Frank Ocean, We're Tired Of The Lies

Photo: Julian Mackler/BFA/REX.
I have a weak heart. While the organ itself is medically sound — blood pumps through my body, uninterrupted — occasionally my entire body gets weak with frustration and fatigue. Sometimes it's because I don't drink enough water, and I stay up too late. Though mainly, I'm plagued by an incurable exhaustion, the kind that can only be triggered by a man known as Frank Ocean.

At 11 p.m. last night, I had work to do. Earlier in the day, I'd sent apologetic texts to two separate friends, canceling two sets of plans I'd made. I wanted to get up early the next morning, and other responsibilities needed my attention. I had some Instagram stalking to catch up on and dishes to wash. So why, at 11 p.m. last night, was I watching this man named Frank Ocean do manual labor?

And that's exactly what Ocean was doing: The livestream that was supposed to deliver Boys Don't Cry, his long-awaited second album, was suddenly active again. Through tweets and texts, I got messages from friends; most of us were afraid to hope again. Is this real? Is this it? Is this new? Is this him?

On social media, we refer to the man casually as "Frank." As in: "Frank, where the album?" "Frank, where you at?" And, "Yo, but when's Frank dropping?" etc. Formality slips away when you've been waiting four years for the follow-up to an album as magnificent as Channel Orange. It's only ballooned into more of a wonder since its release: each song bleeds into the next, laying bare his loneliness and confusion, desperation and desire. Channel Orange balanced a unique sound that was both lighthearted and emotionally dark. Frank etched out a whole new way for Black masculinity to operate in this world. He wrote love songs about men and sang about strippers with a devotion that approached reverence. And then he vanished, conjuring up beats and verses from behind the scenes.

Except it would have been easier if he'd only vanished. He was no longer front-facing, but forever teasing us. Like clockwork, rumors sprang up every few months. "His new album is dropping today... For real this time!" someone would say. Online I saw people share a supposed confirmation of the release via The New York Times. "Y'all can share that NYT story ab new Frank Ocean every hour until midnight Friday, but I won't believe anything until it's in my damn ears," I tweeted. Then 11:59 p.m. Friday came, and there wasn't any new material to hear.
Photo: Twitter/hunteryharris.
But finally, on Thursday night, Frank gave us Endless, a visual album of him constructing a set of stairs. It is literally 45 minutes of just him (and a few duplicates of himself) building stairs to heaven, hell, or another life.

"When I'm up they gon' hate. / When I'm down they gon' celebrate. / Sideways, sideways. / No it's not too late," he sang. And it felt like a peace offering, maybe only because I wanted it to be. I wanted him to feel how long we've been without him.

But here's the thing some of us had forgotten after spending so much time without him: "Frank" isn't ours. No artist is. It's easy to get caught up in the spectacle of this rollout and piecemeal updates that came years, weeks, and hours apart. It's irritating to check Twitter every second just in case this is the moment he drops something. But we don't have a right to this sense of expectation, this insistence on demands. We've inserted ourselves into his labor, without consulting him.

Black people live in this world with enough stereotypical presumptions about our masculinity and femininity. Maybe there's some dictum that says art has to be released according to some accountant's schedule. But I prefer this image, this ideal: a Black man shrugging off anyone else's expectations of him. It's a beautiful thing to think that somewhere in America Ocean is in the studio, laughing and smoking weed and working on whatever he wants us to have.

Last night we got Endless, and supposedly we'll hear his second album (no longer titled Boys Don't Cry, according to Rolling Stone) by next weekend. But even if Frank sat down beside me on the train and handed me an envelope with the album, I'd expect it to be empty. I want the album, and I'll wait for it. I'm just tired of the scribbled out dates, the media confirmations, the lies. Send me a smoke signal when he releases. I'll be ready when he is.

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