Frank Ocean Doesn't Owe Us Anything
Two weeks ago, the greatest travesty in the world centered around what we weren’t getting. Or rather, what someone initially promised and then reneged on. Frank Ocean, the mercurial R&B talent who with one mixtape (2011’s Nostalgia, Ultra) and one album (2012’s Channel Orange) earned a smattering of praise and love from fans because of what he represented.
He wasn’t overtly sexual like roughly 83 percent of his peers; his emotional tugs dig far closer to the appreciation of connection rather than the physical dalliance of sexuality. He professed love for a man on “Forrest Gump," and penned a letter before Channel Orange declaring that he had fallen in love with a man before, which opened up a Pandora’s Box that black music in particular was shaky at best to comprehend. Ocean dictated the terms of his sexuality, his representation and his songwriting. It was all left to interpretation, and fans ate it up. In many a year since, Ocean’s sophomore effort was pinned on message boards and social media as the most anticipated release of that year. Only it never came. Every piece of information we got about Boys Don’t Cry, we ate it up. We rocked back and forth with anticipation, only to be let down last week when the album never materialized.
All that did occur was a mysterious live-stream of Ocean inside of a room, building what appeared to be a studio. But, it’s not Frank Ocean’s fault that we came to believe an album was coming out last Friday. Rather, that blame belongs to us, the fans who have grown entitled about artists, release dates and more.
When news hit The New York Times from an anonymous source that Boys Don’t Cry was coming on August 5, it put the world on notice. It also forced a large contingent to believe in one source that an album was coming. Ocean didn’t confirm it. His label, Def Jam Records — which couldn’t necessarily figure out a proper rollout for Channel Orange in 2012 — were left in the dark as well. Many fell for it.
Yet, I wouldn’t blame Frank Ocean because we fell for it. Rather, the guilt we share as fans solely falls upon our inflated expectations of people.
Release dates are like promises. When one keeps getting pushed back, the yearning for it begins to wane. Artists decided to forego the entire notion of a release date and began dropping things when they felt like it. It sort of curbed any idea of expectation. You know the saying about life, “a lack of expectations means a lack of pain when someone doesn’t come through”? That’s how plenty of fans have come around to feeling about release dates in the modern release cycle. When someone gives us one, it's a promise. We feel entitled to someone following through, adhering to an impossible sense of ownership.
We don’t own artists. They don’t owe us anything.
If The New York Times decided to fake the world out on an album release, that’s our fault for believing them and not vetting the right people. In the age of secret releases, aura and mystery sometimes trumping actual talent and the need to be first, we’ve heaped praise upon artists who haven’t exactly earned it in the first place. For comparison’s sake, Ocean has been paralleled to OutKast’s Andre 3000 in terms of recluses who have yet to fulfill the promise of a new album. Or Harper Lee of To Kill a Mockingbird fame, for her refusal to write a follow-up to her '60s literary classic until her dying days. One could argue that Ocean’s refusal to release or acknowledge his fans with even a solid word about a new album borders on artistic selfishness, but it’s well within his right. People begged Adele to create a happier album after 21 was such a seismic gut-punch of emotion. It took her four whole years to craft 25 and what was the first single? A drab, tearjerker of a breakup song in “Hello."
It's not as if Ocean went completely dark after his much-maligned 2013 Grammys performance of "Forrest Gump." He showed up on Kanye West's "Wolves" from The Life of Pablo. He was there on Beyoncé's self-titled disc. And again, he appeared on John Mayer's "Wildfire" from 2013's Paradise Valley. Earl Sweatshirt's Doris held a Frank Ocean feature in "Sunday," and so on and so forth. If there's anyone to be completely upset with about lacking a release date, it's rap's Jay Electronica, who has been promising his debut album since 2009. That's seven years. Ocean's fans have a long way to go before our fussing reaches that level of artistic stiff-arm.
Fans not getting Boys Don’t Cry last week leads to a wide speculation of a number of things, hypothetical questions that dare fans to question their own thoughts and ideas. What if it’s a sophomoric dud the way fans took in The Doggfather from Snoop Dogg in 1996? Or Lauryn Hill’s Unplugged followup to her beloved (even if it may be overrated) The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill? Hey, remember Detox from Dr. Dre? Or how people felt when they finally got Chinese Democracy from Guns N' Roses? Or the worst of all, Terence Trent D’Arby following up Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby with Neither Fish nor Flesh? Are we going to tell Ocean that we were at least thankful he released the one album? I doubt it. People still haven’t fully taken to D’Angelo’s Black Messiah even though it was one of the best albums released in 2014.
Once upon a time, we used to laud musicians for not burning themselves out, while also championing the ones who produced new material every year. Prince gave us one album a year from 1979 until his death. Jay Z, from 1996 to 2003, released a new album every year. In today’s age, the most prolific musician with chart success to match is Future; even he may have run into a possible rut. Since 2014’s Monster, he has released four mixtapes and two albums' worth of material. The best of it may have occurred between Beast Mode and 56 Nights, with last summer’s DS2 his crowning achievement from a commercial standpoint. His last tape, a joint effort with DJ Esco in Project E.T. (Esco Terrestrial), was released in June; it came and went.
So no, don’t blame Frank Ocean about Boys Don’t Cry not hitting iTunes at 11:59 p.m. on any given day of the week. Now, an app has been created that will let you know when it finally drops. In this age where music is released at the same rate of blinking, those who create art are not beholden to us. When they release too much music, we complain. When they don’t release music at a fair enough distance for our liking, we complain.
Just find satisfaction that they give a damn to try and create for our emotional highs and lows in the first place.
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