Frank Ocean at Coachella 2023: What Went Wrong? | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Frank Ocean’s highly anticipated return to Coachella 2023 left many disappointed. The artist who had not held a live performance in 6 years failed to deliver a memorable headliner for many of his fans. Despite the hype surrounding his comeback, the late and short show was largely lacking in Ocean’s own vocals, frustrating festival-goers.

The performance was plagued with last-minute changes, including the reconfiguration of the stage production (melting an entire ice rink) with ice-skating backup dancers left to walk back and forth in balaclavas. Rumors of an ankle injury and also a panic attack likely added to the underwhelming presentation. Additionally, the experimental setlist did not resonate with everyone in the audience. To top, the show ended abruptly, cutting several songs out.

Frank Ocean’s music is known for its experimental R&B and lyrics that resonate with fans around the world—many of who miss him since his last album 7 years ago. Despite such a devoted fanbase patiently waiting for Ocean’s comeback, his headlining performance at Coachella this year fell flat.

The cover of Frank Ocean’s 2016 album “Blonde”. Photo by Wolfgang Tillmans

Keeping an Open Mind About the Star’s Situation

At the beginning of the show, Ocean opened up about his younger brother Ryan, who died in a car crash in 2020. He recalled how going to the festival was one of his fondest memories. Ocean said, “My brother and I came to this festival a lot. I felt like I was dragged out here half the time because I hated the dust.” 

There are rumors that Ocean suffered a panic attack grieving his brother’s passing, likely triggered by memories of the festival. But for many consumers who pay the high prices of the festival ticket, empathy took a backseat, and the phrase “The show must go on” rang in the minds of many of the festival-goers. 

Some even speculate that Ocean just didn’t want to be at Coachella. He signed the contract to headline back in 2020, but the concert was postponed due to the pandemic, suggesting that his desire to perform might have changed.

To add, Ocean injured his ankle in a bike accident during Coachella rehearsals, which led to the dismantling of the entire production. The stage was set up to have an ice rink and the ice skaters had been practicing the choreography for weeks. At the last minute, Ocean requested to deconstruct and melt the entire rink, leaving the performers awkward off the ice. The show’s sequence shows those dancers simply walking past each other in parallel lines.

With all the last-minute production changes, it makes one wonder if it could have all been too much for Ocean.

The “Lackluster” Headliner

One of the biggest disappointments for fans of Frank was that the concert was not live streamed, as promised by the organizers. After starting an hour late, the warm body of Ocean himself was hidden behind a huge video screen. Ocean was barely visible for the first few songs. Occasionally the audience could spot his figure drowning in a thick blue jacket and wearing a black durag. Later on in the set, he emerged to look out at the crowd of tens of thousands of fans, many of whom couldn’t help but feel like they were missing out.

Barely visible behind a massive video screen, audience goers wondered what could Frank Ocean be hiding. With zero posts on his Instagram, he seems to have a complicated relationship with fame, and once said in an interview: “The Internet made fame wack and anonymity cool.” Photo by Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun.

For 40 minutes, Ocean himself barely sang. People are calling it “karaoke” or a listening party, with a couple of interesting remixes. Still, he rolled through hits from albums ‘Nostalgia, Ultra,’ ‘Channel Orange’ and ‘Blonde’. 

In the opening song Novacane, Ocean suddenly stops mid-intro. At this point though, fans are still revving. Although he might have missed an opportunity to do something special when the lyrics explicitly mention, “met her at Coachella,” which he simply sang through. Mid-set, the performance was interrupted by a DJ intermission. At one exciting point, fans began to guess when his next album drop would be when he introduced a song with the potential name ‘Inner Child.’ Although he clarified he “wasn’t here because there’s an album, not that there’s not a new album.” In another song, Ocean invited a young boy named Josiah onto the stage to play the keys, in a rather random cover of country singer Willie Nelson’s ‘Nightlife.’

The usually calm beats of White Ferrari overlaid with discordant tunes similar to the ringing of an alarm clock

Ocean showed a self-awareness of his unexpected performance, and at one point said, “This is f— chaotic, but it’s so much fun.”

An Abrupt End 

At around 12:35 a.m. unceremoniously, the show went blank. Ocean explained it was “past curfew.” There were going to be no ‘Nikes’ ‘Nights’ or ‘Thinking About You.’ It’s hard to imagine that the biggest music festival in the world does have a curfew, and past performances would prove otherwise. Festive Owl quoted: “It just didn’t seem like he wanted to be there but was obligated to be.”


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So What’s The Verdict?

While certain individual songs were great, what was supposed Coachella’s biggest gig was lacking as a whole. Reviews by Rolling Stone called it a “less-than-grand return” while Variety went so far as to call it an “Aimless, WTF Headlining Set”.

Still, there are highlights to be acknowledged. The production featured mesmerizing visuals on the screen, and Ocean’s vocals never faltered in skill (just presence). Die-hard fans were treated to new variations as the artist experimented with familiar songs too.


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The opinion of fellow artist Justin Bieber was an exception, who took to Instagram to give Ocean high praise for a night he’ll never forget, “His artistry is simply unmatched, his style, his taste, his voice, his attention to detail.. I was deeply moved. It made me want to keep going and get better as an artist.”

Fans of Frank Ocean are divided. Many who flew from other continents just to listen to him live expressed huge disappointment. While other faithful fans say it wasn’t that bad. Still, the high tension between the artist, the fans, and the Coachella organizers is undeniable. 

Ocean is scheduled to close out Coachella this coming Sunday. Hopefully he turns things around for weekend two.

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