Frank Ocean’s Endless helped redefine the communal experience of music
On Thursday night, I went home after having drinks with a friend and pulled out my laptop, watching as Tweetdeck fervently refreshed itself, getting caught up with everything that had happened over the past few hours.
Like most people browsing Twitter at 11:30 p.m. on a Thursday night, I was looking for something to entertain me. A couple of beers deep, there wasn’t anything too special happening in the real world and I needed some mindless, virtual entertainment. My friend who was staying with me that night and I shared stupid jokes that we came across and showed each other interesting pieces, but like most time spent on Twitter, we weren’t really paying attention to what was happening. Twitter was the white noise we wanted to fill the room, replacing having Netflix on in the background while we talked. It was something we could turn to when there was a lull in our conversation and it made us feel like we were keeping up with what was happening around the world.
So as we sat in my kitchen, getting caught up with each other’s lives after spending nearly a month away from one another while I was in California, apathetically watching Tweetdeck, we noticed a switch in the lackluster tweets being sent out. In the span of a couple of minutes it went from Harambe jokes and opinions on miscellaneous topics to our entire feeds being lit up with the news that the mysterious and provocative Frank Ocean was livestreaming himself again. This time, however, there were original tracks from his new album, which we had all assumed was still called Boys Don’t Cry at this point, while building a staircase on the stream.
Just like that, our casual and uneventful Thursday night turned into a frenzy of activity as we clicked on the Noisey link that had come across our feed multiple times through various tweets and retweets and watched as Ocean’s sophomore album debuted before us. It was the adrenaline kick we didn’t even know we wanted to have that night, as our friends and partners texted us to bask in the excitement, furiously talking about whether or not the album was going to drop that night on Apple Music and if it was worth forgoing sleep.
We watched the livestream intently, listening for any clues as to who might be on the album or to see if Frank had anyone in the warehouse where he was building his stairs, but I realized that as closely as we were watching the video in front of us — that I had playing on my iPhone so we could run Tweetdeck on our computers without switching back and forth — we were watching Twitter twice as intensely.
The night hadn’t just become about listening to Frank’s new album, which was certainly a big part of it, but it had become about being a part of this moment with thousands of others. We were basking in the idea that we were all witnessing the drop of an album we had waited for years for, practically right after he dropped his game-changing channel ORANGE, and we were a part of the first group to do so.
Since Beyonce “changed the game with that digital drop,” as she references on Nicki Minaj’s “Feeling Myself,” the announcement of a new album isn’t exciting anymore. The surprise release, however, or the months long build up to the release like we saw with Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, is. The gimmick has surpassed the point of being original or shocking at this point, but in an age when everything is digitally accessible at once and conversation never stalls because of services like Twitter, the release of an album isn’t a solitary pursuit, but a communal experience.
We chimed in on Twitter whenever possible, replying to friends on the east coast, the west coast, in Australia and whoever else was up, about the feelings they were experiencing as the livestream continued on. Music journalists quickly hopped on Twitter, joking about canceling plans midway through the night to get home and watch the livestream, talking amongst each other about this moment. This moment that we had been waiting years for. This moment that had become a meme online as the internet collectively sighed each time we thought the album was going to drop, only to be disappointed.
And now, in this moment, we were allowed to let out the collective breath we had been holding, feeling the euphoric release wash over us as the clock stuck midnight —literally— and Apple announced that the newest Frank Ocean experience, Endless, was available to stream.
The conversation was allowed to continue, and both my friend and I didn’t realize until then how important having people to talk about the album with was. We watched Endless, clutching each other’s hands the first time we heard Frank let out a high-pitched note and watched as the internet did the same thing simultaneously.
I’ve spoken at length through various Twitter threads and rants about the state of modern music and the negatives the hype aspect of a major album can bring. As much as I enjoyed The Life of Pablo, it would be wrong to not address that it’s one of ‘Ye’s weaker albums. It’s major problem is its incoherency, themes spread out sporadically over the course of the hour-long album. The fact that the album was a little less furnished than what we were expecting it to be isn’t necessarily the biggest issue, but it’s the idea that Kanye had ultimately set himself and his fans up for disappointment after spending months livetweeting about how great the album was going to be, bringing in different artists to sign a yellow legal pad, and ultimately, giving his audience an unprecedented look into the making of an album, all in real time.
Because of that, there was a part of me that was concerned Endless would be a disappointment — not because it would be bad, but because it wouldn’t be able to live up to the hype that Frank, the industry, and ultimately, his fans had built up for it. There was a weariness that I could see spreading across Twitter the longer we had to wait for this album. As each day went by, the anticipation ultimately went up, until Thursday night when we were finally given what we had been waiting for.
It was exhilarating, it was emotional, and it was totally exhausting.
As we streamed Endless, dealing with technical issues that arose from Apple’s player, my friend and I talked about how the wait was over. I told him that I didn’t know how to feel anymore, and that I didn’t know how to process that. We live in an age where we have been programmed to constantly anticipate, to go from one record to the next or one game to the next. We live in an era where major movie studios rely on that anticipation to plan out their next 10 or 15 years of films — just look at Marvel and Disney’s slate of blockbusters.
But with Endless out, the wait was over and once the adrenaline started to dissipate, I realized that I was exhausted. But Twitter was still energized and my friends and colleagues were still riding the orgasmic wave of having this album in their metaphorical hands, and I knew that to be a part of the collective conversation, in order to maintain my place in this weird and microscopic ecosystem, I had to be excited for it too. But that didn’t do anything for my mind, which was already trying to find the next thing to anticipate.
If Beyonce really did change the game in 2014 with the digital drop of her self-titled visual album, then we’ve been chasing that same high for two years, spending countless hours wondering about the next Drake, Kanye, or Frank Ocean album.
I took one last look at Twitter after I finished watching Endless, and tweeted a quick and useless thought about how I didn’t have any thoughts yet on the album, and was ready to get to bed. My friend was still talking to people on Twitter about it, the excitement about having a new Frank Ocean record in his life something that he was still visually hyped about. Tweetdeck was no longer the white noise that we had in the kitchen to glance at every once in a while, but had manifested itself into a hundred different friends who were sitting with us at the table, sipping on a beer, excited to discuss the new album and what the different visuals meant.
The experience of waiting in line at 9:30 a.m. on a Tuesday morning in front of a record store with other fans to pick up an album at 10, and then playing it right there in the parking lot, or hanging around the shop for an hour to experience the album had disappeared along with actual record shops. The physical community has disbanded thanks to the internet, Amazon, and now streaming services like Apple music, but in that moment, Twitter seemed to do a pretty good job of mirroring that experience. There was a moment of experiencing something in unison together and talking animatedly about it that I missed, and for that I appreciated what the internet had become in that exact moment.
I told my friend I was heading off to bed and joked that he should let me know if there was any other breaking news that I should be aware of, giving him full permission to wake me up if so. As I got into bed, I started my regular routine of checking my email one last time, getting rid of pesky Facebook notifications, checking a couple of different subreddits, scrolling through Instagram, and of course, glancing at Twitter.
I was ready to call it a night, my body physically exhausted from the adrenaline rush, when my phone vibrated. I picked it up and saw a message from another friend, a small sentence that said, “Frank’s dropping another album this weekend. It’s not done.” I typed back a quick, elegant, well-articulated and powerful, “Fucking yaaaaaaaaas!” and rolled over, a smile plastered on my face.
I had something else to look forward to, something to anticipate, and I couldn’t wait to experience that anticipation again with the entire world on Twitter when I woke up the next day.