It's hard to imagine a purportedly heterosexual artist who has a more intimate relationship with the word "faggot" than the rapper Tyler, the Creator. His frequent use of word has defined his career to many (especially those who haven't taken the time to listen to his music or are generally hip-hop avoidant), its legend reaching exaggerated proportions – an oft-quoted, erroneous post on NME says he uttered the word and variations of it like "fag" 213 times on his 2011 sophomore album Goblin. Fader, in a more measured post of various Goblin stats, counted only nine.
Sensitive, out (whatever that means) soul singer Frank Ocean is up for six Grammys, recently saw his beloved debut album channel ORANGE go gold and was the de facto good guy in a recent scuffle with pop culture's Big Bad Wolf, Chris Brown. Right now, Frank Ocean is America's sweetheart. The primary function, then of Jeff Himmelman's 6,000+ word profile on the singer/songwriter for the upcoming issue of the New York Times Magazine, is taking Ocean's image down a peg or two. "Frank Ocean Can Fly" does so immediately by leading with Ocean's snobbery when faced with Himmelman's economy rental car: "Frank Ocean did not want to ride in my rented Ford Fusion; that much was clear," goes the piece's first sentence. Instead, he had Himmelman drive one of his BMWs — Ocean couldn't on account of his New Year's Eve pot bust.
Another day, another reason to fall in love with the most exciting duo in R&B, the UK's Alunageorge. Today they played the BBC 1Xtra Live Lounge, where they unveiled the new track "Body Music" and this gem: an upbeat cover of Frank Ocean's glorious "Thinkin Bout You." I had been thinking that Aluna Francis' voice had been manipulated on the group's recordings, but nope, it turns out that she actually just sounds sped up by 15 percent naturally. Unreal.
It's strange that in a year when the two biggest pop music stories dealt with the renaissances that R&B and dance music are undergoing, we lost icons from those respective genres: Whitney Houston and Donna Summer. Long gone is the time when what those divas brought to their respective genres was fresh and, for that matter, commercially relevant—but the passing of the baton, the out with the old and in with the new, rarely feels so pronounced and tangible.
Frank Ocean has a friend who goes by the name Willy Cartier (real name: Willy Leservot). According to this Tumblr, he is an "It hot boy" and a "a model with French, Vietnamese and Senegalese background." His androgynous beauty is what Andrej Pejić's androgynous beauty is to actual women. Close, but too femme for a cigar.
The most exciting recent musical development in R&B has less to do with its beat than what's floating above it. The synth-led humidity the genre has absorbed via the likes of Frank Ocean, Drake (and his producer, Noah "40" Shebib), the Weeknd, and Miguel is shaping the commercial genre before our ears in a way that hasn't happened since Timbaland revolutionized it by making it skitter during the last half of the ‘90s. Mood music actually sounds moody again.
For the past 24 hours, there has been an influx of new pop singles and almost all of them are subdued to the point of underwhelming. Here, I'll rank them in order of my faintly praised favorites.
Frank Ocean performed his song "Bad Religion" on tonight's Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and absolutely destroyed it. Accompanied by a string section, he sang the tale of unrequited love with a man ("I could never make him love me"), which seems to be modeled after the same relationship that he wrote about in his CD's liner notes. When that narrative was posted on Tumblr last week, it amounted to Frank's coming out. This is a stellar performance, particularly when he flips none too gracefully into his falsetto. It's not as fully formed as, say, Usher's, but there's also no vanity there, either — it's pure expression. This song is deeply felt and this performance only makes it deeper.
I can think of no better end to a week full of words from and about Frank Ocean than with some music. Speaking for its sun-kissed self, "Sweet Life" is off Ocean's official debut Channel Orange, which is out a week from Tuesday. The New York Times' Jon Caramanica says the album is "beautiful," and from what I've heard of it so far, I'm inclined to agree. I would be even without all the gay stuff.
In the wake of Frank Ocean's announcement that he once loved a man, there has been a renewed discourse about what it means for the supposedly homophobic crew Odd Future to have a male member that is queer or queerish or whatever Frank Ocean is. This makes him the second known member that isn't entirely straight — Odd Future producer Syd tha Kyd is an out lesbian who hates the word "lesbian."