In the past few weeks, the music world has been all abuzz about a man called Frank Ocean. If you hadn’t heard of him before, you will very soon.
The Odd Future affiliate and solo RnB artist recently revealed via a poetic Tumblr post that his first love was a man. Cue media frenzy. Many have praised his courage, but what Ocean has done poses a timely question that many fans have raised this week. Should an artist have to come out? Isn’t it all supposed to be about the music? Should we really care?
Ocean’s lengthy Tumblr post was intended to fill the thank-you’s section of his album credits for Channel Orange, his official debut following his mixtape-come-break Nostalgia_Ultra last year.
Ocean’s post was incredibly powerful and eloquent, and unlike previous celebrities, he decided not splash a provocative ‘coming out’ across a magazine cover, or via a TV or newspaper interview.
In fact, Ocean actually avoids definitively saying “I’m gay”, but instead writes a fluid memoir that tells the story of a man who became the singer’s first love in his youth.
Heartbreaking and forthright, the singer broke through a long overdue convention for closeted celebrities with his online post. Writing in some detail about his experiences as a 19-year-old: “By the time I realised I was in love, it was malignant, it was hopeless. There was no escaping, no negotiating with the feeling. No choice. It was my first love, it changed my life.”
Following the post, the album for which the liner notes were intended, Channel Orange, was released a week ahead of its intended release date and after the crooner made his first ever television network appearance with a performance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.
Ocean undoubtedly decided to make the important decision to come out, prior to the release of his new album, to put to bed the rumours that had been generating from those who had (over) analysed the lyrics of his previous work.
His decision to perform album track ‘Bad Religion’ on Fallon is evident. In its lyrics, Ocean seeks therapy from a taxi driver, singing: “I can’t tell you the truth of my disguise”… before he deftly reveals “I could never make him love me.”
The reaction from the music community (so far) has been overwhelmingly positive. Tyler the Creator, who along with the entire Odd Future posse, has in the past been accused of homophobia tweeted: “My Big Brother Finally Fucking Did That, I Know That Shit Is Difficult Or Whatever.”
Fellow member, Earl Sweatshirt (who also makes an appearance on Channel Orange) also took to social media for his vote of support, tweeting: “Proud of Frank.”
But some of the most moving responses of support have come from outside of the Odd Future cohort. Beyoncé posted a touching poem in front of a picture of Ocean, while Def Jam records co-founder Russell Simmons said; “I am profoundly moved by [Ocean’s] courage and honesty.”
Meanwhile, most of what the media has reported on Ocean’s ‘coming out’ has been constructive and sympathetic, but you can assume there is still plenty of bigotry in the atmosphere.
You can argue that the announcement and the release of his debut album is great marketing and there is no doubting that. But the singer’s intentions seem to have little to do with sales, and more so with him being able to express himself as an artist without the rumourmongers creating unnecessary suspicion from behind the safety of their computers.
We can’t speak for the folks at Def Jam Island, Ocean’s record label, but from their perspective – we’re sure they probably wouldn’t have minded the added boost of media attention Ocean received towards Channel Orange. Perhaps even prompting its week-early release.
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