Sunday, July 21, 2024

Why Frank Ocean’s Fans Went Crazy

Frank Ocean loves cars. He isn’t shy about it either.

His debut mixtape/album nostalgia, ULTRA. features that bright orange 1980s BMW E30 M3, his supposed “dream car,” hidden amidst a shrubbery alcove on its album cover. There’s the “pretty big trunk on my Lincoln town car, ain’t it?” line from “Swim Good” and the Mustang 5.0 he offers to spare his broken heart in “American Wedding.” The deeper Frank fans know “Acura Intergurl,” a song when Frank still went by Lonny Breaux, and dedicated to his 1991 Acura NSX. Digging even deeper, the Channel Orange booklet displays another BMW, one more knowledgeable enthusiasts have recognized as a 5-series wagon.

The singer may have been in hiding, but he never hid his love of cars. Maybe Frank fanatics would rather the New York Times never be mentioned (or publish another newspaper) again, but in one of the handful of interviews Frank’s given, the singer showed off his rebuilt 1990 BMW E30 sedan and allowed the NYTimes writer to drive (and scratch) his M3.

You get it by now. Dude’s obsessed with cars, namely Beemers. But you don’t really care, because you just want the album. Technically it’s still not out. Frank did drop this “visual album” called “Endless,” available only on Apple Music for now. It’s great. He covers that Isley Brothers track “At Your Best (You Are Love)” that Aaliyah famously covered and builds a staircase to either heaven or nowhere depending on your interpretation of the situation.

But it’s still a prelude to the album, which will debut this weekend (fingers crossed) and will no longer go by Boys Don’t Cry, according to Rolling Stone.

So let’s go back to Wednesday night for a moment. If you haven’t heard, there was a Frank Ocean spotting Wednesday. Those seem rarer nowadays than walking in a public park and not bumping into someone playing Pokemon Go. Thanks to A$AP Rocky’s Snapchat, we knew even before today that Frank’s alive. What’s he been doing? Street-racing cars with Tyler, the Creator.

How fun, right? Old buds Frankie and Ty driving fast with a terrified Rocky yelping his lungs out. A nice little treat as we wait for the album, you might be thinking.

Dammit. I forgot how the internet works.


You get the feeling the people who waste days back-to-back on the internet, never leaving their phones for a second, expect an artist to lock himself in a studio until he emerges, like Jesus from the tomb, and deliver us from evil (in the form of an album). They’re likely the kind of people who text during movies and snap a pic their meal every time they eat out and go hiking just to Instagram the view. In other words, they probably lack any concept of how art’s created.

Frank Ocean’s delayed, maybe-dropping-this-weekend record has brought out the bottomless floor of internet culture. Some “hilarious” fans made a diss album called Boys Do Cry, parodying numerous tracks like “Pink Matter” and Kanye’s “Say You Will.” That Apple Music livestream/performance art piece that became “Endless” showed Frank sawing wood and painting boxes. The warehouse of the video? Reddit users found it. Still over waiting for the album to drop but need it the exact second it does? A slight paradox, but no worries. There’s an app for that.

Okay. I realize I seem like a cross between a technophobe and that old-man-yells-at-cloud Grandpa Simpson meme right around now. But I don’t believe it’s been all garbage trash piles. This Vine has brought more joy into my life than a thousand corgy huskie puppies rolling atop my face. It should win the EGOT. I will fight anyone who thinks otherwise.

I can’t pinpoint when it happened, but music fandom became uncomfortably toxic within the past year or so. The vitriolic anticipation for Frank’s album is just another example of what now goes on day after day. Music fandom has always been slightly contentious. We will argue about music, really any popular art form, until the day we die/become human batteries for the Matrix.

Questions like: Who really should be remembered as the King of Pop? Prince or Michael (Prince). What rappers make up your Top Five? (Jay, Andre, Pac, Kendrick, Black Thought, and yes I’m wrong.) Who won these rap beefs: Jay Z vs. Nas, Beanie Siegel vs. The LOX, J. Cole vs. Diggy? (Jay, Beans, and nobody cares.)  Who’s the greatest guitarist of all time? (Super debatable, but if he ever wanted it, Prince again.)

Anyone who loves music also loves arguing about music. It’s always been part of the fun. But the hyper-accelerated nature of our media consumption changed the equation. Maybe it’s the “jokes>>>facts always” crowd or our instantaneous need to claim a new album classic or trash. Maybe it’s meme culture in general, which has a way of cheapening anything for a moment’s laugh. Maybe it’s the media content mill, willing to showcase the trending thing for some clicks.

Or maybe it’s my generation’s need to ironically distance themselves from anything resembling emotions or feelings, because in our panoptic, post-Snowden world, there’s a fear that anything serious we do or say will be used against us, so it’s better never to be serious at all.

I’ve been listening to Drake’s VIEWS again lately. It’s the most popular album of the year, according to sales, and the most critically-panned album of Drake’s career. Mediocre, treading the same ground, uninspired. He’s not rapping enough. Baroque and bloated. Why didn’t he just make a dancehall album? He has everything at the top yet sounds so depressed and paranoid #lame.

Part of this is Drake’s fault. The expectations for the album began in 2014 when he rapped on the track “0 to 100/The Catch-Up:” “We already got spring 2015 poppin’ / PND droppin’, Reps-up P droppin’ / Majid Jordan droppin’, OB droppin’, not to mention me droppin’”

That album was supposed to be the then-titled Views from the 6. Then 2015 came and Drake released If You’re Reading It’s Too Late, a mix-album that cashed in the trending Atlanta trap sound and What A Time to Be Alive, a joint project with Future. Reaction to these projects were pleasant and markedly reserved because the projects were appetizers. They didn’t need to be great or game-changers. Views from the 6 was still on its way. And just to tide us over further, Drake (pretty much) ended Meek Mill’s career with “Back to Back,” which remains pure exhilaration every time you hear it.

All that fun had a dangerous side-effect: Expectations were so high he’d need to release his Thriller, his Blueprint, his Pet Sounds just to meet them. Of course he didn’t. VIEWS is meandering, veiled, created by a really lonely man who keeps finding the wrong answers to his problems. Too long still but it’s pretty good actually. However, most can’t get past that change in Drake’s image from wounded and heartbroken to the isolated Hamlet he plays on VIEWS. Probably because most respond to others’ loneliness the same way: with “the instinctive sense that it is literally repulsive,” as Olivia Laing notes in The Lonely City, which really sounds like a Drake project if I’ve heard one.

We’re pretty great at creating anticipation and hype in our era. Think of the enormous glee surrounding the release of DC’s Suicide Squad. It was to be the superhero movie we’ve always been waiting for! Until it wasn’t.

These expectations usually end up hurting those who instigate them. That’s the frustration surrounding Frank Ocean and music fans. Frank might’ve fueled the fires with that cryptic library book slip with all its crossed-out dates and the even more cryptic livestream that only finally revealed itself (and it’s still pretty cryptic!). Otherwise, most of the animosity towards Frank stems from a self-perpetuating drudge. It’s little wonder why we’ve seen more “surprise” drops from mainstream and independent artists this year. Beyonce, Kanye, Radiohead, and Chance experienced far more benefits through this route than the typical scheduled album rollouts of old.

Frank tried this play. It’s kind of wild when you think about it. A leaked source told the New York Times the album would come Aug. 5; there was never an official announcement. Yet this is all Frank’s fault. Stop having fun and blowing off some steam by racing cars. Finish the album, asshole.

Few artists would engender these intense emotional reactions. Frank Ocean’s music reaches sublime heights through his sincere, confessional storytelling and his touches-the-soul croon. Frank doesn’t speak to you; he speaks for you. Perhaps that’s why we need this album so desperately and make insolent demands he finish it: Without him, we don’t know what else there is to say.


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