Frank Ocean wants you to know that his art takes time.
Despite rumors substantiated by no less than the Old Gray Lady of media, the R&B impresario did not release his follow up to 2012’s “Channel Orange” Friday, sentencing his millions of fans to a weekend spent feverishly refreshing his website (and Twitter) in hopes of further details regarding his new album, reportedly titled, “Boys Don’t Cry.”
Ocean recently rebranded his personal website to align with the new album, and last Monday the site began running a video stream that featured the singer mysteriously at work on a construction project. The serene black-and-white video featured a quiet warehouse that saw only occasional signs of life when Ocean would enter the frame to operate machinery and tease viewers’ imaginations.
Speculation guessed that the Grammy-winning artist was building stairs, but over time online observers surmised that he was making (much more useful) speakers. The site also features an image of a good old-fashioned library card, marked up with a series of dates when the singer’s next body of work might have debuted. Light mood music occasionally played over the industrial sounds, and drama built all week, but when the clock struck midnight on August 5, there was no new Frank Ocean music. Only an onslaught of disappointed online memes.
In today’s musical landscape, the release is nearly as intrinsic to an artist’s statement as the work. Beyonce broke the mold with her surprise 2013 self-titled album drop, before upping the ante with her groundbreaking “Lemonade” visual album HBO debut. Jay Z made the “new rules” when his “Magna Carta Holy Grail” was made available through a Samsung promotion that effectively counted, as he put it, “a million sold before the album dropped.” Samsung partnered with Rihanna on the release of her recent “ANTI” album, which was distributed via promotional download before premiering on the Jay Z-owned TIDAL service. Drake gave an exclusive interview to Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, which served as a prologue to the streaming service hosting his much-anticipated “Views.” And of course, pop’s master of attention Kanye West premiered his “Life of Pablo” in conjunction with a showcase of his fashion line to a packed Madison Square Garden before officially announcing the album's TIDAL release following an appearance on “Saturday Night Live.” Each instance revealed, in part, how the artists feel about their audience and the kind of attention they seek to demand.
Ocean seems to recognize that a large component of his social and commercial capital is in commanding anticipation. In today’s world, where every individual is a broadcaster of their own personal, social channel, he has opted to make his brand one of scarcity. Frank first burst onto the scene to great excitement with his 2011 mixtape, “Nostalgia, Ultra,” which mixed in original songs with reworked versions of famous Coldplay, MGMT and Eagles cuts. These songs would never be cleared to official streaming services like Spotify, underscoring just how fundamentally this singer’s creative output can be defined by absence.
As the library slip on his site indicates, Frank Ocean’s “Boys Don’t Cry” is past due. The only upcoming date remaining on it is November 13, 2016. But like any real reader with a library card knows, he’ll get it in when he’s finished. Those overdue charges are always worth it.