What We’re Really Missing When We’re Missing Frank Ocean

Paley Martin examines the still reverberating aftermath of Frank Orange's breakout album, Channel Orange.
By    August 16, 2016

Art by Kim Erlandsen, NRK P3

Paley Martin is clinging to The Cure for now.

A tornado flew around my room in 2011. I was 18 at the time, a senior in high school in suburban Georgia and involved in something of a long-distance, half-assed fling. He was 19, a recent high school grad who’d made his way out to Syracuse for college. Our on-and-off “thing” started in our earlier high school years, a bond shared more over our mutual love of Outkast and Lauryn Hill than our differing ideas of communication. No matter how ambiguous our relationship was, sporadic Skype calls kept things between he and I moving forward.

Sweet, but short-lived, our cyber “thing” carried us through a few months worth of incessant back-and-forth over new albums, old gems, and the then-and-now of who’s who in music. One night, sitting silently across the screen from one another in what retrospectively seems like a cringeworthy attempt at a romantic moment, he sent me a Youtube link. One click and press play later, a short intro and sleek, dignified voice collapsed the states between us and paused the world outside of our doors. And while Frank Ocean, a fresh-faced, new-to-the-world singer and unlikely Odd Future member, longed for recognition and reciprocity, all I heard was that someone was thinking about me and wondering if I was doing the same.

Unlike my adolescent romance, “Thinkin Bout You” was a forever affair. Its message was resonant. Its deliverer was enticing. And with a then-building audience of Frankophiles to attest, its boldness was contagious. For many of us, “Thinkin Bout You” sealed a moment in time. Whether you were longing or loving didn’t matter. What mattered was a simple declaration and a candid question: “I’m thinking about you. Do you think about me too?”

The song encapsulated love and all of its emotional ephemera. What we were too afraid to say, Frank said. What we were too afraid to ask, Frank asked. And what we were too ashamed to admit, Frank professed one poignant metaphor and fed-up, sarcastic lyric at a time. No matter our relationship status, we were hooked.

As the last year—and the last few days, in particular—have shown, I wasn’t the only one to latch on to my moments with Frank. On the heels of yet another album-less release date, a little over a year after than the last one, the world has been even deeper in their feelings than I was that 2011 night in my bedroom. An onslaught of angst-ridden (if not altogether infuriated) fan posts and videos has spawned an entire community who’s bonded over the Frank-less void. Some are hanging on by a thread while others have thrown in the towel, but none can deny the gravity of an artist that weighs even heavier in his absence.

On both his 2011 debut, the much adored Nostalgia, Ultra and its widely acclaimed follow-up, 2012’s Channel Orange, Frank provided a soundtrack to vulnerable moments that would later become intimate memories. While “Thinkin Bout You” was, for me, indicative of a romance that could but shouldn’t have been, Channel Orange rode with me through the more solitary pangs of young adulthood. For the year to follow, I melted into that album like a baby would a cradling mother’s arms. It carried me through an uncomfortable chapter until I, although reluctant, knew I needed to let go. But letting go doesn’t come easily, and truth be told, it never really came at all.

For me and Frank’s fanbase alike, Channel Orange and Nostalgia, Ultra leant solace in shaky moments and depth in foolish ones. Frank took the shame out of sensitivity, challenged cultural ideals, broke gender stereotypes, and most importantly, stood in his truth and inspired us to do the same. But on August 5th, 2016, roughly four years after the release of Channel Orange, Frank was a no-show. And for the second year in a row, his fans raged, pouted, speculated, and mourned the album that never came and the moments that could have accompanied it.

More than letting us down, Boys Don’t Cry showed us how attached we were to moments that only Frank’s music could facilitate. We were excited to reconnect with those parts of ourselves and hoped to discover new ones that would inform this era as Channel Orange did the last. Instead, we reconnected with radio silence that stung like an inattentive lover. Instead, we grieved.

Sure, we missed Frank, but even more, we missed what he made us realize about ourselves, our loved ones, our world. We missed his perspective and what it did to ours as much as the simplistic and still hard-hitting beauty that his music evoked. And we wondered again if we should let go or if, perhaps, we were just being selfish.

Did we really need more, after all?

While Channel Orange spoiled us through song, Boys Don’t Cry or its lack thereof forced us to reflect on why we still cared so much. It’s true that great music speaks volumes, but silence often rings louder. If missing Frank amounts to needing more—more moments, more love, more whatever—then let’s not forget about the invaluable ones we’ve already had and the voice that helped create them. From all the annoyance and expectations and demands and let-downs that have circulated over this past week, a truth has emerged: With or without Boys Don’t Cry, Frank Ocean has already made his impression.

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