Frank Ocean, the elusive, indefinable guard of modern R&B, was supposed to come out with his second album in July. And so as we beat on against the October habit, the seed of expectancy continues to fester in the back of so many craving minds. To his fans at least, the both playful and shadowy artist seems to now inhabit a pattern of charming disappointment.
Ocean’s debut album, “Channel Orange,” released three lingering years ago, demanded fresh ears and subsequently set a new precedent of hope for more to come. Fiercely original, subtly cold and candidly playful, the album swayed and reverberated to its own breath. It feels like what you always wanted but never knew how to ask for, in a coolly, coyly understated way.
What is significant, however, is that “Channel Orange” seems to play by its own rules, and own language for that matter, exhibiting Ocean’s passionate and enduring originality. Lyrically speaking, Frank Ocean leaves logic in the dust of his more emotionally poignant and honest language, making his message both all the more obscure and genuine. Speaking in the tongue of an inner consciousness, his lyrics refuse to adhere to the synthetic, universal language of understanding.
Prioritizing expression over public accessibility, he reigns with a certain grace of power, confidence and honesty, refusing to demean himself into something supposedly reasonable. Rather than try to sell himself, Ocean lives behind the scenes of his own fame. Refusing most media interviews, the artist insists on total control of his image, preferring his own blog where he shares humanly disjointed and intimate notes and images. In a landscape increasingly dominated by the approval of others, it is refreshing for someone to not be scared to be and to mean exactly what he wants, against the risk of being alone or isolated in the depth of his own identity. Ocean does not need to demand to be heard, but rather lures you in magnetically with his uncompromising individuality — invigoratingly, charmingly disobedient.
Evidently, as the internet spreads with countless inquiries and reports on the release, this powerful start has bred the hope that now quietly infects a loyal fan base. But the disappointment is not exclusively ugly. In a way, we even relish it. Since pronouncing this kind of rare, entrancing loyalty to himself, Ocean has set up a precedent in which really he gets away with whatever he wants – and we like it. For once, something is not about us, but vindicates itself on its own clout. Ocean’s courage and confidence endow a certain solidity and profundity to our personal landscapes. Things can stand without us — the world is not some narcissistic, inwardly claustrophobic figment but a self-sufficient and stable place. Ocean pronounces himself so mysteriously and playfully, though, that his music is not something that is forced onto its listeners, despite its power — rather, it seeps in almost seamlessly and intimately.
The disappointment following an empty July further distinguishes the artist’s quietly magnetic elusiveness. Both lyrically and through this kind of public maneuvering, he has always left us wanting more. And we love wanting. Savoring the hope, relishing in the possibility, we are able to project our own imaginings and emotions. It is everything we hope it to be because it is not a solid anything. The abstract and minimalist nature of Ocean’s music and persona seem to allow both artist and audience to hang on to their respective visions, refusing to unwrap and subsequently trivialize the ineffable. Ocean does not play the game of pleasing but rather insists in living and creating by his own rules. In the meantime, we will continue; I will write this article and move around and say all the things, pretending not to wait.
You can contact Tess Michaelson at tess18 ‘at’ stanford.edu.