In typically enigmatic fashion, Frank Ocean left more questions than answers when it was reported he didn’t submit his new albums, Endless and Blonde, for consideration at next year’s GRAMMYs.
The thought of a project as good as Blonde not even being nominated for a gold gramophone was a tough pill to swallow, even if the GRAMMYs aren’t as relevant as they once were. Was it an honest oversight in the midst of Frank’s departure from Def Jam? Or was it done intentionally to make an artistic statement? As it turns out, it’s the latter—and then some.
In a new interview with The New York Times—his first proper interview since releasing Endless and Blonde this past summer—Frank revealed the real reason behind his GRAMMYs boycott. “I think the infrastructure of the awarding system and the nomination system and screening system is dated,” he told writer Jon Caramanica. “I’d rather this be my Colin Kaepernick moment for the GRAMMYs than sit there in the audience.”
While Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to protest “a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Frank’s boycott is a more narrowed protest against discrimination in the music industry specifically. “That institution certainly has nostalgic importance,” he says. “It just doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from, and hold down what I hold down.”
According to Caramanica, Frank points out that since 1987, the year he was born, just a handful of black artists have won the prestigious Album of the Year award, including Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, and Ray Charles.
Of course, Frank Ocean isn’t the first artist to boycott the GRAMMYs. Jay Z, Kanye West, and Public Enemy have all protested the Recording Academy in the past for failing to properly recognize black artists. But the fact that one of the most respected musicians alive, who probably had a good shot at winning Album of the Year, feels the need to do a “Colin Kaepernick” shows there’s still changes to be made in the GRAMMYs. It’s a problem that extends far beyond music, and in much uglier ways.
It’d be a disservice to Jon Caramanica to reduce his story (which you can, and should, read here) to a headline about Frank Ocean’s GRAMMYs boycott, however. The revealing piece also delves into Frank’s personal life, the creative process behind his new albums, and his attitude toward fame, as well as what his future may hold. The good news: he’s working on new music. The bad news: he’s not pressed to release it.
“I believe that I’m one of the best in the world at what I do, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted to be,” Frank says. “It’s more interesting for me to figure out how to be superior in areas where I’m naïve, where I’m a novice.”