By Campbell Wood
Frank Ocean is an astounding and acclaimed artist that needs no introduction. However, his absence in the music spotlight is one that also needs no introduction. Since the release of Ocean’s sophomore studio album “Blonde,” fans have heard nothing but radio silence from the former Odd Future member, other than an odd appearance at the 2021 Met Gala accompanied by a green baby. This silence was broken at long last when on January 10th, 2023, the Coachella Music and Arts Festival announced that its Sunday headliner would indeed be, Mr. Frank Ocean, along with Bad Bunny and Blackpink. This was revolutionary to fans of Ocean and the music world, with the internet losing its mind when the news was announced. Fans speculated whether this signified the release of new Frank Ocean songs, maybe even an album to follow up his last critically acclaimed album. After 6 years, jokes and memes of Frank Ocean never coming back had finally been demolished. After months of anticipation for the music festival, the day of the exhilarating performance had arrived. But what was expected to be one of the most historic musical events turned out to be one of the most disappointing musical performances in history. So what went wrong?
Since you’ve probably already read about the disasters and mishaps that occurred during Ocean’s set, I’ll be telling you about my personal experience as a major Frank Ocean fan who unfortunately was forced to witness the concert online. My anticipation for the event had grown immensely other the course of the festival, as surprises such as Tyler, the Creator appearing during Kali Uchi’s set to perform alongside her for “See You Again” had me anxiously wondering what Frank Ocean had in store. I was impressed by what the music festival was able to provide over the weekend, even tweeting about how I noticed the improvement in quality.
As you can see from the time this was tweeted, these were my thoughts about Coachella quite literally 10 minutes before Frank Ocean was supposed to take the stage. After tweeting this, I checked my feed to see the anticipation of other people waiting for the long-awaited show. However, to my surprise, all I saw was grievance, as Coachella had announced around this time that the performance would not be live-streamed, unlike all the other performances that day (with the exception of Björk.) This news was extremely disappointing to me and many other fans alike, as the comeback of one of the most influential artists was not able to be viewed by anyone not attending the festival. I immediately went searching for any way to view his set, checking Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok live streams to see if anybody in the audience was broadcasting the show. Luckily I was able to find a couple of TikTok live streams to access back and forth, but to my sadness, the connections of most of the videos were poor due to the festival being held in a desert in the middle of California.
After 10 minutes of watching the screen of his stage display various moving circles and lines, I had given Ocean some credit, as it’s decently normal for artists to start their set relatively late. This credit would soon slowly dissipate when 20 minutes went by, then 30 minutes, and on until I grew exhausted of hearing the people live streaming complaining about his absence. I only experienced a sprinkle of excitement when the screen suddenly turned black, but this turned out to be a fluke, and I still had to wait longer. However after an hour of dread and impatience, Frank finally decided to show up.
The set consisted of a huge jumbotron above a tiny box that held a group of people walking around in an infinite circle, an “artistic” touch that reminded me of Ye’s “Donda” album live streams. I was unfortunately not able to witness the very beginning of his set, as people rushed into the streams to see Frank perform, thus making it hard for the fragile TikTok Live to function properly. He started his set with “Novacane”, a song I was particularly pleased to hear because of my recent frequent listens of his 2011 debut solo. After what seemed like a promising introduction to the set, Frank transitioned into what is believed to be a new song with mellow undertones called “Come On World, You Can’t Go!” Next was an especially promising rendition of “Crack Rock”, and I finally had hope that Frank Ocean was back after a great performance. He came out from the tiny box to talk about his brother and gave a general speech to the audience about being non-existent for the past 6 years, which was really comforting to hear and if I’m being honest, made me slightly tear up. This tear was sucked right back in when Frank announced “It’s not like there isn’t a new album, just not right now.” As you can probably tell, this was quite bittersweet to hear, and I was puzzled about how to react.
After a delightful acoustic rendition of “Pink + White” among other songs, my hope in the set quickly vanished as a DJ, CRYSTALLMESS, replaced Frank and came out to perform. My initial thought was “Alright this can’t be that bad, she’s just going to perform for 5 minutes and Frank will be right back on!” My initial thoughts had proven to be wrong as I was experiencing the same emotions I was while waiting for Frank to even appear onstage. CRYSTALLMESS performed various Jersey Club remixes of Frank Ocean songs such as “Chanel” and “In My Room” for a good 20 minutes, and I grew increasingly uninterested. After a disappointing “intermission,” Frank came back on to perform a, to say the least, interesting punk rock rendition of “Wise Man,” which left me jaw dropped in not a particularly positive way. By this point, I had given up and lost any thread of faith that the rest of the set would be promising, so I fell asleep around 3:30 in the morning feeling immensely dissatisfied.
I woke up to shared disappointment and grievance as I read other people’s opinions of the show online. Apparently after I had clocked out, the rest of the show was lip-synced, Ocean even ditching his microphone during “Nights” to jump around on stage and mouth the words. It was also publicly announced that Frank had decided to can his entire original stage set up, which included an ice rink featuring the dancers who had been walking around in a circle, which I found out later were real professional ice skaters who had weeks of hard work and practice eradicated from his decision. Hearing about these difficulties along with my own experience of the set, I was disappointed in the outcome of Frank Ocean’s “comeback.” I found myself sympathizing with the audience who had waited hours before gates even opened, camping out and having to use diapers in order to see the greatly anticipated performance. I had never felt more dissatisfied with a concert from one of my all-time favorite artists.
I was planning on writing a hopeful conclusion of Frank Ocean redeeming himself at the second weekend of Coachella, however literally as I am writing this it was just announced that he won’t be performing due to a fractured ankle. I’ll still end on a positive note in hopes that Frank releases a statement addressing his actions and hopefully announces/releases music that lives up to the extensive wait, and hopefully makes up for his disheartening set at Coachella 2023. Let's pray that it won’t be another 6 years until we hear from Frank again.