Frank Ocean's 'Blonde' is an understated, genreless, queer masterpiece
Back in 2012, a few months before Frank Ocean began to retreat into his four-year silence, he gave a prophetic interview to GQ. It still reads like it did then: as a huge middle finger to anyone who tries to pin down his artistic or sexual preferences. But in the wake of Blonde, one quote has taken on an entirely new gravity.
Asked if he considers himself "bisexual," Ocean requests the interviewer move on to their next question:
I'll respectfully say that life is dynamic and comes along with dynamic experiences, and the same sentiment that I have towards genres of music, I have towards a lot of labels and boxes and shit ... I'm giving you what I feel like you can feel. The other shit, you can't feel. You can't feel a box. You can't feel a label. Don't get caught up in that shit.
Ocean's Blonde, which dropped Saturday, is a living embodiment of this mission — more so than Channel Orange, more so than Nostalgia Ultra. It sets the stage for a more inscrutable and mystifying release than anything most late-aughts pop and R&B listeners have likely attempted to digest. In the end, though, it's a far more necessary one. Peel back the skin of dense, hallucinatory poetry, and there's so much food for the soul.
Blonde is largely a record about lost love and coping with it inside a culture that's evolving faster than people living within it. Ocean's lyrics review technologies, new dating dialectics, new drugs and new cultural values with a disarming philosophical skepticism.
Ocean's "Good Guy" describes a blind date he went on in New York: "I, first time I done saw you/ You text nothing like you look," he sings, describing an odd, but relatable turn-off. "Facebook Story" lends the mic to one of his producers, Sebastian, who describes how baffled he was when a girl broke up with him because he refused to accept her friend request on Facebook.
Juxtaposed with these complex meditations on the heart and existence, Ocean's ultimate conclusion about his best way forward on "Futura Free" is hilariously simple: "If I was being honest," Ocean says plainly. "I'd say long as I could fuck three times a day and not skip a meal I'm good."
What seems to hold back that freedom are labels, boxes, shit that as Frank Ocean said you can't feel. The struggle appears throughout — Ocean even avoiding using pronouns in most of his love stories. Instead, each could easily interpreted as being heterosexual, homosexual, gender queer.
In "Futura Free," he reminds us all of his monumental "coming-out" letter — "don't cut bitches no more." But he will make allowances to fuck with anyone who thinks that defines him — "your bitch my exception."
Every one of Ocean's verses defy any attempt to uphold them as grand statements advocating for sexual liberty. But the real revolution hides in this vagueness.
Sexuality is not a black-and-white, him-or-her affair. It's a personal mystery. Ocean explores his own on Blonde, but the way he does it expands his tales into universal stories. "White Ferrari" soundtracks every person's long, profound peaceful drive with their loved one. "Nights" reflects every person's wandering nighttime reminisces, no matter who they're thinking about.
All this time we've spent deciding which genders have "permission" to love, as Ocean describes in an accompanying poem "Boyfriend," has only distracted us from the truth. All humans feel love's pull the same. True gods can see that — as Ocean describes himself on "Futura Free" — even if there's no obvious heaven to house them.