Frank Ocean’s musical orientation was a story long before his sexual one. The Odd Future singer/songwriter captivated in-the-know music buffs when he drooped Nostalgia, Ultra in 2011 for free on his Tumblr site — the same URL where he revealed a year and change later that he was once in love with a man.
It’s a trajectory unlike any other in music, making Ocean a fitting nominee for the 2012 Best New Artist VMA . In fact, Ocean saw his name come up three times when the nominees for the Video Music Awards were announced earlier this week, with his “Swim Good” clip receiving nods in the Best Male, Best Direction and Best New Artist category, which his buddy Tyler, the Creator won last year.
As one of the standout tracks from Nostalgia, Ultra, “Swim Good” resonated for Frank, showcasing his deep, soul-drenched songwriting ability — that same pen game that has drawn artists like Justin Bieber, Beyoncé and Brandy to recruit the introverted writer for their own needs. The track peaked at #70 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, but that was hardly an indication of the popularity of the song or Frank. The video, in which Frank dons a samurai sword, orange kimono and a pair of retro black Air Jordan sneakers, has clocked in nearly 6 million views on YouTube, propelling lord-knows-how-many downloads for his freebee mixtape.
The remarkable part of it all is that at the time of Nostalgia, Ultra’s release, Frank was already signed to hip-hop powerhouse label Def Jam for more than a year, but told Complex magazine that beyond the contract that he signed, he didn’t have a relationship with the company. After the success of the mixtape, Ocean became more of a priority. Nostalgia, Ultra would give way to Frank’s first tour, an intimate run through North America and Europe, two high-profile guest appearances on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne LP and properly set up the release of his major-label debut Channel Orange.
Despite all his musical talents however, Frank hadn’t quite broken into the mainstream consciousness in the months leading up to Channel Orange ’s release. That is, until July 4, when Ocean revealed on his Tumblr that his first love was a man. All of a sudden, Ocean was the topic of every music conversation, as critics and fans wondered aloud if contemporary fans were ready for a gay or bisexual male singer, especially one so closely tied to hip-hop.
Frank answered the question with a resounding yes after the brilliantly laid Channel Orange debuted at #2 on the Billboard albums chart, selling 131,000 digital copies of his long-player. Marked by its tragic heartbreak and wildly artistic song structures, Frank shifted the focus back to the power of his pen and lovelorn tales.
Though he’s up against pop juggernauts like the Wanted, One Direction and Carly Rae Jepsen in the Best New Artist category and veterans like Usher, Chris Brown and the Throne in the Best Male Video and Best Direction categories, Frank Ocean could easily walk away with some hardware September 6. It’ll a memorable chapter in an already unforgettable story.