wishes for frank

My Chemical Romance initially provided me with the strong sense of what music can bring out and say about my own mental health and identity. There are these safe places in music, where one only listens to the music that is both aligned with their current taste and doesn’t go beyond their perceived emotional tolerance level. I was very much in my safe place in my early teenage years: feeling depressed and stubbornly staying in the emo-punk-indie-alternative lane. Then, Frank Ocean removed the stickers off my already solved Rubik’s cube and put on new ones, leaving me unsolved and forced to begin again.

I suspect there is a part of the Internet that is talking about Ocean at any given time, but his name has been all over my timelines recently. This past week marked the four year anniversary of the release of Ocean’s second studio album Blonde. Earlier this month, it was reported that his younger brother Ryan Breaux was killed in a car accident. These events are in tandem with the ongoing onslaught of fans who incessantly demand Ocean to drop a new album.

I’m joining the chorus because I owe a lot to Frank Ocean.

No, you haven’t been living under a rock if you don’t know who Ocean is. He is a new form of R&B artist – from style to role. Ocean is commonly known for his singer-songwriter mixtapes and albums where his welcoming voice is laid over seemingly unfitting tracks that make for brilliant pairings. He’s ghostwritten for Beyonce and Justin Bieber. He won two Grammys.

Yet, Ocean is just as popular for his music as he is for being inconsistent with what we think it means to engage with the public as a celebrity and as a person in 2020. He isn’t active on social media and does minimal interviews and concerts. When Blonde dropped, it appeared out of thin air. “Reclusive,” “frustrating,” an artist of mystery  – the common Ocean descriptors in the think pieces abound.

Back in 2011, I heard whispers on Tumblr, a blogging website at the peak of its popularity, of Ocean being an artist that I couldn’t miss. But I was stuck in my safe place in music as the depressed person who listens to emo and made my mind up about hip-hop before I ever listened;  I could never resonate with hip-hop’s hyper-masculine themes and lack of, what I previously thought of, emotion.

I sucked it up and put on “Novacane,” a song that follows a narrative about a dental student and details a complex relationship with numbness. It was nothing I thought R&B was or could be, and I loved it.

Ocean would go on to release the highly successful debut album Channel Orange. He’d divulge in an essay posted on Tumblr that Channel Orange was about a boy being his first love. To be a black man in R&B express so openly and tenderly that he had feelings for someone of the same gender in 2012 was unheard of.

Along with being sonically talented, Ocean’s importance and cult following can be attributed to his consistency of inconsistency. Both Ocean’s music and actions reveal more about ourselves than it reveals about him.

Initially, when I went out of my comfort zone to listen to Ocean, everything I knew about my music taste was wrong (this is a good time to note the benefit of not listening to songs delivered to you through an algorithm). The truth is I liked different genres, and I didn’t have to be defined by any genre or way of being. I didn’t always have to prescribe to how I thought a depressed person needed to act; I could be vulnerable and experience a whole range of emotion.

Ocean shows us that our identities are unique to our own experiences and are more fluid than we thought. One of the only ways to get in touch with who we are at our core is to try new things and be open with what we’re feeling at the present moment.  Society and our mental illnesses can’t define us if we’re honest with ourselves.

There’s a lot projected onto Ocean, and I know I’m part of the problem. Yet, we owe more to Ocean than he owes us. While it is the byproduct of our love for any artist, our impatience for new music and analysis of its creator (again I’m part of the problem) keeps us distracted from what is already released. Ocean’s music has proved to be meant to sit with and meditate on.

So maybe it’s time to do just that. Log off. Try something new. Really listen to Nostalgia, Ultra, Channel Orange, or Blonde, and stop waiting for another album. Or the next moment.

I wish Ocean as much time away from the public eye as he desires. I wish Blonde a Happy Birthday. I wish Ocean continues to have the bravery to subvert every norm he desires. I wish Ocean and his family my condolences for the loss of Ryan. I wish he’s giving to himself as much as he gave to me.

shealyn.

This week’s playlist can be found here.

Logistics! –
Posts will be on Mondays. If you think there is a better day for this, please let me know. I’m open to all feedback.

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