Post Sounds – Frank Ocean: The Tone of Universality
By Woodrow Whyte
It’s hard not to get swept up in the rather beautiful way in which Frank Ocean announced his love for another man in a statement released on to his blog on July 4. It feels like a monumental achievement, not just for urban music but for society in general.
The concerted push in American and Western culture to support gay marriage and create an environment for gay artists, particularly those in traditionally more hostile genres like Ocean, to express their sexuality as freely as they like, has finally given birth to its first success story. A young, black, R&B singer, collaborator with major hip-hop stars, with an incredibly large following has finally felt the time was right to talk about his love for a guy.
Beyond what is obvious – the overwhelming positive effect this might have on a generation of young people and artists in his position – there are gains to be had right now. As soon as the news broke, the media’s reaction caught my attention. Perhaps understandably, there has been a noticeable cautionary tone in language to describe the statement. A lot of mainstream outlets are avoiding using the words ‘gay’ or ‘coming out’. This is not only refreshing but an incredibly welcome progression.
It would be so easy to resort to clichéd language to describe a pop star revealing his feelings for a person of the same sex, but by doing that it undermines the very feelings involved for that person and the greater implications. Sexuality doesn’t come in boxes, it can come in all different manner of shades.
Avoiding gender-orientated language in interviews previously and never overtly stating whom he was talking about in his songs or from what perspective, Ocean sought to underline the point that these aren’t issues related to either to gay or straight relationship but instead the universal emotion of love, how it is the same for all the various different shades. “I believe marriage isn’t between a man and women but between love and love”. It’s great how other writers have picked up on this point.
There have been some great discussions (The Quietus and New York Times are two good examples) of how gay relationships are represented not only in the media but also in society itself. These discussions, despite what you might think, aren’t a regular occurrence. There is often talk about what a certain group think is right and wrong (normally centred on the debate of marriage) or how difficult it is to be gay. But there isn’t always a debate on our preconceived notions of sexuality or how they are portrayed in our culture and society.
A quick assessment of online blogs and reactions on twitter are generally positive. Instead of homophobic responses, some of the more irritating tweets have actually been about whether this was a publicity stunt, a ploy to lure a sub-section of people into buying his album, which is released in two weeks time. It’s an argument which is as ridiculous a concept as it is insulting.
The most important thing about Frank Ocean’s statement is the universality of it. For everyone who has been heartbroken, who has seen a glimmer of light when the other person hasn’t, for those who are forced to see the person they love be with someone else, regardless of their sex – its a reminder of how crushing love can be and how, despite the gender in question, everyone has the capacity to feel this.
He has taken the politics out of the debate and focused on something that can’t be argued over. Love is universal – and no one can take that away from us. That’s all it should ever come down to. I think it’s fantastic to see someone who not only has forced the wider public to think harder about what is means to be gay or bisexual but also share his feelings in such an honest, thoughtful and touching manner. It gives me hope that the dark days are slowly passing and in time sexuality will no longer be an issue.
Having said all this… his album better be good.
Channel Orange will be released on July 17 via Def Jam.