The beauty behind Frank Ocean's 'Chanel'

The beauty behind Frank Ocean's 'Chanel'

A single that came out of nowhere, following the summer release of Blonde, has its own poignant flavour.

charlie-brown
Charlie Brown

As if we're in the summer of 2016 again, Frank Ocean's reflective tone and beautifully-spacious instrumentals on 2017's 'Chanel' take us back to closing track 'Futura Free' off of the hotly-anticipated Blonde

Except, with his second studio album Ocean explored his own bisexuality across the board of 60 minutes, rarely defining the characteristics that mould his persuasions.

He uses subtle links to both sides of the man he's proudly become - for example using both gender versions of the word blonde/blond, making the album split perfectly in two on 'Nights' and just simply through thoughtful lyrics.

Chanel depicts this in every way you'd expect from an Ocean track; on-point descriptive metaphors layered over quick-quips about sexual-intercourse set the foundations masterfully.

Blonde showed us clearly that Ocean himself adores both sides of the spectrum -- Chanel explains why and expands on it, like a conclusion to his essay of life over the past four years. 

Even going on to brag about the success of showing emotion as he did with Blonde, with the outro acting basically as a detailing of personal wealth - "my pockets snug". Perhaps money is a new love for Ocean?

A question for a later time, what remains when listening to this out-of-the-blue single is a feeling that this is an artist that isn't uncomfortable with talking about himself. Not that Ocean has ever been; even on his magnificent mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra you can feel the personal struggles through drug metaphors on 'Novacane'. 

But even then his style was secretive; unless you read deep into those lyrics you'd assume it's a song of drug-abuse. Especially when compared to Chanel, where the first line Ocean leads with is "my boy pretty like a girl" - it's self-acceptance in its finest form.

Also, it's a result of a much-needed change in times - same-sex marriage is accepted by law in the US, but not by some people. In 2017 that's what you have to call ignorance. 

Barely anyone in the mainstream is singing about sexuality so vividly as Christopher Breaux (Ocean) does - his voice is of paramount importance as we enter a time of twitter-Presidents and tumblr-teens.

Genius lyricism 

A sign of a genius artist - in any capacity - is one that shows you something without telling. In film and television you should be making the audience second guess what they're seeing; in art it's about making the audience ponder what the artist intended. 

That's exactly what Ocean does so effortlessly throughout Blonde, Channel: Orange and the overlooked visual-album Endless.  Chanel is poetry and obviously the "I see both sides like Chanel" line is a reference to the fashion-company's logo -- but it's not as simple as that.

Not only does Ocean see the beauty in both male and female, he sees beauty in Chanel's make-up on women and himself - take the 'Nikes' music video for evidence. Additionally you could make the clear link that the feminine/masculine divide in a man is something that he adores. 

The choice of 'Chanel' as a title is also interesting since the company itself was responsible for the revolution of high-class and everyday fashion - Frank sees both sides, as they did. He admits loving the female body in all its glory, but ultimately what stimulates him is the drive for a man present in his life for the emotional side needed on a daily basis. 

"My guy pretty like a girl, but he got fight stories to tell" is Ocean opening up; he's attracted to the feminine features, but the stories are what keeps him coming back. For anyone, that's what you aspire to keep - someone who's interesting and there for the future, not simply pleasant to look at. 

Perhaps this is what Ocean learned in his four years off; after all it was his idea to take a break and experience life so that the music he created was real and not just manufactured ideas that we can listen to on any radio station.

The mood shifts pretty quickly however, leading us to believe that Ocean's love of people has been explored enough as he describes seeing both sides of the public. 

Many lines in the verses contrast either, for example: "Police think I'm of the underworld" while others are "looking up to me and talking down".

Even previously, Ocean may have been pursuing true love in the opening lyric but after seeing both sides, he'd rather relax - "swimming laps through pool water, heated like I'm underworld". Linking this to the way the police view him, in his mind he's not above the water, maybe going through a rough stage in his life - which probably lead him to travel to Japan: "hide my tattoos in Shibuya".

Once you breakdown each line it's as if you're decoding Ocean's past year.

Following on from that he shows a desire to film a sex tape with a drone - most likely in Shibuya where the high-tech gadgets lie. 
Further along Ocean details meeting someone who was "straight acting", but once again seeing both sides caused the proposed lover's straight-masculinity to get "turnt out like some dirty plastic" - as if he brought home a bag and through it out onto the streets after use.

Present and Future days

The next half of his verse is used to detail what's going on right now and perhaps for the future, it seems.

"2016 burnt some discs, 2017 ideas playing off a Walkman" is such an uncanny and genius line; in a sense what Ocean is saying is that while Blonde and Endless were made for the 2000s, the creative expressionist inside him is being shifted to a more 70s vibe - hence the Walkman. 

Which should be exciting for fans of the Californian songwriter - you could almost say he wants to pay tribute to the late great David Bowie, who in fact made an appearance on the featured list for Blonde.

After all, it was in 1976 that Bowie announced his own bisexuality, clearly Ocean takes a lot of inspiration from Ziggy Stardust. Ocean is capable of making music to please listeners of any age - seeing both sides of the musical spectrum. 

"With a cup in a cup, Actavis, that's a double edge, 'issa knife" - basically, Ocean isn't like other artists who portray lean as a relaxant. For him it's also damaging - particularly for Pimp C, who was referenced on Blonde's opening single Nikes.

Along with talk of new releases, Ocean briefly dives into a feud between A$AP's Ian Connor and Theophilus London - "revenge in the air make my lungs sick" is a jab at the attempts by Connor to get back at his enemy. But while Ocean doesn't believe in revenge, he also sees that fighting is sometimes not easy to evade - "I don't like to fight 'til I'm fighting"

True Wealth

The third act of Chanel really breaks up what Ocean is in love with right now; money, cars and the occasional bit of sex.

Of course, cars are always in Frank's heart. From Nostalgia, Ultra's cover photo, to the music video for Nikes and even naming songs like 'White Ferrari'. 

Ocean talks of driving so fast down a snow-filled road, but nothing's stopping him from achieving his true love right now - wealth. As he tells of going through "sleet snow grind for the wealth" which results in his whole team having 'real diamonds'.

Odd Future are the team he's referring to here - he was the one who "showed 'em how to shine by they selves". Where they may have asked for a "cosign" in the past to get their careers off the ground, now it's a need for a cosign for their "health".

Ocean sees how wealthy everyone is but if you don't have two important sides of life - wealth and health - sorted then what's the point? Adept analogy as always from Odd Future's most talented artist (Sorry, Tyler).

"I need that b*tch to grind on my belt" is a line on its own odd, but next Ocean says how "I know you need to try for my belt" - maybe women need to do a bit more than men for his attention.

Next up the former-ghostwriter sees both arguments for even the smallest matters - such as the colour of his self-driving vehicle. "No matte black on the ride 'cause it's stale, but it's stealth"; this could've been a difficult decision for him as chooses how to paint his precious cars.

True love 

In the outro it's clear to the audience what is on Ocean's mind right now - cash and fashion. "I got new money and it's all cash" is a celebration of success, since his history was filled with "working on my feet for 7 dollars a hour" as told in Futura Free.

Not just that, it's as if Ocean's possible outbursts in Japan have landed him in trouble - "they banned my visa, my Amex and Mastercards". All that spending on fashion and art had its consequences - maybe he cannot see both sides of the wealth? Or perhaps has lost sight of it?

Throughout this single we hear "I see both sides like Chanel" repeated, but this last verse is sung twice without the line. 

Frank has been so busy spending "thousand dollar delta gift cards" and being amazed "the cash online unknown" that he "made my baby buy". He's not had the time to step back and ask himself, is this right?

For many people the reaction stage of any misery or success is spending, Ocean is using both sides of life as an excuse for all his reckless spending -- he hasn't learned the valuable lesson of saving versus consuming. 

If you go back to the beginning half of 2012's cult classic Channel: Orange, 'Not just money' basically explains how life isn't just money - "it's happiness". Ocean's actions have lead him astray from his own life lessons, and thus, he has lost sight of happiness.

Chanel may not seem so deep and vivid on the face of it, but make no mistake it's not just a celebration of wealth, Ocean is examining himself - just as he did with Blonde.

Even with 'Slide', Calvin Harris' recent hit-single that he features in along with Migos, it's not as if Ocean's drowned tones are one of a buoyant individual loving all the wealth in their life. 

"Do you slide on all your nights like this?"; Ocean seems to be posing the question to a girl for most listeners, but perhaps instead, it's aimed at himself too.

"All this jewellery ain't no use when it's this dark" is as if he's linking to the lines of diamonds in Chanel, along with "like we could dye hair all blonde" similar to how Ocean dyed his green.

Plus, his tone of voice is pretty similar when playing these two songs back-to-back.

Yet, this is only one perspective in the case of Slide -- as for Chanel, it's clear that Ocean is taking a depressive stance on one's knowledge of the world. While he knows of the sexual aspects of life, he needs to learn self-discipline even at the age of 29.

That's the beauty of Chanel, where most artists would leave it at "I've got money", Ocean explores the affect it's having on his existence, while also covering so many subjects in such a small amount of words.

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