A year painted 'Blonde'
A few days before Blond(e) dropped, Frank Ocean released a music video for the album’s opening track “Nikes.” “I got twooooo versions” Frank says while resting on a stylish red car. What follows is an erotic five minute sequence of images filled with vintage European cars, dimly lit parties, Frank lighting himself on fire, a talking chihuahua, a glitter covered ass slap and an A$AP Rocky appearance. I remember watching the music video for the first time, sitting in my childhood bedroom while home for the summer. I eagerly opened the link and with millions of others and listened to what one of the most powerful voices of my generation had to say after years of silence. I didn’t know what the hell I was looking at during that first listen, but I knew one thing — this was art.
On August 20th, Blonde was released, and my intrigue for Frank Ocean started to blossom. I had been a passive fan after Channel Orange, and I was excited for Blonde’s release, but at that point he would not make have made his way into my list during a “top 5” artist conversation. To say that Blonde fundamentally changed that is quite literally an understatement. For days, the only time I would halt the album would be when I absolutely had to. The songs engulfed me in a continuous loop of attempting to figure out what the hell this guy was trying to say.
The end of the summer bled into the school year, and I moved into my first college house. The careless days of Welcome Week and the excitement for those first few classes came and went. My favorite memories of those days weren’t the humorous shenanigans with my roommates, or meeting new people, but rather when I’d be by myself listening to Blonde. Each night I’d try to set aside a chunk of time dedicated to Frank Ocean.
As fall semester went on I met more people that shared my taste in music, and that’s when Blonde began attaching itself to important personal moments. The first time, I was at a “family dinner” — said family being friends from my freshman year dorm. Once I settled in, said my hellos, and took a seat I started paying attention to the music. The soundwaves of “Solo” were floating through the air and bouncing off my ear drums. The rest of the album played on shuffle while we talked about our plans for the rest of the semester and ate plate after plate of pasta. Through that dinner, I befriend a one particular person as she was the only one who was just as eager to talk about the music as I was.
After I became friends with her, an onslaught of Blonde-loving individuals entered my life. We began eagerly learning more about each other through the Ocean’s music. Conversations about Blonde turned into conversations about one another. Conversations about one another turned into conversations about society and our upbringings. I doubt any of those conversations would have happened without the album as a catalyst.
Like drugs and alcohol, Blonde had become a social lubricant. A new conversation would gain traction by simply finding out the other participant had an appreciation for Frank Ocean. This can obviously happen with any piece of art, but I’d notice that with Blonde, this energy was stronger than anything I’d experienced before. It felt alive.
The rest of the fall and winter semesters flowed over me like water running downhill. Before I even had the time to reflect, my sophomore year of college had come and gone. Yet Blonde continued attaching itself to moments during my three months spent in Ann Arbor this summer. I learned through many more listens during that time that a lot of Blonde sounds its best in the summer. Particularly “Skyline To,” “Pink & White” and “Siegfried.” Their sounds perfectly accompany activities like resting in the Arb or smoking a cigarette on a porch during a calm night. I found that the more I listened to the songs in new environments, the more I noticed more distinct aspects of each song.
Near the end of July I found myself laying in the guest bedroom of an old friend’s house in Boston, Mass. As I laid my head against the pillow after a long day, I threw on my headphones and played the music video cut of “Nikes.” During Frank’s closing verse I started hearing faint airy echoes of his voice after each line. How had I not heard this before? Had I not been paying close enough attention? Had I simply not been listening loud enough?
That night I proceeded to run through the entire album for the millionth time and I noticed several small vocal manipulations I never had before. It’s no wonder the album took so long to create, almost a full year after its release I was finding new sounds hidden in its composition.
One week after the night in Boston, I had the pleasure of seeing Frank live at Panorama Music Festival in New York City. It didn’t take long for tears to start flooding my eyes. I had no plans of tearing up at Panorama, but during Frank’s performance powerful emotion completely consumed me, and there was not much I could do about it. They weren’t a product of sadness, they weren’t even tears of joy, they were a result of raw emotion. I’d never felt anything like that before. Frank made me feel a way I hadn’t entirely expected.
He had enhanced the concert experience to a level unlike anything I had experienced before, yet I wasn’t terribly surprised by that. Frank had been enhancing moments in my life for 11 months at that point.
When I left New York I found myself headed west towards the “City of Angels” with two Daily Arts editors. In our pursuit of paradise, we stopped to camp at Badlands National Park in South Dakota. After staring at scores of bison in awe, and enduring a hellish rainstorm at our campsite, we decided to go on a hike up some of the many hills surrounding us. In the moment, one of us reached to his phone and started playing Blonde because, well, it seemed the obvious thing to do. The moment felt significant. Here we were, three college kids on our first real trip by ourselves, on the heels of some difficult summer moments and quintessential millennial struggles, reaching the top of a gigantic hill to come across a view unlike anything we had seen before. It only felt natural that the sounds of Blonde should accompany the moment.
Blonde seems to have this natural pairing with moments of significance. I’ve noticed that if someone feels that the current moment in time is significant to themselves and/or the ones around them, Blonde is the chosen soundtrack. Furthermore, if a moment feels as though it should be more significant than it is, for whatever reason, people will play Blonde to give it that extra push of significance.
Perhaps this phenomenon might just take place in my overarching friend group, but part of me doubts that. The insane commercial and critical success of Blonde also, to some extent, begs to differ. Not everyone might see the album as I do, but plenty of people must have similar ideas just by the law of averages. Yet even if I do sound like someone in a group of obsessed fanboys and fangirls constantly clutching onto any source of meaning they can find, doesn’t that still say something about the album? Out of all the music stored in the libraries of our brains this is the album that heaps of us come back to time and time again in moments of significance.
Even today as I write this, two days before Blonde’s anniversary, with the “Nikes” music video yet again playing on my phone beside me, I feel moved by the music. It makes me realize that perhaps I have a lot more to figure out about this album; that there’s a lot more to write about. I may never comprehend the full picture of what Frank is trying to communicate through his voice changes and poetic lyrics, but that’s okay. Blonde will continue to create its own living and breathing meaning as it attaches itself to more moments in my life. In these moments it has been and will be just as substantial as the setting or the people I’m surrounded by.
As time goes on and more moments in my life are painted blonde, my only hope is that the paint retains its vibrance. I don’t want to imagine a world where the album loses its power, so I won’t.