Frank Ocean hates being famous: A Blonde and ENDLESS review
Frank Ocean’s debut album, Channel Orange, rocketed him from the world of promising vocal talent to full fledged pop star. His work before that was known and loved by Tumblr kids and other millenials who were unashamedly in touch with their feelings. “Nostalgia, Ultra”, a mixtape that Ocean released via Tumblr in 2011, was probably his best known work other than Channel Orange, and the most dedicated of fans are the only people who could name more than 2 songs off of that project.
The Lonny Breaux Collection, which I think everyone needs to hear, came out in 2008 and was Ocean’s first official solo release. That tape is such an incredibly different sound than what we hear on either of the new Frank albums. ENDLESS, the visual album Frank dropped with Apple Music, was essentially just to fulfill his recording contract so that he could drop “Blonde” as an independent studio release. Ocean, as you know, set the internet ablaze last week by releasing both albums within days of each other, after being silent for 5 years. Both Endless and Blonde serve as explanations for that silence, in that they both bely a deep hatred of fame. I struggled with finding the appropriate word but it is hatred. Listen to Siegfried on Blonde and you’ll understand how deep his disdain for the attention that comes with fame is. It’s personal and painful for Frank, an introvert who wasn’t meant for the life his talent gave him. It’s up to us as fans to understand that, and we’ve done a bad job.
When Frank deleted his Twitter account I thought it would come back, but the harassment from fans kept him from the platform permanently. That’s why the social media format of choice for Frank has been Tumblr, a platform typically associated with introverts. Art takes time, and great art takes more time. From a musical standpoint it’s impossible not to appreciate the time Frank put in to both these projects, and that’s without taking the deeper meaning into account. Take the staircase in the Endless video. The symbolism of the title of the project and a staircase that leads to nothing could mean a number of things; the fact that the climb to the top might end in feelings of nothingness, perhaps. I can relate to Frank in a small way. I said I would review these projects a week ago when they came out, and life got in the way as it does. I was definitely tempted to finish it earlier in the week when it would be more relevant, but I knew it wouldn’t be worth it if I wrote it at 2 am. Society has a tendency to want everything as soon as possible and it has to be better than the last thing. We need to be constantly impressed, and that’s why initial album reviews are often gratuitous. We wish ourselves into being impressed because we revere the feeling. Frank’s albums and their delayed release is a sort of societal mirror. Frank went against the grain by waiting to release his masterpiece, and the content of the music reflects that struggle.
The fact that what we thought was “Boys Don’t Cry” was so highly anticipated may account for some of the feelings about the music, and that’s just how the business works. No matter what, hype has a large factor in the relevance of music that’s released now. Frank is anti hype, and he tried to wait out that hype possibly, but you can’t do that in this day and age. Especially when your as universally revered as Frank is, and the man is even more interesting for being an enigma. One whose sexuality and shyness have been the perfect amount of interesting for the internets’ throngs of music enthusiasts. But back on the subject of the music itself, it’s undeniably beautiful for how it conveys Franks each and every feeling. The project is deeply personal for one so private. It should be celebrated for that. One of our great living artists has given us a gift, in the way it should be given. The Renaissance masters took years to perfect their greatest pieces, because that is the only way to achieve perfection. You can hear the time and effort in the music. Also, Andre 3000 has some of the best rap verses of the year in the deeply personal Solo II (Reprise). The man is a genius, and can still out rap just about everyone doing it after 20 years in, as he says in the song.
Musically, the project is going to have a significant impact on the industry as a whole. In a perfect world, people would realize the time it takes to make music that stands apart. I miss waiting for albums to drop. I’m not mad at Earl Sweatshirt or Travi$ Scott or anyone who we’ve been waiting on. The music will be better that way. We need to be patient. Both of these projects honestly inspired me to work much harder than I do on all of the things that I want to accomplish. Things worth doing are hard and after listening to this music your heart is gripped by a conviction. You want to make a masterpiece of your own. And that’s what art should inspire.
So thank you Frank.