Is Like the Satisfying Finale of a Prestige Drama
Even if the Carters’ series already hit its peak.
Listening to Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s first joint album as the Carters, Everything Is Love, is a lot like watching the series finale of a prestige-cable drama that you’ve been following for years. You could say the series premiered May 12, 2014, with the leak of the infamous Solange elevator video, which first tipped a broader public off to the turmoil afoot among the Carter-Knowles clan. Or you could date it back to whenever you first started investing your own feelings in this royal marriage, one like no other in American pop. Like many such shows, it’s a tale about the internal conflicts and machinations of a high-rolling family, whose story becomes a kind of extended metaphor for the fraught dynamics of American society.
The consensus is that it reached its dramatic and artistic peak in 2016’s Lemonade season, premiered on HBO, in which the female lead unleashed a barrage of charges against her inconstant leading man and the violence of racist patriarchy. A segment of the audience will also stand up for last year’s slower-moving but reflective 4:44 storyline, Jay-Z’s look at black masculine repentance and healing under the pressures of white supremacy. So the question with Everything Is Love becomes the signature one of peak TV: Did they stick the landing? Is it an audacious wrench like the Sopranos’ inconclusive blackout, a narrative fiasco like the end of Lost, or a Six Feet Under–style sentimental summation? (Or, more aptly: however Empire turns out to end?)
You’ve probably guessed. It’s the weepy affirmation. What else could it be from these strivers? Like the fifth act of a hip-hop and R&B Shakespearean comedy, Everything Is Love finds our lovers reunited, their misunderstandings resolved, their vows renewed (Beyoncé: “you fucked up the first stone/ we had to get remarried”), and their family looking ahead to decades of more peaceful prosperity. Outrageous, multiple-mansioned, diamonds-and-watches-and-Lambos prosperity, symbolically tied to an agenda of black capitalism as racial uplift and reparations.
The album’s arrival was perfectly calibrated to bring back memories of some of the series’ strongest moments: Saturday’s London stop on the couple’s On the Run II Tour climaxed with a massive, bold projection of the words Album Out Now. Once again a work no one had been sure was even in the works suddenly arrived as an exclusive on the Carters’ own proprietorial streaming service, Tidal. Beyoncé had pulled another Beyoncé, a usage she winks to (with some grammatical wiggle room) on the simultaneous, nonalbum, standalone single, “Salud!,” in which she toasts to “when your name is a verb.”
And of course the release came with a visual component, like Beyoncé’s past two surprise albums. In this case, it’s an eye-inebriating video for one of the album’s best, most invigorating songs, “Apeshit,” with its surefire tagline to generate stadium shrieks, “Have you ever seen a crowd going apeshit?” In the video, directed by Ricky Saiz (who last worked with Bey on 2013’s “Yoncé” video), the couple stages an occupation of the Louvre like a postcolonial Napoleon and Josephine. They frame their radiant presences and their dancers’ beautiful black bodies as the equals and betters of centuries of Western art masterpieces, by extension reclaiming and revenging themselves on a whole history of cultural exclusion and imperialism. Albeit, since this is the Carters (note the consolidated surname), not so much to destroy that heritage as to merge with and overtake it—as Beyoncé sings on “Lovehappy,” the album closer, “We came, and we saw, and we conquered it all.” Veni, vidi, vici, or however that’s conjugated in the plural and pluralistic.