We thought something was coming – lo and behold, it finally did.
On Monday 1st August, Frank Ocean finally made a significant move in the cryptic game he’s been playing with his following since whispers of Channel Orange’s follow-up first began to emerge. After promises of a revelatory happening in July in a typically-enigmatic manner, many felt that disappointment was going to claim another shallow victory when the clock hit midnight on the 31st and we still had nothing but the sketchy late library card.
Just as we, the hapless mortals, were about to admit defeat, it happened.
Okay, when I say it happened, what I mean is that a monochromatic live stream appeared on Frank Ocean’s website of a large empty room featuring two empty workbenches. Throughout the day, distorted music played intermittently, whilst a mysterious figure, which everybody is almost certain was Ocean, sawed away at the benches, deep in concentration during a seemingly intricate constructive process. When you put it like that, it doesn’t really seem that exciting, does it? Ocean’s done metaphors before, and his fans are well-versed in red herrings. However, this one was a little different. Why? Because of a tiny, little icon that sat, uninterrupted, in the top right-hand corner. An Apple Music logo, to be exact.
Aha! No we’ve got you, Frank – you slippery, messiah-like bastard! No, but seriously, we do. Whilst false-starts are nothing new in the wait for Ocean II, this was the first and only direct link to actual, real-life, probably-not-a-joke musical distribution.
Later that night, the New York Times announced that the album would be released on Friday. Other outlets jumped to echo. Everybody stay calm, try not to make a scene, place yourselves in a stable environment, etc etc – because Boys Don’t Cry is about to be with us.
And I’m pissed off.
Now, hear me out. I am an enormous Frank Ocean fan. When I say that Channel Orange is one of the best records of the past 20 years, I say it with the utmost sincerity – it is, unequivocally, a masterpiece. I even went as far to write in a previous piece on Ocean that the painful prolonging of his sophomore record returned the album to its status as a romantic concept; in all of its wild secrecy, it was once again exciting – almost new. Which is exactly why I’m pissed off. I think.
The same New York Times article claimed that Apple Music will have a fortnight of exclusivity over Boys Don’t Cry. Which, to state the obvious, means that you’ll have to be an Apple Music subscriber to legally access it. Though this is yet to be confirmed, it makes a lot of sense. We’ve already spoken about the prominence of the Apple Music watermark in the pre-discussed video, whilst 2016 has seen a rise in the competition between streaming platforms for industry exceptionality – with Apple often going head-to-head with Jay Z’s Tidal in the bout for monopoly. Beyoncé initially released Lemonade as exclusive to her husband’s service, as did Kanye West with his much-anticipated The Life Of Pablo. Similarly, Apple Music managed to strike deals with heavyweights such as Drake and Chance The Rapper, to name a few. The current situation is what Kanye West recent christened in a flurry of typical Kanyeisms as the ‘Tidal Apple beef’; a commercial ‘dick swinging contest’ in which artists are used as commodified pawns in the race for industry governance. Whilst Mr West’s hyperbole often falls short of meaning, his declaration, that ‘we all gon be dead in 100 years. Let the kids have the music’ was surprisingly poignant, and, God forbid it, necessary.
Perhaps I’m just overly idealistic in my cynicism, but I don’t think it’s completely unjustified to be a little miffed that Boys Don’t Cry looks like the next move in a colossal game of commercial chess. For an artist that I’ve argued as one of the final purveyors to join a trend that sucks the raw pleasure from the album as a creative entity is, to put it extremely diplomatically, a little disheartening.
Ocean has always stood apart as an artist who dances to the rhythm of his own drum. Whilst the wait for Boys Don’t Cry has often been frustrating, our inherent sense of expectation when it comes to the pensive singer-songwriter has kept it justified. An extra two weeks of waiting for those who choose not to join Apple Music feels like a punch in the gut. Let’s not even get started on the piracy debate, either.
I must stress that nothing has yet been confirmed, and every inch of me hopes that it won’t be. I’ve waited four, incredibly long years for Channel Orange. Please, Frank, don’t make me wait any longer.
Words by Niall Flynn