Pin It
Frank Ocean in “Nikes”

Frank Ocean: ‘It’s a shared choral sound, the voice of this generation’

The star hosted three surprise episodes of blonded RADIO yesterday, to mark the momentous 2018 midterm elections

When Frank Ocean retreated from the music business after the release of his seminal album channel ORANGE in 2012, he returned with not one, but two new records in 2016. The pop auteur might take his time, but when he shows up for his fans, he really shows up. Yesterday was no exception: after taking a break from his blonded RADIO show for over a year, Ocean returned to Beats 1 with not one, or even two, but three special episodes.

The episodes featured an array of politically charged music choices – from YG’s “Fuck Donald Trump” to The Honeydrippers’ “Impeach the President” – as well as Ocean himself sharing his candid thoughts on politics, both the capital P kind, and the kind that falls closer to home. 

In episode one, Ocean dismissed right wing conspiracy theories like #Pizzagate, and spoke out against tactics that Republicans use to stop people from voting. "We're against gerrymandering. We're against voter ID laws. We're against voter suppression,” he said. Alongside his co-hosts, regular collaborators Vegyn and Roof Access, Ocean shared clips of musicians urging listeners to vote, and spoke freely about why it’s important to take a stand against “anti-intellectual” conservative media like Fox News, and the problem with the term “snowflakes”: “‘Snowflake’ is a term befitting people on the right, as snowflakes are almost a thing of fantasy.” After the episode aired, he announced his intention to give out free merch to voters in key states

In the second episode, Ocean recited the Constitution at fast speed. In the third episode, he got candid about how politics intersects with pop culture, and also with his own personal life. First, he called his Aunt Rosie for a frank discussion of her thoughts on Trump (“I think he’s in office to make money, and that’s it”).

Next, he turned his attention to his own place in the music industry, saying “there’s something overtly political about a queer black man working in music today”. He added (as reported by The FADER): “I think it’s a shared choral sound, the voice of this generation... It’s never lost on me, some of the radical parts of my existence, this moment in pop music and in pop culture.”

He also unpacked some thoughts around Cardi B, whose being “as aggressive as her male counterparts” he believes has a “political context”. He added (as reported by Pitchfork), “You can be political often without trying in art if it’s authentic.”

At a time when the political climate weighs heavy on the US and UK, the question of an artist’s responsibility to respond to their context is a fraught and difficult one. Kanye West has been the biggest lightning rod for criticism in recent times, after irresponsibly using his platform to endorse Trump’s message and conservative commentators; Taylor Swift, on the flip side, has been dragged for years for her silence on all things political (though even she, recently, came out in support of a Democrat candidate). 

With these three radio shows, Ocean showed that perhaps no other artist working at his level understands both how to use a platform to engage with political issues, and also how young people actually talk about politics themselves. He folded sincere discussion of policy, language, and voting process into a fun radio show, where it was nestled naturally between songs that captured all the anger, hope, and apathy of the moment. He made politics a question of identity, exploring how it impacts himself, without making it about himself. He used practical incentives to encourage young people to actually vote, and he achieved something that feels impossible here in the UK: a day of electoral voting that felt like a genuinely cool moment in youth culture. We’ll be listening for weeks to come. Bring on 2020. 

Listen to the blonded midterms special, parts one, two and three, here.