Labels have always been a currency, a ticket into exclusivity, the identities you surround yourself with and constitute the person you are. But controversy arises when you instate these labels yourself. Yet should it really be controversial? Who is to define yourself but you? There’s been a pretty gigantic power struggle going on between those who assert themselves and those who wish to be the wrongful proclaimators of who you really are. Frank Ocean is one of the many bards of the oppressed in this instance. channel ORANGE was the first of his passive call-to-arms.
It’s interesting to see how far Ocean’s come. Sonically, he’s always been a marvel. His warbling, cathartic, and warm soundscapes complimented the lyrics he penned to a T, the sunset to his ocean. His lyrics don’t disappoint either; their rapturous and evocative nature is just as beautiful as the canvas they’re set upon. They read like poetry, but when spoken by their author, they sound like nirvana. Unrequited lovers, bodies glistening after sex, Cleopatra reimagined as a stripper/working girl, and the desolation in both drugs and love all take the spotlight at one point or another. On his sophomore effort, Blonde; or Blond, the queer aspects of his identity are explored in more abstract ways; on channel, they’re dedicated to love songs with male pronouns, allusions to flames with the un-fairer sex. It’s a more straightforward and adolescent approach to queerness than his sophomore effort, and it works charmingly well.
There’s always been a surprising universality to Ocean’s music, yet he never trades individuality for accessibility. It’s always been humorous to watch the casually homophobic sing along to “Thinkin Bout You” and “Chanel”(The later sporting the line, “My guy pretty like a girl”, and the former dedicated to his first love with another man).This is owed to the charisma and the swagger in his voice, masking the queerness with masculinity and straight-boy self assuredness. And as for that queerness, there’s always been a very straight aspect to him he’s kept in touch with. In Frank’s Boys Don't Cry zine, he recounted a time when Raf Simons accused his car fantasy of being cliché, "a deep subconscious straight boy fantasy." In response to that notion, Ocean wrote, “Consciously though, I don’t want straight - a little bent is good.” Frank’s bendiness has been expressed in makeup as well as romance, stoking curiosities on whether his gender was as two sided as his sexuality.
In a perfect world, his music remains as uncategorized as he is. In an interview with Lorde, she recounted a conversation with Ocean, asking a question on the basis of how he spliced music of different genres together (Coldplay and Eagles samples on his debut mixtape). She said that he appeared confused by the question, as if he didn’t see the barriers between his music and theirs. In a perfect world, people don’t see the barriers between our identities and theirs. ✉
article by: jackson emery
visual by: frank ocean