“Last summer I had 1,600 followers,” remarked Frank Ocean on Twitter last month. Just last summer, Ocean was only a member, but his songwriting ability and Michael Jackson vocal comparison earned him the notoreity he’s since gathered — that, and his recent coming out as bisexual in a Tumblr post. Now, he’s followed by well over a million people. And with the release of his album, Channel Orange, Ocean is sure to surge in popularity as he bares it all.
Part of this early success reels in that two-toned kind of buzz: Frank Ocean fawns within the euphoric part of an artist’s early career, where they can’t hide their perpetual smile as they plant themselves on stage or step out of a car to screaming fans. It’s only amplified by the fact that he made his first television appearance last week for Jimmy Fallon, letting not one person down as he intimately retold a story of unrequited love in the back of a taxi cab. The crisp voice under Ocean’s charming smile nailed track “Bad Religion”’s notes effortlessly — just as well as the live strings framed the vulnerability of the song so delicately. This was the start of something great.
With the release of Channel Orange on July 10, he was supported not only by Def Jam records, but a number of good friends, among them former Odd Future bandmate Tyler The Creator and Beyoncé. These are the people who supported Ocean in his recent self-outing as bisexual (unlike the oppositional Target retailer, who subsequently chose not to stock the new record). A collection of solid A-list friends and only one mixtape released for free on his website? Only true talent can achieve these milestones.
Another early favorite is the sexy and sultry “Thinkin’ About You,” which encapsulates part now and part forever. Ocean’s songwriting ability is so organic and exposed, sometimes alluding to hidden metaphors and other times leaving it out in the open to be soaked in. He sings in falsetto:
“Do you not think so far ahead? Cause I’ve been thinking ‘bout forever, ooohh.”
This is how Ocean’s debut CD flows as a whole. Charismatic, sensual, smart. It’s classic R&B getting-it-on music, the type that makes you feel good, both sexy and romantic but also overwhelmed by the smooth vocal talent and natural lyrical ability all at once.
He brings in thicker and faster beats at other times, like in the reckless “Sierra Leone” and thrilling “Sweet Life,” but also entertains more mainstream melodies in the funky “Lost”. Between a John Mayer cameo on guitar and the phychedelic “Pyramids,” Channel Orange truly has it all. Don’t let “Forrest Gump” go unnoticed, either. Its classic sound and contemporary writing strength is remarkable.
Frank Ocean is a definite pick for one of August’s Lollapalooza must-see acts, some for the spectacle of an anticipated artist in a time of commercial magnification, others simply for a really wonderful show. We’ll be there for both, plus the added appeal that he goes both ways. Fans can only hope that Ocean’s awe for his own success is comparable to the ones they share for his unmatchable talent in turn.