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Frank Ocean
Frank Oceanvia frankocean.tumblr.com

Frank Ocean obsessives discuss his recent disappearing act

In the wake of his third festival cancellation, we debate whether Frank’s flakiness is genius or a joke

Like dominoes, one after one of Frank Ocean’s many festival appearances planned for the summer of 2017 fell. First, he cancelled his headlining slot at Sasquatch! in Washington. Then Hangout in Alabama. The latest victim was his set at Primavera Sound, which takes place this weekend in Barcelona. Ocean cited “production delays beyond his control” for all three. It all sounds a bit “the dog ate my homework”. Fans were, rightly, pissed.

There are eight remaining dates on Ocean’s summer festival schedule. It’s anyone’s guess whether they are also on the chopping block.

June 9: Aarhus, Denmark – NorthSide Festival
June 10-11: Manchester, England – Parklife Festival
July 14: London, England – Lovebox Festival
July 22: Los Angeles, CA – FYF Festival
July 28: Randall’s Island, NY – Panorama Festival
July 28-30: Oro-Medonte, Ontario – WayHome Music and Arts Festival
August 10-12: Gothenburg, Sweden – Way Out West
August 11-13: Helsinki, Finland – Flow Festival

With rumours swirling that he’s working on the production for an upcoming solo tour, we debate whether or not Frank Ocean is merely plugging away on what will be a mind-melting live performance or whether he’s just playing us, the fans who have emptied their wallets, desperate to see him literally just stand and deliver.

FRANK OCEAN IS TESTING OUR PATIENCE

Frank Ocean is a rare breed of modern musician: a recluse both on and offline who’s actively built a barrier between himself and the outside world. With the exception of a Tumblr page (and let’s face it, we haven’t used Tumblr since 2010), Frank Ocean’s digital connection with his fans is practically non-existent. He makes the music, releases it for us to listen to, and the slow cycle starts again.

Ocean’s infamous tardiness on the musical front would drive Justin Bieber’s fans to the edge of insanity, but fans of Ocean have been schooled in the art of patience. We understand his four-year gap between Channel Orange and Blonde because every one of those slow-passing months shone through on the record. But the album is done now, and we’re desperate to see it live.

By cancelling a string of festival dates in quick succession, it’s almost as if Ocean has taken advantage of his fan’s complacency with constant let downs and delays; an affable bunch, our impatience is expressed politely and never with anger. But the disappointment feels different, more harmful, when we pay cash up front to see an artist that has had an earth-shifting impact on many of his fans’ lives, only for him to cancel last minute.

When Ocean came out in a Tumblr post prior to the release of Channel Orange, a crowd of disenfranchised kids who loved his music suddenly felt part of something. Although things are beginning to change, hip hop remains a notoriously intolerant space for the LGBT community. If Ocean, a now openly queer R&B singer could make it in that realm, maybe there was hope for them to be accepted too. This rare moment of intimacy from him triggered an alliance between himself and his fanbase. His music became cathartic; suffering and lonely fans began to carry Channel Orange as a symbol of strength.

“The disappointment feels different, more harmful, when we pay cash up front to see an artist that has had an earth-shifting impact on many of his fans’ lives, only for him to cancel last minute”

So, as Ocean cancels another date – this time Primavera Sound in Barcelona – citing “production delays”, it prompts the question: how much do fans have to emotionally and financially invest in an artist before they’re obliged to give back? For many, his shows at Primavera Sound, Sasquatch! and Hangout would have been rare opportunities to see him perform live; a connection they’d been vying to feel for years.

We’re not the type of fanbase who would show up in anticipation of groundbreaking musical techniques, pyrotechnics and a troupe of highly trained back up dancers. Heck, we’d be moved if Ocean performed a series of karaoke numbers with a glitter ball hanging overhead. None of us are here for the production of his show – after all, Ocean’s real flare lies in his songwriting and musical style. Instead, we’re here because we’re desperate to see someone that means so much to us perform his songs in a place where the emotion can bounce both ways.

Loving Frank Ocean is almost like having a low-key obsession with a deceased, glamorous icon of old Hollywood: the brilliant work is there to be savoured, and we’re thankful for it, but the love feels sadly unrequited.

Douglas Greenwood

FRANK OCEAN DOESN’T OWE US ANYTHING

Frank Ocean used money from his own pocket to buy himself out of a seven-year, seven-album deal with Def Jam and Universal, along with maintaining all the rights to any previous recordings. He is one of the few acts in history that has stuck it to the major label big boys and come away looking stronger. This defined him, not just as our saviour, but as an icon, proving that anyone can change the dialogue in the face of adversity with the right mantra.

Yes, it took a while. In the time after 2012’s Channel Orange, we waited and we complained. We memed and we moaned. Where the hell is the second record?! But while we were tweeting, streaming our sub-par music and picturing Frank reaping the benefits of Channel Orange somewhere off the coast of the Seychelles, he was grafting. 

After a handful of assumed teasers, conspiracy theories and false hopes, Frank finally honoured the commitments to his former label, allowing them to distribute a visual album, Endless, so that he could release his Mona Lisa, Blonde, two days later. We immediately forgave him. We understood. This was Frank Ocean’s raison d'être: perfecting greatness.

His pragmatism in adversity saw him fight a Goliath battle against a major record label while simultaneously planning one of the most iconic releases of the decade. Our understanding in retrospect of Frank’s journey is what awards him a unique respect amongst the fans that know him best.

“He sets our expectations high and has a track record of delivering on his grand visions. Whether that happens by the end of summer, or by the end of the decade, I’ll wait”

And that’s why it stings so hard. That he offers us little more than “production delays” as an excuse... after all we’ve been through! But what have we been through? While Frank was taking risks and spending the hours in the studio perfecting his masterpiece, we were complaining that it was taking too long. He never apologised for the Blonde delays and he certainly shouldn’t apologise now.

I know, I know… There’s a unique sense of anticipation that comes with booking a festival in another country and when there’s a hiccough in your plans, it’s frustrating. I’ve put in the effort to get here, why can’t he? Well, look at the bigger picture. You’re still going to an incredible festival with a glorious line up, you’re still going to one of the finest cities in the world that boasts both culture and a beach.

So what if Frank has “production delays”?! He sets our expectations high and has a track record of delivering on his grand visions. Whether that happens by the end of summer, or by the end of the decade, I’ll wait. Why shouldn’t we allow him the time to add the final strokes to his masterpiece? It’s the least we owe him.

Ross Buchanan

Primavera Sound runs from May 31-June 4