Queer Future: Frank Ocean Opens Up

Lukas Clark-Memler

Lukas writes about music for a wide range of international publications and a number of vaguely respected websites. He's music editor here at Chelsey, and hates having an empty inbox, so drop him a line with any questions, comments or music to check out at lukas@getfrank.co.nz

"Today is a big day for hip hop..."

... Def Jam founder and hip hop heavyweight Russel Simmons is of course talking about Frank Ocean’s recent proclamation of bisexuality. The Odd Future-member and saccharine crooner revealed that his first love was a man in a poetically intimate Tumblr post. Cue the ever-pervasive interweb exploding with articles like “Frank Is Gay” and “Is This The End of Hip Hop’s Homophobia?”

Before we get any further, I want to confess that I’m a dedicated Odd Future fan. I believe that Tyler, The Creator’s debauched, demented and demonic Goblin was one of the best records of 2011. To all the naysayers out there, Goblin (and the Wolf Gang as a whole) shouldn’t be taken at face value, its as shrewd a social critique as hip hop comes, and while it isn’t always easy to consume, the naked and hypnotic intensity of Tyler’s music overshadows the ‘questionable’ lyrical content. Tyler’s harrowing musings may shock, but ultimately they attempt to reawaken our apathetic and listless epoch; a generation of youth who are consoled by MTV, live vicariously through Sims and escape from the real world, ironically, via social networking. That’s what Goblin was, and what Odd Future continue to strive to be: A hypnogogic jerk, a ‘kick’ if you like, accompanied by a vertiginous sensation, jolting us awake. We need it, no matter how much we protest and resist.

I digress, Ocean’s musing of his ‘first love’ isn’t going to change hip hop. It’s not going to stop the rampant homophobia in the rap industry or in mainstream ‘street’ culture. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that Frank’s frankness (it had to be done) was nothing more than a promotional stunt intended to boost album sales.

I am in no way belittling Ocean’s honesty, because it’s not easy to admit this kind of thing in our boringly heterosexual society, let alone the hyper-masculine world of hip hop. But it was a dubious, and hardly unmotivated move.

Ocean’s major label debut Channel Orange was released less than two weeks after his ‘astonishing confession’ (interestingly enough Ocean ‘came out’ the same week as Anderson Cooper). According to Google Trends, in the days following Ocean’s post, his search hits nearly tripled. And that’s not to mention the exposure from international newspapers, magazines and websites. Say what you like, the media loves a bit of homoeroticism.

Yet admitting to ‘bisexual’ tendencies (Ocean never claimed to be gay) is not as daring as it once was, and not at all unprecedented in hip hop. As the always articulate Fat Joe said in a recent interview: “I happen to think there’s a gay mafia in hip hop. The whole community is most likely owned by gays. Be real, if you gay, you gay. Fuck it if the people don’t like it. Niggas is gay.” You tell ‘em  Joe.

In my humble opinion, it was Frank’s Odd Future cohort and fearless leader, Tyler, The Creator, who offered the most sincere response to the ‘game-changing’ news: “My Big Brother Finally Fucking Did That. Proud Of That Nigga Cause I Know That Shit Is Difficult Or Whatever. Anyway. Im A Toilet.”

In a classic example of his scatological sensitivity, Tyler first acknowledges Ocean’s move, and then awkwardly diffuses the severity of the matter in an oddly metaphysical way. Tyler has been viciously criticized for misogynous lyricism, and the counter argument has always been: ‘well Syd The Kid is an out lesbian.’ Now Odd Future fans can add Frank Ocean’s ‘bisexuality’ to their justification for Tyler’s offensiveness.

This is a misguided effort. Ocean’s sexual preference shouldn’t be the legitimiser for Odd Future’s music; in fact it should have absolutely nothing to do with how we perceive the music. Of course it’s impossible to separate the man from the music, but like we all learned with Lana Del Rey, the ‘story’ shouldn’t factor into our listening experience.

At the end of the day, I don’t think it matters in the slightest who Ocean chooses to shack up with. The fact is the guy is a fantastic singer who has managed to breathe new life into contemporary R&B, a genre that’s been slowly rotting in consumer-bred hell. An artist shouldn’t be judged on their sexuality, and they shouldn’t try to capitalize or exploit it either. So while Ocean’s note was indeed honest, its promotional undertones corrupt the authenticity of the message.

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