By Rob Markman
Over the fourth of July holiday Frank Ocean took to Tumblr to share some very personal news with fans about his sexuality, detailing a relationship he had a few years ago, with a man. The news was met with support from many fans, but it’s okay to admit that you ran through Ocean’s tracklist after the reveal, wondering if his lyrics held any hints about his sexuality.
Until this week, fans just assumed that the Odd Future singer/songwriter was writing from a heterosexual perspective, singing exclusively of women. But in the wake of this new revelation, could it be that Ocean’s poignant discography will ultimately take on new meaning?
A grim-yet-loving remake of Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing” opens Frank’s critically acclaimed 2011 debut mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra, and on the track Ocean sings simply of love; there are no mentions of “him” or “her,” just “we.” The tragic goodbye is set in an Armageddon-type scenario, with the singer coming to grips with all that is at stake: “Just in case an atom bomb comes falling on my lawn/ I should say and you should hear, I loved the good times here,” he sings.
“I wanted to create worlds that were rosier than mine,” Ocean wrote in the passage on his Tumblr, which were intended to fill his album’s liner notes.
In his post, Frank made a number of admissions, one of course being that his first love was a man, the other that in at least some portion of his catalog, he created a fantasy world as a form of escapism. That doesn’t mean that songs like “Novacane,” “Dust” and the Eagles-sampling “American Wedding,” on which he focuses on relationships with women, don’t come from a true place. After all, on his Tumblr, he wrote of the relationships he has had with women as well.
Still, there are sprinkles of Frank’s openness hidden throughout Nostalgia, Ultra. On “We All Try,” after pronouncing his faith in God and abortion rights, Ocean makes a subtle but powerful statement when he sings, “I believe that marriage isn’t between a man and woman, but between love and love.”
It would be silly and untrue to suggest that only non-heterosexuals stand in support of gay marriage, but given the singer’s recent revelation, it is an important lyric to note.
There are other standouts in his catalog as well. On “Oldie,” a 10-minute posse cut off of Odd Future’s The OF Tape Vol. 2, Frank gets playful yet overt when, after noting his weekly weed habit, he raps, “I’m high and I’m bi, wait, I mean I’m straight.”
Before the groundbreaking Tumblr post, Ocean’s rap came off as nothing more than clever wordplay, the same way Nas rapped “Versatile, my style switches like a faggot/ But not bisexual, I’m an intellectual” on his 1992 track “Halftime.”
But today Frank’s clever lyric becomes much more telling.
Ocean’s words on “Thinkin Bout You” are also interesting. The track, which is set to appear on his upcoming Channel Orange LP, tells the story of a man yearning for commitment from an on-the-fence lover. Could it be that in the track Frank was crying out to his first love, the partially unavailable 19-year-old he met four summers ago? Ocean doesn’t use any gendered language except in the first verse: “My eyes don’t shed tears, but boy, they bawl when I’m thinkin’ ’bout you.”
It’s possible that Frank meant “boy” as an exclamation to his point and not in the literal sense (“Oh boy, that movie was wonderful”). Or could it be that he was trying to tell us something? A third explanation can be that since Ocean originally penned the song for Roc Nation singer Bridget Kelly, he wrote from the perspective of a woman, much like The-Dream does when writing for female artists like Rihanna or Beyoncé.
The fact is, unless Frank Ocean himself gives a track-by-track breakdown of his discography, the world will never know if he drew his inspiration from man or woman. But when love is the universal language, how much does it even matter?