I still remember the first time I heard it. The cool and confident voice singing about an ex-lover and his admission of feelings not yet gone. The rawness and vulnerability of that voice asking his ex if they ever wonder what it would be like to be together forever layered over a spacey emotional beat. “Thinking About You” is not only Frank Ocean’s most successful song to date, but also his breakthrough into the mainstream. From there, it has only been up for the 28 year old singer/songwriter.
After going on a four-year hiatus from music since the release of his critically acclaimed debut album, “Channel Orange,” Ocean released a visual album, “Endless,” seemingly out of nowhere. The video first premiered as a live stream on Ocean’s website and shows Ocean building a staircase while new music plays in the background. The songs on “Endless” are more reminiscent of tracks that might be heard on a mixtape, with unfinished cuts and demos. However, less than a week after dropping “Endless,” the “Nostalgia” singer returned to the forefront of mainstream attention with the release of his sophomore album, “Blonde.”
Frank Ocean gained his notability and hype from his debut album, “Channel Orange.” The project won Ocean a Grammy and is one of my personal top 10 albums of the past five years. So naturally, this follow-up release was met with high expectations. After many delays of his album release, Frank Ocean dropped his long-awaited album, “Boys Don’t” – err, I mean, “Blonde.” This came as a surprise even for his supporters despite the fact that he had been teasing the album release since 2012. For many fans, dates and teasers meant nothing due to the numerous push backs. However, my goal is not to review “Blonde.” I do recommend Pitchfork’s album review as I feel it is the best analysis of the album without becoming boring or monotonous.
What I want to address is the duality of Frank Ocean in regards to his sexuality. He has talked about this in the past with songs such as “Forrest Gump” and “Bad Religion.” With the release of his new album, Ocean touches his bisexuality in songs as well as through symbolic choices. One example of this is the actual name of the album. On the actual album cover it is spelled as “Blond,” the masculine version of the word, while the physical name of the album, “Blonde,” is the feminine version. (To be clear, Frank has not directly said that he is bisexual. He has told the public that he has been with a man through his infamous 2012 Tumblr letter – and we know he has been with women – but he has not physically stated that he is bisexual.)
Ocean alludes to his sexuality in many tracks on “Blonde,” but they are purposefully subtle and hidden in his lyrics. For example, on the song “Solo,” Ocean not only addresses his depression and drug use, but also his contrasting sexual feelings by using a metaphor of heaven and hell. Ocean makes mention of his bisexuality again on the album on the outro of “Futura Free,” which is a skit between Ocean and a heterosexual man talking about how they aren’t into “bitches” anymore because they broke their hearts. Even though Ocean is simply not into them, he has to pretend to agree with his friend because he does not know how to tell him about his sexuality. Ocean is confronted with the difficulty of addressing his sexuality even with his status as an international celebrity.
“Blonde” is an album full of reminiscing and longing: a retrospection on past lovers and experiences with the most nostalgic of views. Throughout the album, Ocean refers to past lovers and feelings left over, such as on the song “Self Control,” where featured guest Austin Feinstein sings, “Keep a place for me, for me.” Ocean never actually identifies genders in “Blonde” — with the exception of the song “Good Guy” — but the beauty is that he does not need to. His commentary about gender neutral lovers speaks volumes in itself. Ocean is saying indirectly that love is universal, whether between two men, two women or between man and woman. Love is real and love is genderless. Ocean even uses metaphors of cars to display his love for his significant other, especially seen on the song “White Ferrari.” This is not the first time he has done this, either, as automotive comparisons can be heard on “Acura Integral,” “Futura Free” and “Swim Good.” The cover of his debut project “Nostalgia, Ultra” is a picture of a car.
The discussion of bisexuality in the mainstream is one that would never have happened as recent as 20 years ago. And what Frank Ocean is doing, whether on purpose or not, is allowing a mainstream audience to experience (albeit secondhand) the love he has had over the years in his life for others – male or female. An interesting point is that Ocean seems to be religious, but also struggles with Bible scriptures (specifically passages such as Leviticus 20:13) that support the murder of those who lay with the same sex. He sings about this on his debut album in the song “Bad Religion,” of course, but more recently on “Skyline To” – singing, “Making sweet love, takin’ time ‘til God strikes us.” On “Futura Free,” Ocean sings, “I don’t know which heaven would have me momma,” referring to the fact that most religions find homosexuality immoral and condemn those who partake in homosexual activities. This is a major reason why society today, specifically in the U.S., is not able to fully support the gay rights movement. According to ABC News, 83% of Americans identify themselves as Christian, and being a homosexual and/or bisexual flies right in the face of that religion and many others. I have sympathy for those who are against same sex relationships. They simply believe in their religion fully and take its teaching to heart. Those who are followers of Christianity (or many other religions), yet support same sex relationships are admitting that their religion is wrong, and that is something that is difficult to do.
One interesting aspect of Frank Ocean is his refusal to be the poster boy for the LGBTQ community. He has stated that “I could say that I’m happy / they let me and my boyfriend become married / I could say that I’m happy / but cross my heart I didn’t notice,” in his poem “Boyfriend.” Even on his song, “Seigfried,” he contemplates settling down with a wife and kids, but again says he would rather live outside. On that same song, Ocean also discusses his struggle with a superficial society and his inability to represent the LGBTQ community as society often expects him to. Ocean rarely comments on gay rights (with the exception of his Tumblr post after the Orlando Massacre) and yet he is the living embodiment of the evolution of human rights. Maybe the fact that he does not feel the need to be so direct with his sexuality is why people that would not usually support the LGBTQ movement, are more open towards him. Ocean is no stranger to opposition, so he likely is not fazed by it. Ocean is the way he is and does not need approval. Ironically, he seems to be receiving just that more and more by fans, the press and critics alike.
The beauty of Frank Ocean, is not his music (although it’s pretty damn good), or his sexual orientation, but his influence and how he uses his influence to promote love. Ocean’s music reaches everyone; his emotion stretches to all sexual orientations without discrimination. People can relate to Ocean because they can relate to his love. Love that is unconditional, unrequited, flowing, sexually charged, brotherly, real and most of all, universal. If Frank Ocean can not convince people to love and accept each other, I don’t know who can.
But shit, maybe Frank’s just got me in my feelings.