The roots of today’s R&B have been deeply planted in the woman. The classics are professions of love to or from us. The babymakers are odes to our bodies. The certified jams are either by us, for us or about us. We have served as R&B’s muse and subject for over a decade, shaping a genre that largely caters to our feelings, our sexuality, and our relationships. While settled into our place as the center of the music, we are finally presented with an entirely different perspective. After struggling to climb out of my feels on “Self Control,” I am escorted by Frank Ocean into a gay bar on the next Blondetrack, “Good Guy.” The rambling interlude details a quintessential “homie hookup,” where Frank embarks on a friend-recommended blind date with a man in New York. There I am, taking in a sonic scene that has nothing to with me and I am content, smirking even, as I relate to the notion, “You text nothing like you look.”
Even as a mere spectator, Blonde is an engaging and immersive experience. Its enduring ambiguity goes beyond social politics and carves out a standard for creativity. In place of tortured brushstrokes of unrequited love, Frank Ocean’s pen dips itself in an array of a more colorful existence. Chocolate undertones are referred to as “dark skin of a summer shade.” Séances bring past relationships back to life. Thought processes are thoroughly described as “Dreaming a thought that could dream about a thought / That could think of the dreamer that thought / That could think of dreaming and getting a glimmer of God.” The artist is as poetic as ever, abandoning the shadows for artful, layered storytelling that does not rely on who — or what — the listener is. In his formal introduction to Blonde and his Boys Don’t Cry magazine, Frank reveals that his love affair with cars served as a major component of his creative process. “Raf Simons once told me it was cliché, my whole car obsession. Maybe it links to a deep subconscious straight boy fantasy. Consciously though I don’t want straight — a little bent is good.” Thankfully for us all, Frank Ocean didn’t give us his truth to flee. He is absolved and reveling in his existence.
There has been no sonic experience — on such a grand stage — close to that of Frank Ocean’s. Sam Smith managed to make a monster smash album as an openly gay soul singer, but before he was Sam Smith The Grammy Darling, to many, he was unknown. Michael Jackson made his way onto the Billboard charts with hits that had nothing to do with women. But he was a pop artist, and did not identify as a gay man. We have speculated about the sexuality of a slew of singers, but never have women known the truth, and accepted it at this capacity. Even in spite of a few dishonorable mentions.
In unequivocal references to women, Frank Ocean is unafraid to be brash. On “Nikes,” a gold digger must be on cocaine if she thinks she’s getting a “check.” On “Solo,” he states, “But you gotta hit the p***y raw though,” despite the consequences of pregnancy. “Good Guy” ends with one man’s proclamation that he doesn’t “care about b*****s like that.” A “Facebook Story” skit finds French DJ Sebastian Akchoté-Bozovic sharing how his ex-girlfriend let social media kill their relationship. Women are a part of the story, but we’re less its protagonist and more its foil. Yet, the substitution does not equate to dilution.
Navigating the uncharted waters of mainstream R&B as an openly queer black man, Frank Ocean succeeded in finally imploding an old formula. The genre does not require the woman to play an outward role, nor does it depend on her to be received by the masses.
And we all seem to be fine with that.
Written by Iyana Robertson / @sincerely_iyana
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