The He Said, She Said History Behind Frank Ocean’s ‘Channel Orange’

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Every Wednesday, Douglas Wolk explores the people, places and coincidences that tie disparate musicians together.

Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, which was released this week in physical form (and digitally last week), has a lot of surprises on it — although its biggest surprise came a couple of weeks ago, when Ocean posted the liner notes describing his years-long relationship with a man to his Tumblr account. It was useful preparation for some of his lyrics on the album: Channel Orange’s emotional peak is “Bad Religion,” a song about unrequited passion whose hook goes, “I could never make him love me.” (And Ocean scores about 10 million points on the awesome scale for not changing his lyrics’ pronouns.)
A lot of the initial froth over Ocean coming out suggested that he was the first openly gay — or at least openly not-straight — black male pop star. Not by a long shot. The British singer/songwriter Labi Siffre, for instance, had a string of hits beginning in the early ’70s; the biggest was probably 1987’s “Something Inside (So Strong),” below.

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