Does it matter if the music we love discords with our personal politics? I’d like to think not: Frank Ocean is one of my favourite artists, and I’d prefer to continue listening to his music.
But, past the poignant poetry and ruminations on life that comprise the vast majority of his lyrics, Ocean regularly reveals a penchant for unprotected sex.
There’s a selfishness to these admissions that is difficult to reconcile; he often nods to the potential (and sometimes actual) consequences of his actions – pregnancy and even abortion – but none of this is enough to make him stop. Instead, he celebrates unprotected sex in spite of its acknowledged pitfalls. He is unrepentant.
Ocean’s clearest exploration of unprotected sex is ‘Sierra Leone’ from 2012’s Channel Orange, which is essentially a tale of failed coitus-interruptus. The song’s opening lyrics introduce its main theme: ‘We’re spending too much time alone / and I just ran outta Trojans’. Ocean then sets down his thoughts in stream-of-consciousness style as he approaches sexual climax, knowing logically that he should ‘abandon mission’ while seemingly not being able to (‘You must be kidding / this shit feeling different / shit feeling too good…’). Ultimately, his baser urges win – the sex is simply too good to stop. What follows is a rather romanticised portrayal of unplanned parenthood, all of which suspiciously makes it seem like this were his plan all along.
Pregnancy is referenced again on Channel Orange’s ‘Pink Matter’ with the cryptic question, ‘What is your woman / is she just a container for the child?’, this koan quickly segueing into a description of passionate sex (‘that soft pink matter / cotton candy, Majin Buu / close my eyes and fall into you’). The adjacency of these themes is not coincidental: as on ‘Sierra Leone’, the lyrics here depict sexual pleasure so profound that one would abandon all rationality in service of it – ‘pleasure over matter’. This is echoed by André 300’s outro, which seems to describe a woman willing to go to any lengths for her man, to the extent of having unprotected sex with him (‘no mask on’) and risking contraction of disease (symbolised by the ‘rusty revolver’).
Perhaps Ocean’s most sinister reference to unprotected sex comes on ‘Lovecrimes’, a song from his 2011 mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra. Here, rather than planning to withdraw but letting his emotions overcome him, the scenario described seems ominously premeditated: ‘I still got one bullet left in my nine’, he warns in the song’s first verse, ‘Finna do a love crime’. Ocean’s sexual partner does not seem complicit in this felony, a disturbing possibility, especially seeing as the song’s hook alludes to the ‘murder’ of abortion as a potential consequence of his actions. We can assume, then, that Ocean wants a child here; later, he even asks, ‘Is it really wrong that I want to be the baby daddy?’. Whether this broodiness is genuine or not is up for debate – it’s equally likely that Ocean is simply unwilling to compromise on the quality of his sex – he admits that he loves it ‘when the ride is smooth’, or just gets a kick out of playing with fire.
On other songs, Ocean’s outlook becomes even more questionable. On Blonde cut ‘Solo’ he describes a visit to an abortion clinic as having ‘killed [his] soul’, and yet remorselessly advocates unprotected sex in the very next line (‘You gotta hit the pussy raw, though’). Nostalgia, Ultra’s ‘Nature Feels’ goes one step further by championing unprotected sex as the most natural, purest method of making love – he even references Adam and Eve in an appeal to their sacredness. ‘Baby girl’, he croons, ‘tell me how my nature feels’. Finally, on ‘Pilot Jones’ from Channel Orange, Ocean claims diminished responsibility for his actions on account of sexual frustration (‘No, I don’t want a child / but I ain’t been touched in a while’). This final example is especially dangerous because it assumes that Ocean has no choice in the matter – he can’t be held accountable for what he does while in thrall to his libido.
I distance myself from these lyrics by reminding myself that this is all wrong: it’s wrong to risk pregnancy and disease for better sex, it’s wrong not to pull out because the sex feels ‘too good’, and it’s certainly wrong to force your fanciful fatherhood fantasies on your unsuspecting partner.
Unprotected sex is a game of chicken, gambling with other’s lives and potential lives as well as your own – the repercussions extend way beyond our petty pleasure-seeking impulses. And while Ocean has never held himself up as a paragon of all that is holy, musicians exert an enormous amount of influence over their fans. It’s one thing for a singer to present themselves, warts and all, to an audience, and another to openly promote their questionable life choices through their music. There comes a point where responsibility must be taken – artists can’t hide behind their art forever.
Words by Greg Woodin