The ever-looming possibility of ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ has created a hype that’s becoming too hard to bear
When Frank Ocean burned a hole in the Internet back in April with the declaration that his third album would arrive in July, we all lost our shit. He had uploaded a picture of himself onto his website next to a stack of magazines and albums alongside the words: “I got two versions. I got twoooo versions” and the hashtags “#ISSUE1 #ALBUM3 #JULY2015 #BOYSDONTCRY”, making his follow-up to critically-acclaimed Channel Orange even more hotly anticipated than it already was.
As with any important album announcement, it raised a bucketful of questions. Would there be a song as straight-to-the-heart beautiful as “Bad Religion” or as game-changing as “Swim Good”? Would the themes be as conceptually important as his previous two albums? And what the hell would we find in a Frank Ocean magazine? We managed to dig up every single internet clue we could find about the imminent release, safe in the knowledge that Boys Don’t Cry would drop in July, and then we would all find out.
However, as I’m sure you’re very aware, it’s now November and there is still no sign of Ocean’s third album. And, bizarrely, nobody seems to have seen or heard a single word from the R&B star since that first post.
Although rather than forget about it or wait patiently, the thirst for Boys Don’t Cry (is it even called that?) has reached new, frenzied levels. The huge, gaping silence that is left in the place of Ocean has created a hype that’s arguably even stronger than that of Rihanna and Kanye, both of whom have albums peeking around the corner. Ocean’s disappearing act has given the upcoming release an almost mythic gravitas, with the palpable desperation quickly becoming a running joke. Even Adele, who herself went awol for three years, recently commented, “I’m just fucking waiting for Frank fucking Ocean to come out with his album… It’s taking so fucking long.”
Whether it’s intentional or not, Ocean’s very loud silence could be considered a hugely genius move. With no personally-managed social media channels to speak of except Tumblr (he deleted them all back in 2013 alongside a soul-bearing open letter) he has cleverly crafted himself into one of the most intriguing artists around, and his lack of communication (and lack of album) is an extra, heady dose of mystery. Needless to say, now that artists lives are the subject of intense online scrutinisation, the power of mystery is more powerful than it ever has been.
To add to this, there are indications that Ocean has been playing with us all along. In August, his website suddenly stopped working and redirected visitors to a password-protected page for a “Spotify powered” store. The URL it led to was "boysdontcry.co/password" We were in the middle of trying to guess what the password could be when the website started up again with the URL: http://boysdontcry.co/. It could have been a minor mishap, but something about it felt suspiciously like an elaborate troll.
This isn’t the only low-key troll-ish move from Ocean during his untimely sabbatical. He also uploaded two old mixtapes to Spotify under different names, causing twitter to have a temporary meltdown. As well as this, his younger brother rickrolled fans on Instagram by posting a photo of Ocean beside the caption: “Its finally out! Link in my bio.” Infuriatingly, the link directed to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”. In many ways, these seemingly-curated instances in succession have created a hype that has far outlived the initial excitement of the album.
Of course, just because we live an era where artists are forced to share their every move via social media and the ever-present online press, does not mean that Frank Ocean is obliged to do the same. Like the equally private singer Adele, or the notoriously hard-to-reach Beyonce, it is an undeniably powerful move to just say “no” and focus entirely on the art itself. As an autonomous human, with full control of his artistry, you could argue that he owes his fans nothing, and that he should (and will) release his album only when he is ready.
However, if this silence is a reclusive attempt to disappear into obscurity, he has achieved the exact opposite. It’s difficult to get an album launch right these days, and the traditional album campaign (press releases, interviews and TV appearances) has become overwhelmingly dull and predictable. As a result, artists need to come up with increasingly inventive and unexpected ways to promote their albums. Luckily for Ocean, it appears that everybody’s favourite R&Ber has cracked the code; When you want the anticipation and excitement around your album to skyrocket beyond breaking point, just never, ever release it.