On July 30th, 2017, the elusive Frank Ocean captivated WayHome Music Festival with a grandiose, yet intimate performance. He took the stage in front of thousands of concertgoers and headlined the festival with confidence and talent alongside a quietness that engrossed the crowd unlike the acts before him. Those in attendance were privy to a generational talent — whether they knew it or not — and he was completely taciturn, yet communicative, through his presence and his music.
The modus operandi of Frank Ocean seems to be: “to lead a blonded life.” It’s arguably a “blondes have more fun” type of mentality, as Frank does whatever he wants, whenever he wants. His Kool-Aid blue hair and meticulously set up merch booth (with an equally, or grossly disproportionate, long line — you decide) are indicative of this fact. While his hair literally represented this "blonded" notion, the tent itself read "blonded" on both sides wherein hundreds of fans chose between a variety of custom made-to-order apparel.
In hindsight, Ocean’s series of cancellations prior to WayHome seem more understandable after watching his show at the end of last month. Spike Jonze has been reported to be involved in the cinematic visuals of his performance, Tom Sachs helped intricately design his stage set, and Ocean moved and sang with a discreet deliberateness all his own. It was a seriously calculated production. The setlist stuck primarily to songs from his most recent release, Blonde, while he did fit in new and old music alike: “Chanel,” “Lens,” “Biking,” “Comme des Garçon,” “Forrest Gump,” “Thinking About You” and “Pyramids” punctuated a perfect night. The show capitalized upon his reserved popularity; because someone as magnificent as Frank Ocean does not simply step out of the spotlight and return unnoticed — especially in this day and age of interconnectivity.
Previously, Ocean's social silence was louder than a fully funded ad campaign. He seemingly announced a magazine/album and painstakingly built up anticipation by saying nothing else; later, upon the release of his visual album, Endless, he simultaneously built a relationship with Apple Music while maneuvering his way out of a record contract with complete ownership of his master recordings; he then independently released Blonde on Apple and continued releasing new music at his leisure on blonded RADIO. So now, almost one full year since his reemergence and newly acquired self-determination, Ocean is still moving as silently or as loudly as he wants — it's his way or nothing.
Nevertheless, the festival circuit has its own pros and cons. It feels like Ocean’s return to the main stage is ironically about practice and relates to his perfectionism. As unlikely as it may seem, the probability of a solo tour might be on the horizon. And while this can be considered an exponential unknown in regards to the artist, fans are hopeful. Conversely, a festival show provides an intersection for a musician. Alone, the merit of performing offers and introduces an artist to new listeners. It’s an artistic outreach of sorts; however, the crowd was a mixture of those who listen to Frank Ocean, those who have heard of Frank Ocean and those who were simply attending WayHome. The sentiment obtained through the camaraderie of standom becomes lackluster amidst dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of neighbours who do not know his music like his cult-like fan base.
Unlike his contemporaries, Ocean has been resolute throughout the years. His artistic integrity and style have persevered since his first mixtape, nostalgia, ULTRA, which in itself is a testament to the musical climate we live in. His music is artful, mainstream, and yet underground in essence. With so many juxtapositions involved, it’s hard for a diehard fan to be truly mad at the lack of oneness experienced at WayHome, or any other festival for that matter.
Frank Ocean is seemingly an uncontainable genius and it's plausible to think he knows it. His performance was poetry in motion. His singing was brilliant, his music was piercing, and his perfectionism was prioritized. Playing "Close to You" he unexpectedly reset mid-song stating, "No … stop for a second. Okay, let me get this shit right," before restarting from the top. Again, this is Frank doing things for Frank. This is what makes him so captivating. The notion of celebrity has always been dependent on the relationship between themselves and their audience. In the peculiar case of Frank Ocean, however, he has broken the mold and is reinventing the status quo still with the listener in mind, albeit not so hyperfocused on their expectations, but rather more focused on his own instead. It's still a symbiotic relationship between artist and audience but Ocean has found solace in living up to his own standards rather than anyone else's.
In the end, Ocean is a contrarian through and through. To him, conventional notions of fame may be something worth renouncing but a talent such as his is impossible to hide. After all, "Frank Ocean appears courtesy of Frank Ocean." Fortunately for those in attendance, he showed up.