and the power that it brings.
Still from the video for Apeshit
Many of us sighed collectively one Sunday morning a few months back when, bleary-eyed, having set alarms to watch Beyoncé claim Coachella as her own at 7am UK time and witnessed a completely unforgettable show, Jay Z strolled out languidly, with some sort of audible sore throat, to perform his less impressive feature on Déjà Vu. We sighed again when Beyoncé announced that her UK tour wouldn’t be a solo one, but On the Run II, despite surely having enough intel to know that what the people really want is another show from her and her alone. When, after the second live show at the London Stadium, a new album was announced, we sighed a third time after rushing back to Tidal to find that the record was yet another collaboration with her husband, a man most of us are still trying to forgive after the emotional rollercoaster that was, and still continues to be, Lemonade .
Everything Is Love, a nine track album accompanied by one suitably stylistically intense video for Apeshit, sees Beyoncé sing very little but instead almost match Jay Z bar for bar. Beyoncé can rap, she can sing operatically, her vocals and her live performances are pretty much unrivalled. They’re exciting, unforgettable, they’re structurally sound, they’re well researched, they have context and meaning -- her previously-mentioned Coachella performance was one of the biggest, richest displays of black history and black pride we’ve ever seen. There’s something about her voice combined with her way of introducing all of her fans to new concepts without any aggressive didacticism that’s astonishing; she is so trusted to do what’s right, to lead the way, and to stylishly explore the otherwise buried events of black history through song.
The Everything Is Love cover artwork is inarguably striking, beautiful and tender, showing two dancers seen in the video; a black woman in nude tones tenderly picking the hair of a black man with an afro comb while the Mona Lisa observes peacefully in the background. An image of black intimacy. You don’t have to know a great deal about high art, nor do you have to have visited The Louvre, where the picture was taken, to understand that this sort of art is seen as ‘important’ and that, although America’s class system isn’t as rigid as the British one, high art is universally seen as out of reach of and inaccessible to people of colour.
“When we get into the new album, the third act of their relationship, what we’d expect to be lyrics about their new, stronger love are instead lyrics about wealth.”
The black experience within high art has never been an inclusive one. Poet Momtaza Mehri put it best on Twitter when, in the context of the video for Apeshit, she shared Visiting Hours by Essex Hemphill, a poem through the lens of of a black night gallery watchman who is “expected to die, if necessary / protecting European artwork / that robbed colour and movement / from my life.” What are Beyoncé and Jay Z saying, here? That black people have finally claimed their place in traditionally white space and culture? Money will do that for you.
Everything Is Love is surely about exactly that, right? We’ve had Lemonade, where Beyoncé lays the breakdown of love out on the table. 4:44 follows, where Jay Z apologises profusely for everything he’s done. When we get into the new album, the third act of their relationship, what we’d expect to be lyrics about their new, stronger love are instead lyrics about wealth. “We measure success by how many people successful next to you,” they rap; what about the people watching you, though? Does our success matter? Later, Beyoncé sings “my great-great-grandchildren already rich / that’s a lot of brown children on your Forbes list”. At the beginning of Pretty Hurts, Beyoncé told a beauty pageant audience that her aspiration in life was to “be happy”, an ideal that is mainly attainable for all of us. What’s our aspiration now, though? To make enough money to keep our descendants so rich that a magazine will publish and celebrate their wealth?
So many songs are written about love. The incredible Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is peppered with the voices of wide-eyed schoolchildren talking about love the way you did when you had no idea how brutal it could be. Here, Black Effect begins with a beautiful ode to it, starting with the voice of an older woman who tells us about the many forms love takes. “Love of self / Love of God / Love of a partner / …And there’s love of humanity / That’s the love that is right now needed most.” Her words and their delivery are breathtaking, and the song quickly slips into Jay Z remarking that, in fact, he is ‘the culture’. Then we’re back on money again.
So many poems are recited, so many pictures are painted and countless stories told about love; the all encompassing feeling that we should have and hold. Lemonade was about what happens when love breaks down. Hold Up was the anthem for women who’ve been cheated on despite giving their partners their all; “what a wicked way / to treat the girl who loves you,” Beyoncé sang, wielding a baseball bat sexily, wickedly and menacingly. What Lemonade did -- through Beyoncé’s pain, her admittance of weakness, and the dropping of her guard -- was unite women who knew her trauma too well, and who have gone through the unimaginable.
“Striving for success while black is a necessary and appreciated thing, given that most avenues to success are blocked and/or littered with obstacles.”
What is Everything Is Love actually saying to us about love? It seems to be saying a great deal about pride, about power, and about money. Everything Is Love is markedly less uniting than Lemonade was. Lemonade was about freedom as much as it was about anything else, but that message seems to be blurred in Everything Is Love. As @_ShamGod said on Twitter, “[The Carters] sell capitalist aspiration AND liberation aesthetics in the same breath. It’s a wild tightrope act." Money can buy a lot, but it can’t buy freedom.
Striving for success is a brilliant thing. Striving for success while black is a necessary and appreciated thing, given that most avenues to success are blocked and/or littered with obstacles. The drive felt from seeing that people like you are able to succeed is unrivalled. But at the same time, there’s being successful, and then there’s being Beyoncé and Jay Z -- one of the richest couples in the world, whose combined wealth we could probably do without hearing about on seven out of nine tracks. Realistically, none of us are going to be Beyoncé, but we are all going to know the pain sung about in Lemonade and not the money rapped about in Everything Is Love.