Earlier this month, fledgling hip-hop artist and Odd Future member Frank Ocean interrupted the usual flow of ironic gifs and idle musings on his personal Tumblr to announce something a bit more personal. In a screenshot of a Textedit document, in emphatic caps, Ocean told the story of his first love, detailing the unrequited feelings that he had had for another man when he was 19 years old.
The announcement came just weeks before the release of his debut album and, more importantly, it came without one of hip-hop’s favourite disclaimers, “no homo”.
Coming from a genre that is still firmly entrenched in a very specific idea of heternormative masculinity, Ocean’s confession should have ruined his career.
Instead, channel ORANGE, debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200, his performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon aired to rave reviews and Ocean kicked off a sold-out summer tour across America. Ocean’s reception may best summarised by his recent tweet:
and the women still scream in the front row, contrary to what a naysayer might think. 🙂
The overwhelmingly positive reception to Ocean’s ‘coming out’ marks an interesting turning point in mass media. It is tempting to suggest that the relationship between homosexuality and popular culture is no longer fraught with tension, living as we are in an era populated by Lady Gaga and Katy Perry’s anthems of almost aggressive acceptance.
Indeed, an understated reception may be the best step toward, and indication of, mainstream acceptance. However, Ocean’s revelations have been far more resonant and deservedly so.
Numerous industry luminaries, including Russell Simmons and Beyonce Knowles, took to the internet to express their support, and the positive exposure has already done much to defeat hip-hop’s tired homophobia.
There is also something particularly poignant about the way Ocean delivered his news, harnessing the very channels of social media to say something a People magazine cover could never have so intimately conveyed.
His confession eschews any labelling (the terms ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual’ are not mentioned) and launching as it did at the onset of his career, suggests that the old model of professional secrecy no longer needs to be the norm.
In a recent Guardian interview, Ocean talked about dislodging “this freakin’ boulder on [his] chest”, reminding us that while the personal is political, the inverse is just as true.
Whether the summer of Frank Ocean will be the one that launches a new era in hip-hop is hard to say but for a genre that prides itself on authenticity, not only in the character of its music but in that of its performers too, Ocean’s music speaks for itself and that’s how it should be.