Header image: Album art on display at the MoMA, the ‘Blonde’ cover starring Frank Ocean, shot by Wolfgang Tillmans, was displayed as part of the photographer’s exhibition in the museum titled, “To Look Without Fear.” Image Source – Emile Askey / MoMA
“I will always love you, how I do”– Frank Ocean took the words right out of my mouth in ‘Godspeed’. An air of mystery, nostalgia, and unconditional love resides in my darkest days and deepest hearts for the ‘Nikes’ singer, and more often than not, I can’t seem to describe why and how. On January 11, Coachella released its historic 2023 line-up, from having the first Asian and Latin American acts as headliners, bagging the return of EDM summer institution, Calvin Harris, to being the first to bring Frank Ocean back on stage since the dawn of time. But without a new album in 7 years, no new songs since the COVID-19 pandemic started, and not a drop of an interview, or even new photos of the singer surfacing anywhere, how did he manage to get the top spot in one of the world’s most famous music festivals?
Over the past years, we see Ocean doing anything but releasing new music. This includes restocking ‘Blonde’ vinyls for the first time in years, slowly but surely dropping new episodes for ‘Blonded’ radio, honing his craft for homegrown jewelry label, Homer, submitting a continuous stream of photos captured by himself for various publications, and giving advice to Rosalía in the studio, it’s as if the man is dropping breadcrumbs that could lead us back home, and we’re Hansel and Gretel tracing the bits to nowhere and ending up lost in the woods.
Super Lost Kids
He’s undeniably one of the most elusive and eclectic artists of our generation, one impactful enough to be named in Time’s Most Influential People of 2013. His biggest impact was and still is his artistic freedom and the sheer audacity his creativity brought into the musical landscape of the early 2010s. He is an outcast that everyone loves–and misses dearly.
‘Channel Orange’, first released on July 10, 2012, was Frank Ocean’s debut studio album that gained him traction, allowing him to be recognized as one of the most beloved artists.
‘Channel Orange’ was Frank Ocean’s first studio production that established a voice for a generation that’s too afraid to confront their truths. It was 2012 when this album came out. I was twelve years old; too young to care about the world and understand how it’s our own human fallacy that we un/consciously leave room for prejudice to breed. In a pre-release listening party for the album, one of the journalists present observed that a lot of the songs uncovered lyrics directed towards “a male love object.” Not the first of its kind, but definitely an unconventional and “unspeakable” subject for most in an industry still confused by the diversity of its inhabitants. But in true Frank fashion, the singer posted an open letter on his Tumblr as a response fueled by courage and freedom. Speaking with unrivaled empathy towards his vulnerable state, “Whoever you are, wherever you are…I’m starting to think we’re a lot alike,” Ocean posted his letter on none other than July 4th, Independence Day.
Revisiting this letter years ahead in the future, I can’t help but feel stranded in motion by the capacity of an artist who is so restricted by his industry and genre. Ocean fought–and still fights against a glass ceiling just for a chance to peel back the layers of toxic masculinity, homophobia, and most of all growing pains. I was 17 when a close friend in high school pushed a piece of paper into my hand during the dismissal rush. A letter folded in what I thought was a haphazard rush, opened into a single sentence: “Those who don’t fold straight, aren’t”. Turning my back to hopefully catch a few words, he was gone, but his secret lingered in the air.
Novacane for the Soul
Frank Ocean is a say-er, more than a do-er but he’s done so much more with his words than he can ever imagine–for the band of misfits, the group of diversity picks, and the team of young and confused adolescents just waiting for ‘growing up’ to hit them from the back. His rawness released a new concept to music, one that is undeniably cathartic. Ocean is one of the pioneers who’s unafraid to take his rose-colored glasses off and bravely speak the hushed truths. Much like novocaine, a drug used to block the nerves in our body from sending pain signals to the brain, and also the title of one of his singles (sans the “i”), listening to his music feels like the world stops spinning while someone’s chin is on the crook of your shoulders, hands patting you on the back, whispering, “It’s alright, you’re only human.”
In Cole Cuchna’s ‘Dissect’ podcast, he talked about the genius behind Ocean’s craft. Frank’s approach to speaking to his listeners on the power of vulnerability extends far beyond lyrics and reaches in song production. In his five-minute masterpiece ‘Nights’, the beat change is as impactful to our ears as it is to our soul. Ocean uses the chaos of restlessly sparring guitar solos transitioning into a calming, nocturnal reverb– a grand metaphor for the emotional rollercoaster of life, love, and loss.
Genius News breaks down one of ‘Blonde’s’ most talked-about songs, ‘Nights’, capturing the emotional essence of the beat change and Frank’s no-doubt capacity for being a compositional maestro.
There’s a theme to his genius. An agenda to enlighten and lead the evolution of music–or was it revolution? Emerging with ‘Channel Orange’ solidified his purpose for the craft, which isn’t to make big hits, but to make great art–and great ones provoke us to dig deeper into human imperfections, to be more comfortable with complications, to see blessings as lessons, and to be grateful for the uncomfortable journey of growing up. The second paragraph from Ocean’s letter and his songs’ unapologetic expression of the self was an emotional relic for me to dig up time and time again. This world is an abysmal universe to live in. We had no free trials or 7-day demos. It’s all our first time being alive, and frankly, nobody knows what they’re doing. That’s the magic of discovery that Ocean’s art captivates.
As I sat on the bus going home with the folded piece of paper in my hands, I didn’t realize I was holding someone’s heart in my very palms. At 17, the prime age that goes through a perpetual cycle of getting lost and being found, there was something I knew for sure: that this was a beautiful moment I couldn’t share with anyone else except the vulnerabilities and fragility of what makes us human. It was the first of a hundred letters he would send later on, each that would thank me for keeping his soul safe, but most of all loved with no bounds, just like what Frank felt when he realized he “doesn’t have secrets he need kept anymore”’.