“Whoever you are. Wherever you are…I’m starting to think we’re a lot alike.” This opening statement of Frank Ocean’s 2012 coming out letter, perhaps gets to the root of why so many people connect deeply to him and his music. In a time where social media has become one of the key ways that artists connect to their fans, Ocean is an outlier with a practically non-existent social media presence and managing to obtain an enigmatic low profile despite the success he has gained. Instead, it is his music that brings you to a closer emotional understanding of who he is and what he represents, in a way that few other artists achieve. His music is vulnerable and layered with personal depth, in an interview in 2012 he stated, “As a writer, as a creator, I’m giving you my experiences”.
Growing up in New Orleans, Ocean’s early music exposure included jazz and his mother’s R&B CDs. After graduating from high school in in 2005, he started at the University of New Orleans. However, in August of that year Hurricane Katrina hit and wreaked havoc across the region. The facility where Ocean was recording music was flooded and looted prompting him to reassess his academic plans and pursue music. Ocean moved to Los Angeles soon making a name for himself as a songwriter. He wrote for artists such as Justin Bieber and Beyoncé and was also part of the hip-hop group Odd Future. It was in 2011 however, that Ocean first released his own music with the Mixtape ‘Nostalgia Ultra’ closely followed by his first album release in 2012 ‘Channel Orange’ both of which were met with critical and popular acclaim. Unlike most current artists who release music and tour frequently in order to remain relevant in the pop culture, Ocean waited four years until his next release with back to back albums ‘Endless’ and ‘Blonde’ in 2016. After this Ocean hardly toured and reduced his number of interviews significantly, seeming to simply allow the music to speak for itself. In one of the few times Ocean got personal with the press, an interview conducted by GQ in 2012, he was asked a question surrounding his ambiguous sexuality. He responded by defending his right to privacy as an artist and claiming that his only job was to communicate his experiences through music and nothing more. Several months after this Ocean deleted his twitter account, when questioned why he chose to do this by a fan, his response was “intuition”.
The openness of Ocean’s music offers an insight into his inner landscape and challenges the stereotypes of genre, masculinity and sexuality. He fills a space that not many male figures in music do today, presenting a type of masculinity that allows emotional vulnerability, particularly in a genre of music such as hip-hop known for its hypermasculinity. Despite his public persona of aloofness, Ocean seemingly pours his whole being into his music in a way that makes you believe every word he is saying. It is through this intimate connection between artist and listener that people everywhere can connect and relate to his music.