Why Frank Ocean’s Nikes Is 2016’s Most Compelling Music Video
At the tail-end of 2011, Frank Ocean chatted to the BBC as part of their ‘Sound of 2012’ series. In one of the rare interviews granted by the famously reclusive artist, he talked about his creative process and jokingly alluding to his evasiveness. “I could be indoor rock climbing or reading wikipedia pages on random things.” Most interestingly, he was asked if he perhaps felt like more of a visual artist than a straightforward musician. “I do feel like more of a visual artist. When I pull from that place, it comes along with pictures and colours.”
With that quote in mind, it made Friday’s release of Ocean’s visual album Endless quite strange. In the continuation of the looping stream on his website, Frank slowly and meticulously built a staircase. The film was in black and white, soundtracked by the record. While the music was interesting, the film was largely dull and uneventful. It certainly wasn’t in keeping with the overall aesthetic of Ocean’s art. (It has since emerged that he released Endless to fulfil his contractual obligation to Def Jam).
The release of Boys Don’t Cry (now titled Blonde) was still anticipated later in the weekend. Then, in the early hours of Saturday, the video for first single Nikes dropped — and it was markedly different to anything he had done before. Grainy footage of girls in designer t-shirts adorns the first few seconds, followed by psychedelic silhouettes and trippy lights.
It then cuts to Ocean rocking black nike’s and a green bomber jacket, crouched in front of McClaren cars (he really has a fascination with cars). We see A$AP Rocky and Ocean holding framed pictures of the late A$AP Yams and Trevon Martin respectively. There is glitter, rain, a grimy club scene (perhaps inspired by his trip to Berghain), scantily clad women and men, intimately sexualised moments and a talking chihuahua.
It’s a kaleidoscope of colours, visuals and provocative imagery. It’s jarring and slightly unnerving, but nonetheless enthralling. He isn’t afraid to challenge his listeners either. For a man universally lauded for his voice, Frank spends the first two minutes of the first single distorting and slowing his vocals. “I got two versions.”
I couldn’t take my eyes away from it. And that’s the power of Frank Ocean’s art. You may be confused or uneasy, but he always makes you engage due to the sheer quality and uniqueness of what he creates.