Ocean Fatigue: Does a popular artist have a responsibility to their audience?

Frank “The Tease” Ocean

Frank Ocean was elusive for about four years. As a pioneer of modern RnB, his presence on the landscape was craved by not only his fans but by fellow musicians alike. However, after the release of his first EP Channel Orange, no one could find him. It was in his privacy that his notoriety grew. His sound became larger than himself. Artists from Bryson Tiller to DVSN can owe their success to the mellow yet impactful sounds that Frank Ocean was known for producing. Throughout the years, people wanted to know more about Frank. He would tease his fans with Tumblr posts and appear in random ads , but he failed to produced what the people really wanted — new music. Although there had been rumours in the years since 2012, no rumour seemed more solid than the prospect that July of 2016 would be the time his new album — then titled Boys Don’t Cry — would be released. Everything seemed so real. Frank would finally release an album. To the disdain of fans and casual music listeners, on July 31, 2016 no album came. After years of teasing, you could feel a collective sigh emanating from the internet. A collective fatigue seemed to set in. As this collective fatigue grew, two schools of thought emerged: people who believed that Frank Ocean had no responsibility to his audience and those who did. To some, he was an artist perfecting his art. To others, he was an artist who had a responsibility to his audience and they deserved to have some contact with the artist that they admired. On August 20, 2016 the wait ended. Ocean’s second EP “Blond(e)” has finally been released to stream. As customary with the internet, people have forgotten the fatigue they did (or did not) feel. But — I believe that the discussion should tarry on: What responsibility does an artist have to their audience? And if they do, why?

One argument may be that Frank Ocean is simply an elusive artist — not an irresponsible one. However, another elusive artist has been able to balance privacy and artistry well — her name is Beyoncé Knowles. No one knows where she goes when tour is over. No one knows how or when she creates her projects. Everything seems like magic. In 2014, Beyoncé dropped the album Beyoncé by surprise. No one knew she was working on it. When it hit the internet, the world seemed to implode. How did she do this, we all asked. It seemed as if their was novelty in the surprise. It increased the impact and the demand. It also lowered any expectations of Beyoncé because there was nothing to expect. She had the creative freedom to do as she pleased. In this freedom, she was able to lead the way in a revolution. In this freedom, she was also able to be free of any responsibility towards her fans. With this, she was able to shift the way the we experience music and albums. With Frank Ocean, I believe his largest problem is expectation. The expectation to surpass his previous work. The expectation that his songs will be played over and over. The expectation of a new groundbreaking sound. So much expectation. It has become a shackle to him. It has also caused him to bear a responsibility to the public.

With Frank Ocean, I believe his largest problem is expectation. The expectation to surpass his previous work. The expectation that his songs will be played over and over. The expectation of a new groundbreaking sound. So much expectation.

So where does this responsibility come in? I believe that as a result of the way Frank Ocean teased information to his fans over the years, he responsibility towards them. In the event that he went completely ghost, he would have been clean of it. He is not an Andre 3000 who created a large catalogue before disappearing from the music landscape and he is not a Jay Electronica or MF Doom who rides on underground success. Instead, he reluctantly floats between pop star and myth. Although it seems that he is wary of this state — it is the cost of fame. When everyone knows your name and you are seen as a pop artists, is your art really your own? Or is it simply content to be consumed by the masses. I believe the latter.

But, Gabrielle — the man is a tortured genius — should we not feel empathy towards him? No. I do not feel bad for the perceived responsibility Frank Ocean has towards his fans. I believe he placed it upon himself. Fame is a contract and he has repeatedly broken it. It seems as if he was trapped between sharing nothing with his fans and sharing a little too much. It seemed as if his confusion created an atmosphere of notoriety and anxiety. There are artists who share this “fame anxiety” such as Adele or Ed Sheeran. Both artists emerged during the same year as Channel Orange. Both became widely successful. Both returned in the years following their successful albums with hits and promptly went away. They did not tease. They were honest with their audience. Both artists conveyed to their fans that after their projects were finished they needed to “live life”. As a result of their straight forward attitude — there was no anxiety or resentment from fans. There was a trust. If Adele or Ed said that they wanted to take a break, we will give them a break because we know when they create their art — they will release it when they say they will release it. They will tour when we want to see them. We will take what we want and they will give what they have too. Then they can go away again. This, in my opinion, is the price of fame.

He is not an Andre 3000 who created a large catalogue before disappearing from the music landscape and he is not a Jay Electronica or MF Doom who rides on underground success. Instead, he reluctantly floats between pop star and myth.

If Frank Ocean had dropped his album when he had planned too, or two years ago — I believe the impact would have been greater. It would have been greater if we had not expected it. It would have been greater if he had communicated with his audience. Although he has impacted his current fanbase, it is yet to see if the rest of the music world really cares. Personally, the only reason I clicked to listen on Apple Music was for Andre 3000’s fire interlude. For me, the excitement of the “Frank is missing” memes are gone and I am left with thoughts on a pop star’s responsibility to their audience.

Like in any relationship, I believe that communication is key. The relationship between the artist and fan is sacred. I believe that an audience will allow you to be comfortably elusive as long as you convey with them that’s what you want. Frank has not done this. Frank has been cruel to us. Sure, we still adore his music — however, listening to it feels like going back to a mean partner. You know they’re going to leave and hurt you again, but you stay with them for a short time because it gives you a nice feeling — if only for a moment.

Happy listening,

G.