Saturday, July 07, 2012

Why Frank Ocean Matters

Earlier this week reports began circulating online that rising R&B star Frank Ocean had recorded love songs about men on his hugely-anticipated debut album Channel Orange. Most fans dismissed the rumours or simply put the references down to storytelling - they reasoned that he was simply singing the songs from a woman's perspective. The reputable urban music blogs ignored the story altogether until the talented 24-year-old posted a letter on Tumblr, admitting that his first love was a man. It's only a slight exaggeration to say that the Odd Future collaborator's announcement shook the music world to its core. Which is kind of strange. Gay pop stars are everywhere these days - so why is Frank Ocean's decision to come out so important and newsworthy?

With all due respect to the flag-flying gays doing their thing in the music business, the vast majority cater to relatively niche markets (Jónsi, Rufus Wainwright, RuPaul and Sam Sparro) or came out well into an already successful career (George Michael, Ricky Martin and Darren Hayes). Adam Lambert is the only gay singer of note to really wear his sexuality as a badge from the very beginning. But pop fans have always been comparatively gay-friendly and he had the most successful TV show in the world to help introduce him to the masses. Frank, on the other hand, works in a section of the music industry where it's still completely acceptable - and commonplace - to call someone a fag and drop homophobic remarks. The urban music scene celebrates hyper-masculinity with all that talk about bitches and hoes. Frank just turned the whole genre upside down and inside out. And he's not an unknown. The velvet-voiced crooner has been hailed as the next big thing. He won almost universal critical acclaim for his mixtape and has collaborated with hip hop heavyweights like Kanye West, Jay Z and Beyoncé.

This is a man that sang about fucking his girl long and good on "Novacane" - so it's no surprise that his coming out has been a complete mind fuck for some fans. And yet, the overwhelming response has been positive. Artists like Rita Ora, Trina and Tyler, The Creator praised his honesty, most haters shrugged off the news after a couple of days and a herd of curious gays jumped on iTunes to check out his amazing music (I suggest starting with "Swim Good" - below - or the epic 10 minute triumph "Pyramids"). Beyoncé even penned a tribute to him on her website. The response gives me hope that the world is actually changing. Frank's bravery has inspired me more than I ever imagined and I'm more excited than ever to hear Channel Orange. If it's half as good as the buzz singles, we're in for one of the best albums of 2012.


John said...

Frank's vocals on "Made in America" on Watch the Throne were a highlight for me, so I was already eager to hear his solo debut. This only makes me support him even more. Good on him.

Darkwing Duck said...

Didn't Freddie Jackson & Luther already have the homo R&B crooner thing covered?

John said...

Neither actually came out. Freddie to this day refuses to comment on his personal life, and Luther's family is supposedly fighting to keep his love life private, even in death.