BOYS DON’T CRY WOLF: FRANK OCEAN FINALLY DELIVERS NEW MUSIC
Frank Ocean has finally given us new material. Here’s why we should be patient next time
By Aidan D’Aoust
On August 18th, Frank Ocean released the visual album, Endless. The project was the first new collection of music from the singer in more than four years. The drop had Ocean’s fans in a frenzy, and prompted a huge sigh of relief from the rest of the music community. By the time Endless had made its way onto Apple Music, fans already expressed their anticipation for his proper follow up, Boys Don’t Cry. The term “proper” is used here loosely. The title was teased throughout the year, and was expected to be Ocean’s next official release. Once again, fans expressed their frustrations, that this visual album was not the one they had been waiting for. Frank had gifted us with an hour of new music, yet some found a way to be slightly dissatisfied. While composing this piece, it is rumoured that more music will be released within a matter of days. When this music does arrive, it is crucial to reflect on how we’ve waited for the album. Ultimately, it’s important to force ourselves to be more patient for art like this, because Frank’s music isn’t just any old music.
In 2012, Frank Ocean unleashed his debut studio album, Channel Orange. The project quickly garnered universal acclaim, won an extensive list of awards, and launched the singer to international superstardom. The album is so beloved that at this point, it’s becoming difficult to find anything new to say about it. Today, and in the buildup of his long-awaited physical album, the artist is held in the highest regard. His small discography is frequently cited as some of the most important music of the last decade.
When it comes to Frank Ocean, pop culture is hard-pressed to be hyperbolic—the singer-songwriter is simply that good. As such, the fuelling of the hype train has been unrelenting. This, while justified in many ways, is rather unfortunate. The added pressure and growing entitlement has cast a rather uneasy cloud over Boys Don’t Cry. Frank Ocean is his genre’s most important songwriter, and instead of pressuring his output, it is important to respect his artistic process. This is especially vital, considering the origin of his artistry.
Even before the release of Channel Orange, Frank Ocean’s name made a tidal wave of headlines. The media put the singer’s personal life in the spotlight, focusing on new lyrics that had made their way onto the Internet. Then a journalist who had been lucky enough to attend the album’s listening party wrote an article pointing out that Ocean’s lyrics referenced a male lover which, compared toprevious work, was seemingly out of character. So, on July 4, 2012, the singer published a TextEdit file on his Tumblr page, addressing rumours of his sexuality. Openly and honestly, he spoke of pastromantic relationships with both men and women. The move was applauded by the media—and more importantly, broke ground in the world of hip-hop and R&B. The latter point is momentous in an artistic landscape historically driven by hegemonic masculinity and an oftentimes aggressive heterosexuality. Along with the incredible music of his album, the brave approach cemented Frank as one of the most popular R&B singers in the world.
Unfortunately for him today, many of his fans have an embedded sense of entitlement and operate within a culture of immediacy.
Unlike Ocean, today’s hip-hop and R&B artists keep their fans fed on a consistent basis. His colleagues have released more albums, featured on more tracks, and made more live appearances than he has done in the last four years. This is becoming blatantly obvious for fans who have spent the year waiting for Boys Don’t Cry. The album had been teased for seemingly forever, and when Ocean made an appearance on his official website, listeners held out hope for a pending release. One of the later teasers featured him fiddling at a workbench in front of a boombox constructed by visual artist Tom Sachs. The looped video caused confusion online, and generated a slew of rumoured release dates. When these all came and went, fans began to stew in their disappointment.
Since the release of Channel Orange, we have been treated to infrequent appearances by the singer. In the last four years, Ocean has appeared on tracks with Kanye West, Beyoncé, James Blake and Jay-Z, among others. It’s a rather limited portfolio for an artist in such high demand, and especially so for a modern R&B singer. Many of Ocean’s contemporaries have made their bank by hopping onto as many tracks as possible. But Ocean is a different kind of artist. Rather than saturate his output, he maintains his stature by being incredibly selective.
When speaking of Frank Ocean, it is easy to compare the singer to the most important pop artists of the 21st century—a categorization that can be easily justified. Acts like Radiohead, Kanye West and Beyoncé are all fair comparisons due to their sheer fame and critical acclamation. The comparison to these artists goes deeper, however, when we see that they have all released an album this year, after a lengthy absence. The period of time between their respective releases? No longer than five years, and no shorter than three. This is pertinent in the sense that Frank Ocean exists on this same tier of artistry. Like all of these fantastic artists, Frank requires a similar timeline in order to incubate music that is worthwhile. Can you imagine preparing any sort of release, following the success of an album like Channel Orange? We’re lucky to be even expecting such a project this year.
What is important to the Frank Ocean fan is the understanding that excellent music takes time. When we listen to Boys Don’t Cry, it is another instalment of an honest man’s blood, sweat and tears. When new music is, quite literally, a click away, it is often easy to forget that good art requires patience. Long-lasting, genre-defining music is hard to come by. Frank Ocean is aware of this, and it’s fair to assume that he wants his listeners to be as well. It is also fair to accept that his latest music has been worth every minute of our patience. We don’t want just any old music, we want Frank Ocean music. And Frank Ocean music will always be worth the wait.
AIDAN D’AOUST is a writer and music buff based in Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter @aidandaoust