I wondered when I would write about Frank Ocean. His music looms over me, but I had been hesitant to write about it because I have been hesitant to listen, nervous for the associations my brain has made with his music.
But alas, along with the summer heat came the craving to soothe it. The simplest way I know how to do that is to listen to Blonde.
In August of 2016 and I was mid-Southwest Pacific sojourn (complicated way to say New Zealand) when Blonde was released. There are few things that can make me feel truly alone more than not being met with equitable excitement at the news that after a four year gap Frank Ocean had dropped a new project.
I loved the album immediately. I’ve never believed in love at first sight, but love at first listen? That’s my religion.
It can be difficult to holistically interpret a Frank Ocean song, in a reductive way they sometimes feel less like songs and more like riddles.
I’ll never forget hearing Self-Control for the first time. The isolated vocals abruptly started and hit me like a wave and just when I thought I was in the clear, the strings came in like their larger, stronger wave friend, to knock me right back down. Not so fast, bitch, settle into the melancholy. Gladly. I listened to the album on a perfect loop in the darkness of our hostel room and I felt at peace, like I was 3,000 miles away but somehow still at home.
It encapsulated all the different nuances of loneliness my dumbass twenty-six year old self had actually experience so far: wanting to be close to someone even if you don’t want to be with them, getting your heart broken by someone you had never actually been with, breaking the heart of someone who didn’t really deserve it, not wanting to disappoint your parents but praying they have faith in your dreams, indulging in the fleeting happiness expensive items can bring, etc.
Against all odds, these are the exact same feelings I grapple with now…three years later. Not embarrassing at all.
Blonde is known for its lachrymose undertones but the arc of Self-Control makes for my favorite kind of sad song, despondent yet somehow liberating. While the song is a retelling of a doomed couples’ history through their drug and sex filled nights (aspirational, but more on that in a later post), there are lyrical moments throughout the song that send a message of hope and acceptance. Though maybe they both didn’t want their thing to end, there was an expiration date, and they’d like to take advantage of the time they have left together. There is both truth and hope in that.
The song ends on a cliffhanger. Maybe some day down the line these characters can give it a shot but if not, that is the bittersweetness of life at play. There is romance and love in knowing you cannot be with someone but still taking comfort in their companionship. For me this has proven impossibly difficult for various people that have come and gone from my life, but for others it comes naturally, and can be a beautiful way to cope through heartache.
On my birthday this year, as the dance floor closed down the DJ played Self-Control, and wow there are few things that can make you feel less lonely than a room full of strangers all singing the same words about lost love.