PARIS — How do we decide what is the world's top museum? Its size, prestige, collection, the number of visitors — and the way it showcases its brand. The Louvre remains champion. The latest music video from the world's most famous musical couple, Jay-Z and Beyoncé, is shot amid the museum's timeless masterpieces and along its storied halls, has created a bonafide cultural furor for the past week. The video for the song "Apeshit," from the Everything is Love album has ardent supporters; others think the whole scene is vulgar.
Not a word from the Louvre itself, as it conducts its affairs in silence, leaving the door open to questions of all kinds. Only one thing is certain: The reigning royals of music are at home in this former palace of kings. Among the questions going unanswered: The Louvre refuses to say how much money the couple paid. The regular rates are said to be around 40,000 euros for two nights. This figure may make experts chuckle, and yet, hundreds of minor shootings that take place each year in the museum only brought 260,000 euros in revenue in 2016 and 400,000 euros last year. The totals indeed are quite small in comparison to its annual revenue of 145 million euros, or recalling that the museum has been used as a set for Da Vinci Code (2006) and Wonder Woman (2017), whose main character is one of the Louvre's curators.
It is true that filming can only take place on Tuesdays, when the museum closes its doors to the public, or at night. And the only projects accepted are those that create added value for the museum. It would be highly unlikely, for example to see in on cinema screens some futuristic vehicle crashing into I.M. Pei's iconic pyramid.
The Louvre's officials note that they have no financial aspirations when it comes to film shoots. Meaning, they does not run after clients but rather lets the client come to them, which might explain why the revenues are so small. However, the museum changed its course in 2014, opening a "filming" service with a team of four. This comes as the Louvre's finances grow ever tighter, depending on visitors for revenues, as well as the state, which is constantly demanding that the museum find its own way to be self-sufficient.
It is mostly an advertisement.
However, perhaps with this music video, you can feel a hint of discomfort at the Louvre. It is not a film, and though there is music, it is mostly an advertisement for the couple's new album. Beyoncé and Jay-Z have already pushed the limits in respecting the elegance of this temple of ancient art. For instance, already back in 2013, Beyoncé admitted to having a fantasy of having sex in the museum; and a year later the couple booked the whole museum to visit it privately with their daughter. This video veers sharply from statements recently from the Louvre's president's, Jean-Luc Martinez, who said he wants to go back to the museum's fundamentals. We could just decide to agree that the definition of fundamentals is quite flexible.
Sure, Beyoncé and Jay-Z know the museum well, and the Louvre could say it was a shooting like any other. But this is no regular shoot — it is much more interesting. For the first time in a scripted and choreographed video, the Louvre is not just a set or decor, but a character equal to the human performers. You see the most famous paintings put forward, as well as the Galerie d'Apollon and its ceiling, the Daru staircase and Pei's pyramid.
For this reason alone, on top of the rental revenue earned, the Louvre has pulled off its best PR move in years. The tens of millions of views of the video on YouTube will translate into the world speaking about the museum for weeks, and millions of selfies to come of people posing in front of "that painting from the Beyoncé and Jay-Z video."
The Carters — Apeshit
In 2016, the Louvre was the most "Instagrammed" museum in the world, ahead of New York's MoMa and Metropolitan museum. In "Apeshit", Beyoncé and Jay-Z appear like privileged tourists, left to contemplate the Mona Lisa all alone. It is really quite perfect, a music video that manages to mix pop culture and high culture, commercial pursuits and high-end creativity. The director, Ricky Saiz, works in the worlds of advertising and fashion, and the choreographer is Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, a true master of dance. The couple wears glitzy outfits, but sits in a classic sofa designed by Pierre Paulin.
Last but not least are the 30 artworks we see in six minutes, which is quite a lot. Some are obvious Louvre classics. But other notable moments are when the camera stops on the black characters in paintings, mixed together with images of the video's black dancers. It is a touch of politics, and thus somehow gives the museum an unusual social role. We don't have to believe it, though the museum clearly does, and is preparing a tour of the video's location, starting in July. It is a surprising tandem indeed: Two musicians who create a stir and a museum that stays silent.