Who is Frank Ocean?

Photo by Dave Gold

At 33 years old, Frank Ocean is a living, breathing enigma. The neo-soul singer-songwriter has released 21 singles, a mixtape and two studio albums, but has been missing from the spotlight for the past five years. His beautifully introspective lyrics leave his fans hungry for more, wondering where he could be and what he’s been doing for all this time.

Mr. Ocean seldom does interviews, his Instagram is devoid of pictures, and he rarely offers public commentary other than the occasional Tumblr post. Could his withdrawal be a defiant cry against Hollywood celebrity culture? Perhaps, but his fans’ burning curiosity surrounding his absence has paradoxically led him to gain more fame.

In a 2016 interview with The New York Times, Ocean explained that living in Los Angeles helped him realize who he could (and couldn’t) trust. He felt trapped, drowning in an overwhelming pool of loneliness, remarking, “Within my circle, there were a lot of places I thought I could turn that I felt like I couldn’t anymore.”

With that, he dove headfirst into the unknown, boarding a flight to London with just a single bag of clothes and a backpack containing discs of his music. He spent a year in that unfamiliar place before traveling to Asia, Oceania, and, ultimately, New York City, where he currently resides. His free-spirited, minimalist lifestyle contrasts that of the typical celebrity, and his apartment lacks the lavish, avant-garde décor so commonly found in the homes of America’s stars.

In 2012, Ocean released his first studio album, Channel ORANGE, a divine masterpiece ruminating the depths of his emotions. The first track, “Thinkin’ Bout You,” is a melancholy reflection on past heartbreak, while the seventh track, “Super Rich Kids,” embodies the suffocating loneliness that accompanies the life of luxury. The “super-rich kids” that he speaks of, whose parents are never around, fill the void in their existence with drugs and alcohol.

Frank Ocean’s Channel ORANGE cover art designed by Thomas Mastorakos, Aaron Martinez, and Phil Toselli, with photography by Dave Eggar.

Strikingly, on the track “Bad Religion,” Ocean tells the tale of an “unrequited love” to his taxi driver, treating him as a makeshift therapist. Ocean practically worships someone who doesn’t reciprocate the love, and it absolutely destroys him, bringing him “down to [his] knees.” Evidently, he’s craving a genuine emotional connection, something that isn’t always easy to find in a life of fame and fortune.

Four years later, in 2016, Mr. Ocean blessed fans with his sophomore studio album, entitled Blonde. Its 17 tracks explore love, hate, mental illness, broken bonds and maturity. The track “Ivy” inspects a shattered relationship, while “Solo” reveals the daily grueling challenges of living with depression and using drugs to numb the internal pain.

Frank Ocean’s Blonde cover art

In some of the other songs on Blonde, Ocean exhibits a different emotional perspective: one of maturity. “White Ferrari” describes his first real love, a relationship so pure and sweet, as he promises to unconditionally provide support for the person, whether they’re together or not. “Godspeed,” the second to last track, conveys a sense of serenity with its beautiful blend of vocals. Ocean remains civil as he ends a romantic relationship, wishing the person good luck and well-being rather than leaving on bad terms.

For the past five years, the world has been aching for Mr. Ocean to release new music. Unfortunately, nobody is quite sure when that will happen, but fans remain hopeful. For now, all anyone can do is keep their fingers crossed with Channel ORANGE and Blonde on repeat.

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