Frank Ocean has made it. If you didn’t believe that after Channel Orange, you do now after Blonde took over the world, sound-tracking that last hour of every party you’ve been to in the last seven months. He’s created a niche that few knew we needed, a mellow, brooding croon that fits better on midnight drives than the dance-floor. Ocean has become a pop titan with only one true radio hit, now bigger than most straight-edge pop artists. He is the new commercial.
You can recognize this on “Chanel,” his first solo single since Blonde. The track is immediately recognizable as Ocean’s, the pensive piano coupled with a moving, rhythmic syncopation that he mastered so well on Channel Orange. Though he left that pairing behind a bit on Blonde in favor of more guitar and synth, it still sat beneath the surface of each of those tracks, and “Chanel” offers the perfect bridge to easily understand how Orange and Blonde are two sides of the same coin. It’s also one of his most assured verses in a while, more reminiscent of his verse on Earl Sweatshirt’s “Sunday” — “I mean he called me a faggot / I was just calling his bluff / I mean how anal am I gon’ be when I’m aiming my gun” — than most of the poetic muses on Blonde, which ruminated on love and loss.
On “Chanel” he dives into the theme of duality that he developed on Blonde, asserting that he “sees both sides like Chanel,” a reference to the two-sided Chanel logo. He paints a beautifully jagged and seemingly contradictory portrait of images that never stop to reassess, only to march on. Many have made the oversimplified connection that this refers specifically to bisexuality, even though Ocean has publicly shirked that term. That ignores the dynamism that Ocean has long discussed, the power of ambiguity. He has always refused to be placed into a category.
“Chanel” is no different, and like all of his tracks, exists on a plane of its own. It, like Ocean himself, resists easy classification, clear only in the power to mesmerize — the power of perfection.