Frank Ocean is hardly the traditional celebrity. In an age where the internet dominates the media and technology is more than accessible, it is now simpler than ever for figures in popular culture to be the subject of media attention. Our guy Frank, on the other hand, consistently embarks on extended hiatuses from the public eye and strays away from social media altogether. These days, even his shirts seem to do more talking than he does.
Ultimately though, his enigmatic presence has, in part, ensured that he has become one of the most compelling superstars of today. As he remains out of the spotlight, people seem to want to pinpoint his every move that much more. Hordes of youths tune into his sporadically-distributed — and now seemingly defunct — Blonded Radio on Apple Music, during which he often releases new singles. In the summer of 2016, the world stopped to watch the black-and-white livestream that was mysteriously placed on his website preceding the release of his visual album, Endless (2016). Perhaps the most prominent example comes in the form of the Subreddit r/FrankOcean, which is the most popular and impassioned platform for Frank Ocean fans. Here, fans fetishize him in every way imaginable, from tracking all news and public sightings to sharing and selling their own Frank-related art, straight down to identifying the pieces of clothing he wears. I think it’s fair to say the man is well-sought-after.
You can probably imagine, then, just how desperately fans yearned for and theorized about his return when he downright disappeared for nearly four years after the release of his Grammy-winning commercial debut, Channel Orange (2012). During this period, barring a few instances, we couldn’t get so much as a peep out of him, let alone new music. His anonymity frustrated fans and listeners without end, such that, by the time he returned in 2016 with two consecutively-released surprises, Endless, followed by Blonde (2016), it had already become utterly transparent that Frank enjoys his privacy. And that’s an understatement.
However, with the aforementioned Blonde, a deeply personal, boundary-pushing, idiosyncratic account of his struggle with identity, Frank, with themes of heartbreak and individuality, offered his audience one of the only glimpses into his personal life that we have to date. His soft-spoken, yet beautifully powerful, vocals and lyrics are given center stage, as he belts over a set of sparse, minimal instrumentals. Through its astonishing means of storytelling, the project displayed that Frank is able to find beauty in subtlety like no one else in recent memory. It seems as though, after four long years, he fully intended to let the music do all of the talking. Fans are now more sure than ever that he prefers this approach rather than any form of interview or social media outburst.
Still, Frank does make the occasional appearance on social media, specifically through his Tumblr, which, besides his private Instagram, is the only known official Frank Ocean account. When he does materialize his thoughts on Tumblr, it is often because he is saying something insightful. And he does so in the most elegant of ways — seriously, the guy can make anything he does look like a masterpiece. In 2016, he made a post where he essentially ripped the Grammys to shreds, pointing out how outdated they are and how less and less people are seeing them as a credible program. When he felt they were not fairly representing African American artists — in his post, he uses the moment when Taylor Swift’s 1989 (2014) won Album of the Year over Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) as corroboration of this — he decided to pull Blonde, which would’ve undoubtedly been the favorite for a number of awards, from the running and to not perform at the show. Following the Orlando gay nightclub shooting in 2016, Frank made a post in which he addressed the tragedy by poetically relating it to his first experience with homophobia, which came from his own father when Frank was only six. In 2016, he dedicated another monologue to the death of one of his idols, Prince. He also called out Donald Trump both pre– and post-election, which is always a good look. Hell, even when he’s talking about porn, it’s interesting.
Most influentially though, in tandem with the release of Channel Orange in 2012, Frank boldly and wholeheartedly issued an open letter about his first love being a man. And what a groundbreaking moment this has proved to be for pop culture, and for hip-hop specifically. Though Frank is not quite part of the realm of rap in the traditional sense, as he is not a definitive rapper, the former Odd Future standout has absolutely paved the way for a more accepting community in hip-hop, a scene that has historically been sullied by hyper-masculinity and homophobia. He’s created a lane for openly queer rappers, like Kevin Abstract and Tyler, the Creator, to be accepted — even embraced. Even in the case of someone like Young Thug, who doesn’t identify as queer, we see that, in a post-Frank-outing era, rappers, even the ones that are supposed gangbangers, can now be put on pedestals for challenging masculinity. For ultimately taking such a massive step in the right direction and continuing to be a beacon for queer people over the years, it seems like Frank’s name is thrown out there and honored by some at nearly every queer holiday, like with the recent National Coming Out Day on October 11.
Furthermore, Frank’s overall prowess and influence as an artist is up there with the likes of Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar in today’s industry. Everything he does, no matter the medium, is of the utmost sincerity, effort and excellence. I mean, the guy learned how to build an entire wooden staircase for his visual album, which he released just a day before his immensely-anticipated studio album. During the four years he was gone, he documented his life and turned his experiences into the most sentimental and highest quality magazine I’ve ever owned. At FYF, he brought Brad Pitt on stage to do a skit — yes, he had world-famous Brad Pitt do a skit. In the same light, he had Beyonce, of all people, do backup vocals for the track “Pink + White” without even crediting her with a feature, which is as much of a subtle flex as it is an artistic decision. He took acid when making the music video for “Nikes” so that he could better convey the slurred party vibe he was going for with the visuals and cinematography. He’s created some of the best bodies of music I’ve ever heard, Blonde being my favorite album of all time. On all accounts, I consider Frank Ocean to be an icon whose art will transcend far beyond his life, a real mastermind of this generation. He is, after all, “one of the best alive.”
Written by Anthony Vega