A similar kind of grandstanding surrounds the occasion of the new album’s release. Or the lack of occasion. In the tradition of Beyoncé’s previous two albums, Everything Is Love came seemingly out of nowhere — without proper warning, on a summer evening in the middle of June, on the eve of Father’s Day. Instantly, it became the occasion. It can feel as though a world-shaking surprise album like this is born out of the gravitational interactions between the Sun, Moon, and Earth -- after all, if anyone is sublimely in touch with the universe, it is Beyoncé. But these things are meticulously planned; the Carters, as they’re billing themselves, direct the elements. The timing of Everything is Love points to the couple's desire for dominion over the summer -- one already filled with high-profile releases -- and predominance over the culture.
So why this album right now? Well, hip-hop’s first couple is in the throes of a joint-tour, and it makes sense that they would use their shared stage to launch music they made together — though, really, that only seems like a partial explanation. The tour is a few stops in and will continue through October. It’s hard to fathom that JAY-Z and Beyoncé, as shrewd and purposeful as they are, would put their long-awaited joint album out on the second night of back-to-back shows in London just ‘cause.
Likewise, it hardly seems coincidental that the album’s release bisected a string of five releases from Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music. Everything Is Love at once upends a former close friend (West, whose relationship with the Carters has been strained by Tidal disputes and the couple’s absence at his 2014 wedding to Kim Kardashian); casts a shadow over a former nemesis (Nas, who famously beefed with JAY-Z and released his first album in six years, Nasir, on Friday as a part of the series); and reinforces their status, or at least Beyoncé’s status, as music’s true event-level release.
On Everything Is Love’s final track, “LOVEHAPPY,” JAY-Z and Beyoncé trade verses: “Move the whole family West, but it's whatever/ Hova, Beysus, watch the thrones.” The line is an arrow, serving two functions: piercing Kanye West, Hov’s former thronemate, and pointing the Carters’ way upwards. In the midst of the album’s plumy melodies is ruthless posturing.
That’s true even of the album’s delivery method: By releasing the record only on JAY-Z’s Tidal streaming service -- non-subscribers can pay to download the album from Tidal’s store, as it’s not available on iTunes -- Bey and Jay are forcing listeners to adhere to their terms, to meet them on their turf. (As Beyoncé puts in on “NICE”: “My success can’t be quantified/ If I gave two fucks about streaming numbers, would’ve put Lemonade up on Spotify.”)
Listening to Everything Is Love can feel like a window into the relationship of a royal couple. The pair is infatuated with each other, but they seem to be more infatuated with power — what the other represents, what they represent together, what they represent historically. “SUMMER” winds up being a rare moment of barely bridled sensual intimacy on an album full of verses that find the couple trumpeting their own majesty and legacy. On “713,” JAY-Z raps, “Last name 'gon be here forever, now we finna float like feathers” and, later, “Black queen, you rescued us, you rescued us, rescued us.”
In addition to Everything Is Love, on Saturday the Carters released a non-album track called “SALUD!” and a music video for the album’s second song, “APESHIT.” The video was filmed in the Louvre, and it finds the pair posing and moving regally alongside, and in front of, various iconic artworks. In 2013, JAY-Z made a show of confronting art viewers in The Met. This trip to the museum, he and Beyoncé are interacting with the artworks themselves; wearing pastel suits and sparkly jewelry, they are, for instance, infusing the Mona Lisa with color. Various screenshots from the video could, if they haven’t already, become memes. And when that happens, Beyonce and JAY-Z will have virtually transposed themselves onto the walls of the institution, claiming their place in history. They are more than a wave.