By Cedric S. Reyes
When an unduly long, 17-track LP called channel ORANGE dropped around this time four years ago, there were no digital trumpets to signal its entrance, no lashes bat at the droopy-eyed black dude who had put it out. Among music writers and Pitchfork types, Frank Ocean had already found quite a following since he put out nostalgia, ULTRA., a hazy vibrating thing with hits on its own, the year before.
But it wasn’t until he released his full-length album in 2012 that his songs started to get played at the occasional party I willed myself to go to, and friends started playing “Thinking Bout You” in their cars. I torrented the episode of Saturday Night Live where he performed that song together with John Mayer looking properly somber with a guitar. I knew then that there was something magnetic about Ocean and his stupid red-and-white bandana. Now, it’s 2016, and with teasers and speculatory articles mounting, I’m but one of the Spotify-bumping nerds that are eagerly awaiting the third album.
Still, I wonder about what makes him so special. What was it exactly that set him apart from his contemporaries? Why did I love him so much? Will I ever experience the same emotional intimacy he so delicately croons on about? With these questions in tow, I devoured every music video, every skit, every casual appearance until I came to a single-minded conclusion: I do not want to be Frank Ocean.
[pull_quote]It wasn’t that he lacked a superstar quality that would put him among the likes of my other celebrity obsessions—Frank Ocean held his own on stages big and small. And while I could not relate to this, I could relate to his being of color, his being gay, and, crucially and for about a year now, his serial tardiness.[/pull_quote]
This makes him stand out among my other mild to deeply worrying obsessions with celebrities (see: Kanye West, Tina Fey, James Murphy). With them, there was always a sense of jealousy coupled with the wonder. I wanted to be Kanye, so I slapped the Yeezus sticker on my Macbook and waited for his sublime genius to creep into the pieces I typed on it. (Still waiting.) Then, I wanted to be Tina, so I affected a permanent grimace and feigned disenchantment with the world. After that, I wanted to be James, so I dropped the grimace, bought a guitar, and tried to be bearded and 40 and white. None of these worked out, for obvious reasons.
There was no such failure with Frank because there was never an attempt to begin with. I seemed to enjoy the work of the people I admire from at least an arm’s length, like I was here, and they, always, on the impossible there. Watching Ocean visibly sheepish and uncomfortable in front of the camera with his rap troupe OFWGKTA, I couldn’t help but feel that he was different. It wasn’t that he lacked a superstar quality that would put him among the likes of my other celebrity obsessions—Frank Ocean held his own on stages big and small. And while I could not relate to this (my stage presence is akin to that of a dust bin), I could relate to his being of color, his being gay, and, crucially and for about a year now, his serial tardiness.
The last time I listened to a new Frank Ocean single was four years ago. Back then, there were no digital trumpets or batting lashes, and now it’s no different. The mood of the legions of fans he’s since acquired is a lot less festive and a lot more ambivalent.
So while his new record, whatever it will be called, might be met with torches and furrowed brows instead, you can bet that there will be people to meet it all the same. Because even if we like to complain about the dude’s constant aural blue-balling (his original announcement was in April 2015 and there have been at least eight rescheds since), it’s his lateness that continues to collapse that gap between our here and the celebrity’s impossible there.
Just like the rest of us, Frank can’t keep a deadline. He proves this with every unexcused extension (with side projects like a magazine, new endorsements, and possibly a novel), and we’re hooked. Like a long glance in a mirror, we don’t exactly enjoy the experience of having to wait, but we can’t stop doing it either. So we can keep complaining about the album’s delay, and when it finally comes, light the fire emojis for torches. The album will be good, I bet—but not as good as the wait.
Photo from Independent