The lyrical genius that is Frank Ocean has never been one to shy away from confronting world issues. In his debut studio album, Channel Orange from 2012, which features an amalgamation of soul, hip hop and R&B, Ocean provides the listeners with the painful processes that are attached to drug taking; what it is like to be in a materialist, capitalist world as well as coming to terms with one’s sexuality. The album performs as a lyrical polemic against the twenty-first-century society, whilst grabbing the listener with its dulcet, smooth tones.
For the privileged and underprivileged youths of today, the listener cannot help but be drawn in by the hypnotic tentacles of ‘Super Rich Kids’, track seven of the album. With the help of Earl Sweatshirt, Ocean discusses the raw struggles of “searching for a real love” in a materialist society that is preoccupied with “daddy’s Jaguar”. In a century where success works hand in hand with drugs and smart cars, the song draws attention to the sadness of not possessing real relationships.
Under this cloud of drug-fuelled smoke, ‘Pilot Jones’ highlights the struggles of falling in love with a dealer and being held captive by drugs. The sound of a plane whistling closes the song, providing a glimmer of possible hope that people possessed by drugs can escape. In ‘Crack Rock’ we hear Ocean having an existential crisis, as he exclaims: “You don’t know how little you matter/ Until you’re all alone/ In the middle of Arkansas”. The agony that comes with drug-related crimes is then encapsulated in his lyrics: “My brother get popped/ And don’t no one hear the sound”. The album is becoming serious in its confrontation with society.
the song draws attention to the sadness of not possessing real relationships
The album then moves swiftly to the struggles of being a stripper in this era. Narrated from the perspective of a pimp, we hear his arrogant words as he says “Got your girl working for me/ Hit the strip and my bills paid”. However, with the metaphor of Cleopatra, the stripper does possess some dignity.
The album’s true heartache and anguish lies in the songs, ‘Bad Religion’ and ‘Forrest Gump’. In ‘Bad Religion’ we hear the difficulties of feeling alone in a world that is fearful of terrorism and where one feels unrequited, homosexual love. Ocean has always been open about his bisexuality, confessing on his Tumblr, afterwards acting as a role model for people who feared coming out. The violins playing in the background enhance this heartache, the agony “to be in love with someone/ Who could never love you”. ‘Forrest Gump’ encapsulates the nervousness and excitement of this homosexual love with a similar anticipation and sensuality encaptured in Luca Guadagnino’s ‘Call Me By Your Name’, as we hear Ocean sing “I’m nervous Forres”‘.
To be transformed into a world of strippers struggles with sexuality, gang violence and astounding harmonies, Channel Orange gives you everything you never knew you wanted.