On this collaborative album from Beyoncé and Jay-Z, the overarching mood is that of pure joy
Any casual viewer of Ru Paul’s Drag Race will know that Beyoncé does not go down well on Snatch Game. Whenever queens have tried to impersonate the mega-star in the past (the entire challenge revolves around doing celebrity impressions), their imitations have always fallen horrifically flat, devoid of any catchphrase or real context to hinge on. It’s probably because Beyoncé is one of the most guarded pop stars out there, and actually, nobody knows much about her.
It says a lot when you can name 20 Bey songs without knowing a single one of her strange habits or quirks of personality, and for a long time her stardom has rested on those mysterious foundations. It’s the reason why 2016’s ‘Lemonade’ – a masterpiece – came as such a genuine surprise. The record went in on Bey’s own personal life, ripping apart the mythologised perfection of her marriage to Jay-Z, and suggesting, in no uncertain terms, that the rapper cheated on her. With a little more distance, Beyoncé’s decision to save the most scandalous details to feed her own art makes total sense. She is, and always has been, a perfectionist – as well as an artist who has always told her story on her own terms.
When Jay-Z responded to ‘Lemonade’ with his own side of events on comeback album ‘4:44’, he produced some of his best and most introspective work to date. It was a far cry from the self-assured, often arrogant Jay that first rose up; here was a record that showed him at his most vulnerable, directly addressing personal subjects such as his mother coming out as gay and his shortcomings as a husband. Just like ‘Lemonade’, it was a true artistic revelation.
Completing the third corner of the triangle – the final piece of the Bey-Jay marriage trilogy, if you will – is ‘Everything is Love’. A collaborative album between the pair, it’s the antithesis to ‘Lemonade’’s dramatic scorn and ‘4:44’s wounded dissection of human flaws. Instead, the overarching mood of this record is pure joy. Not only have Jay-Z and Beyoncé worked through their demons and seemingly emerged a stronger pair than ever, they’ve also shot the video for lead single, ‘Apeshit’, in the flippin’ Louvre. “Your every move is on the news, ain’t it?/ Shit has its perks too, ain’t it?/Shootin’ videos in the Louvre, ain’t it?” quips Jay on ‘Heard About Us’.
Often, ‘Everything is Love’ revels in the power The Carters have over, well, everything. On ‘Friends’, we’re told that their house resembles the exclusive members club SoHo House, while ‘Apeshit’ sees Beyoncé nodding nonchalantly towards the $40million dollar private jet she casually bought Jay-Z for his birthday. Despite the bombardment of luxury watches and other displays of wealth, though, ‘Everything is Love’ doesn’t feel arrogant. Instead, The Carters often use what seems like braggadocio as a jumping point, leading into a wider discussion about how they choose to use their platform. The answer: they use it to elevate their black peers. “My great-great-grandchildren already rich / That’s a lot of brown children on your Forbes list,” Bey raps on ‘Boss’, pointing towards the legacy of the couple’s cultural dominance. Later on in the chorus, she even comes close to cracking a joke. “Ain’t nothing to it,” she repeatedly deadpans. It’s safe to say that anybody who witnessed her Coachella show – a flawlessly executed lesson in sweat, graft, and raw talent honed over many, many years – will have a hard job taking this at face value. Of all the artists occupying pop’s highest echelons, you suspect that Beyoncé is among the most hard-working.
‘Everything is Love’ may lack the immediate impact of Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s respective solo latest records, but it’s still interesting to see two of the biggest stars in the world relax. Singing a hook from ‘Still D.R.E’ on ‘713’ (Jay-Z was a co-writer on the iconic rap track), Beyoncé is the dexterous star of the show. Jay-Z, adding extra clout to her words, has switched laboured for laid-back. There’s nothing glitzy here; it all just works. The whole record was reportedly pieced together during hurried recording sessions in Paris and Cardiff as the pair were putting the finishing touches to their current On The Run II tour, with parts still being recorded as little as three hours ahead of its release. Evidence of that spontaneity is everywhere on an an album that holds happiness highest of all.
Telling their own story in their own time, The Carters show that they’ve reached the top by following their own rules. “We came, and we saw, and we conquered it all,” Beyoncé sings in the closing lines, on ‘LoveHappy’. “We came, and we conquered, now we’re happy in love”. When it comes to rounding off a three-piece epic, you can’t say fairer than that.
Release date: June 16
Label: Parkwood / Sony / SC / Roc Nation