Building Up to Blonde

Frank Ocean’s new album brings a new twist

Rachel Boone, reporter

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Frank Ocean’s 2012 release, “Channel Orange,” broke barriers by exploring untouched content, including songs centered around his ambiguous sexuality, as well as leaping from genre to genre so often making it impossible to place him into the R&B category with complete certainty. Exploring pop on tracks like “Thinkin Bout You,” club music on “Pyramids,” rap on “Super Rich Kids,” as well as the contemporary sound that his music has been acclaimed for on “Pilot Jones” and “Pink Matter” made “Channel Orange” personal, unique and inimitable. Ocean set himself apart from other artists on his level, became the musical influence he is today and hit number one on the American R&B/Hip-Hop album charts. Then, in the midst of all the excitement, he disappeared.

After “Channel Orange”’s release, teasers hinting at a sophomore album from Ocean himself, in the press and on social media, continued for almost four years. In April 2015, a photo uploaded on Ocean’s Tumblr of himself with two stacks of magazines, captioned “I got two versions. I got twoooo versions. #ISSUE1 #ALBUM3 #JULY2015 #BOYSDONTCRY” led to a confirmation by Billboard that his sophomore album, “Boys Don’t Cry,” would, in fact, arrive in July 2015. However, to the dismay of Ocean’s fans, July 2015 came and went without an album release. In fact, the rest of 2015 and the first half of 2016 came and went without an album release or update. After the supposed release date passed, internet theories rose as to why Ocean disappeared out of the public eye for so long, as did speculations regarding his possible return to music.

At last, Ocean came out of hiding after a long series of “Boys Don’t Cry”-themed Twitter memes, fake album disclosure with no reputable sources and a lot of disappointment after conspiracies about the release date were proven untrue time and time again. On August 19, “Endless,” Ocean’s Apple Music-exclusive visual album that included B-Sides and unfinished tracks, released with no forewarning after he made a surprise appearance on the livestream. Fans speculated that the tracks on “Endless” were previews of songs from another upcoming project. That same night, Rolling Stone announced that something else, possibly a studio album, would be coming the weekend following the release of “Endless.”

The wait for “Blonde” lasted less than twenty-four hours. Within an hour of the album’s official Apple Music release, accompanied with the “Boys Don’t Cry” magazine, it seemed like the internet lost its mind, making “#Blonde” the top trend on Twitter before the album even had a chance to be streamed in full. The “Boys Don’t Cry” magazine contained a lengthy list of album collaborators that included André 3000, Beyoncé, Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar, ensuring that the four-year wait in-between albums was not in vain. Those who were hopeful that “Blonde” would live up to “Channel Orange’s” legacy were not disheartened by the change of pace present in “Blonde,” but neither were those who wanted Ocean to take the album in a whole different direction.

A much more personal and confessional album than its predecessor, “Blonde” explored themes of heartbreak, family tension and substance abuse, as well as the recurring theme of Ocean’s sexuality, which has been an inspiration to many. Tracks such as “Solo” and “Pink + White,” are reminiscent of “Channel Orange’s” catchy, appealing production and song writing style, while others, such as “Self Control” and “Ivy”, are more personal, minimal and even lo-fi. The album can be interpreted as a testimony to growing, changing and learning from past mistakes. These themes are most prevalent on standout track “Nights.” The song’s lyrics convey Ocean’s craving for “new beginnings.” The wait between the two albums almost seems necessary now, as the album serves as a reflection of Ocean’s development as an artist.

“Blonde” has gained excellent reception in the media, with Pitchfork rating it a solid 9 out of 10 and naming it Best New Music, as well as Rolling Stone giving it 4 out of 5 stars. However, some sources, including The Telegraph, see the album as “formless, puzzling and navel-gazing” and, overall, not as strong as Ocean’s previous work. While the album could be perceived as somewhat messy at first, Ocean’s reasoning behind making an album with an abundance of stripped-down tracks and rough transitions becomes clear after a few times. “Blonde”’s more hard-hitting subjects present themselves in a hushed tone so the weight of Ocean’s lyrics can be felt without being drowned out by a synthesizer or a club beat, proving that he has matured since his 2012 release.

Ocean has always been able to express himself best through his music, whether it be a ten-minute pop song full of heavy synths and drum beats, or a confessional about a broken relationship or a broken heart over a single guitar. Yet another example of Ocean’s song writing power, presented in a whole new way, “Blonde” encompasses everything about Ocean’s music that fans loved at the beginning of his career, with a much more mature and minimal twist that no other artist could pull off with so much ease. Ocean has made it clear through his lyrics and music in “Blonde” that it’s been a transformative four years for him, but as luck would have it, he had almost an entire generation along for the ride.

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