Dissecting Frank Ocean, Good Guy
In 2017, I saw Frank Ocean live and in the flesh at Parklife, Heaton Park, Manchester. If you read reviews of his headline appearance at the festival – his second and by far most noteworthy live performance in over three years – you’ll struggle to get an accurate perspective.
So as a fan, an extreme fan, I’ll give the honest perspective from being stood next to the stage that Frank appeared out of, 40 minutes late.
It was a tangibly nervous, at times borderline painful and for one song in particular absolutely beautiful performance. That song was Good Guy. And it’s everything.
“Here’s to the good guy he hooked it up, said if I was in NY I should look you up”
Good Guy’s appearance on the album Blonde seemed unsure of itself as a stand alone song yet still resonated deeply with each and every listen. The live rendition, remix, remastering, whatever you want to call it, changed the emphasis and pace of the song and in turn discovered it’s most profound and poignantly executed form.
“First time I’d ever saw you and you text nothing like you look”
Good Guy’s narrative is obvious and yet tentatively delivered. In its live capacity it still, initially, takes you on the anxious journey of meeting a potential lover for the first time. The most prolific message is of over analysis and attaching extreme meaning to every little detail. Somehow the line ‘you text nothing like you look’ makes perfect sense delivered to a crowd of — I hate to use this description — millennials. It also reminds me of every Tinder date, ever.
On that night in Manchester you couldn’t fail to see an irony between the set as a whole and the stunning nature of this uniquely effective individual performance.
I remember wincing hearing an artist I idolised restart ‘Solo’ for the third time, overthinking each minor inadequacy and striving for a perfection that you could never quite touch.
“Here’s to the gay bar you took me to, just when I realised you talk so much more than I do”
The tempo is slow, with each line taking space between a significant amount of time in the story and seemingly placed in as a somewhat tragic and reflective tribute. The truth is you’re not sure what’s going to happen. You’re invested in something that never happened to you, but you relate it to something so very similar that did. That’s what great music is all about — an indirect but palpable connection.
“Here’s to the highlights when I was convinced, that this was much more than just some night shit”
In a way this is the most ‘happy’ line. It’s so transitory that it feels as though it’s barely there and can never be touched. The slight lingering on the word ‘much more than just some night shit’ can easily go unnoticed but matters immensely in the deeper message present.
The language isn’t ‘pretty’ and there is no attempt at eloquence, it is close to spoken word and conversational, like Ocean is recalling the story not to a crowd full of strangers but a trustworthy friend.
“No you don’t, no you don’t need me right now”
“And to you it’s just a late night out”
To really appreciate the transition and impact of the performance I can only encourage listening to the album version followed by the live version. With around a year between the two, it makes the emphasis of the line ‘and to you it’s just a late night out’ hit so much harder. As if he has spent the majority of the last year dwelling on this fact, letting it grow inside of him, manifesting the simple but paradoxically complicated feeling of being with someone but not being with them.
Listening to it live you feel as though you’re intruding on a very private mourning. To expose yourself so willingly takes courage and even now I find myself desperately struggling to do this in anything I share.
“In 20 years teens are going to stumble upon this video and fall in love with Frank Ocean”
In total, there are less than 100 words before the song reaches its climax. This is reflective of a simple message which doesn’t have to purely relate to love. And with every Frank Ocean song the beauty comes in the interpretation too.
For me, it is symbolic of the simple truth that everything matters. That every interaction you have with somebody is important. That every conversation somebody can be extracting a value from that you may so easily overlook or not appreciate. That you can never even be entirely sure if any given conversation is the last ever conversation you will have with somebody.
So appreciate every little detail that life has afforded to you and understand significance and value is wherever you choose to put the emphasis.