This summer, Frank Ocean created an upheaval in the music industry right before the drop of his new album Channel Orange. On a blog post, he gently painted a narrative of his experiences prior to his rise in celebrity, and, it just so happened, that part of his story included a romantic involvement with another man. Mainstream pop culture was unprepared for this admission. In our fame-obsessed culture, people have pockets that they fall into. The Black male artist has always been stuffed in a pocket of limited dimension. When we connect music to so many personal and emotional elements of our lives, particularly sexuality, the music begins to define the musician, rather than the other way around. Frank Ocean’s agenda challenged that notion.
The question can be, first, what is the Frank Ocean agenda? If we follow his few interviews after his blog post, we can believe that his agenda, after declaring his past love of another man, was simply to begin a rising music career with a clean slate free of a fabricated image. However, his agenda has done so much more than that. By speaking candidly and unapologetically about his past and letting the public gain access to a part of his life that is decidedly personal, he illustrated five strengths that all of us–regardless of our moral beliefs, gender, race/ethnicity or socio-economic status–can learn a few things from.
We Are Complex Beings in Our Simplicity
Frank Ocean’s simple prose in blog form caused a thunderstorm of judgment. Read some of the comments posted on his videos found on YouTube and the feedback to his recent admission run the gamut. Many folks, maybe even Frank himself, did not realize the statement that was being made with his simple act of acknowledging his sexuality. Often, many of us behave in ways separate from an understanding that people are watching us and taking notes. In our simple acts of living, we are capable of triggering responses that challenge personal beliefs. This brings understanding that we are beings of complexity that extend out of single notions that tend to define us.
Our Work Does Not Define Us
“I wanted to wake up without this freakin’ boulder on my chest,” Frank Ocean told The Guardian in a July interview. He went on in the interview to let it be known that he wanted people to approach his music with an understanding of who he really was as a person. Being clear from the beginning about who you are and who you are willing to be leaves less space for others to define you and pigeon-hole you into their image of what should be.
We Love Who We Love, And That’s Ok
This is a no-brainer. Who we love should be our choice. Who we sing songs about, exchange love letters with, and spend time with should be our prerogative. But, that’s not always the case. Declaring your own choice to love freely and acknowledge those you love and have loved is empowering not only for yourself, but for those who watch your example closely. Frank Ocean reinforced that we may not always choose who we love, but, when we acknowledge who we love, we should not be shamed when it comes to declaring that love.
Good Music is Borne From Real Experience
What was maybe missed in the hoopla surrounding Frank Ocean was that he not only had powerful feelings as he experienced his newfound emotions for another man, but his experiences and his reflections strongly impacted his music. Frank Ocean’s work has been garnering attention in the past two years, not because he sings remarkably well, but because he infuses a contemporary sound with lyrical newness that is often lacking with many of current peers in the genre. He is poetry and melancholy in a world of machismo and false bravado. While some of us found his admission that he is gay or bi-sexual the most shocking, some of us may have found it most intriguing that his storytelling in music had an even deeper layer than we could have imagined. You think powerful life experiences don’t create some of our best music? If so, just Google the stories behind Marvin Gaye’s album Here, My Dear, Luther Vandross’ album and title track Dance With My Father and Nina Simone’s “To Be Young, Gifted and Black”.
Self-Acceptance Is Most Important
At the end of it all, with the Frank Ocean saga, we have learned a valuable lesson in self-acceptance. He understood that he was poised on the precipice of even greater fame and with that next step came the potential of having a perfectly orchestrated persona crafted that may or may not been who he was. He chose to take the lead in making sure that image is closer to truth. Accepting yourself despite the efforts to sabotage your intuition, reinforce your fears and deny your strengths is what many of us struggle with on the day-to-day. Frank Ocean’s simple admission on his blog was a revolutionary act triumphantly illustrating that he is not ashamed. And, for that, he is free.
-Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman
Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is a longtime music writer based in Maryland. She is founder of @LiberatedMuse, and @CAPAAOnline and co-producer of the @CapHipHopSoul. Visit her on http://www.KhadijahOnline.com.