I woke up Saturday morning to the buzz of Twitter set aflame and opened Apple Music to hear Frank Ocean sing the words “My guy pretty like a girl.” As he repeated “I see both sides like Chanel,” I screamed.
This was it.
This was everything I’d been waiting for.
Aside from being an extremely enjoyable record, “Chanel” is Frank Ocean’s boldest bisexual statement to date.
We’ve known for a while that Frank likes men after his 2011 Tumblr note revealed his first love was a man. He wrote that he had loved women before, but that none of those relationships compared to his "first love." While people were quick to label Frank as gay or bisexual, Frank has never put either label on himself over the past six years. From a hip-hop perspective, his version of coming out was historic, but that note proved it was obvious that Frank himself didn’t yet know how he felt.
Frank’s queer experiences have transferred over to his music, with songs about both men and women, but he always kept each song exclusive to one gender or neither. “Forrest Gump” is about a man. Songs like “Novacane” and “Pyramids” are centered around women. Others, like “Thinkin Bout You,” just use a gender-neutral “you,” or drop subtle hints about queerness like the “blue matter” in “Pink Matter,” which has been interpreted as a sign of depression.
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“Chanel,” on the other hand, is a true bisexual coming-out anthem. Frank is finally talking about himself instead of his feelings for a specific person. His guy is pretty like a girl AND he’s in the pink like Killa Cam. Each repetition of “I see both sides” is an affirmation of loving both binaries.
Frank isn’t just stating his bisexuality, he’s making it fashionable. Being bisexual is like being fucking CHANEL. We’ve watched Frank blossom from someone who was lost and distressed, only sharing a few experiences, into a Kanye-confident, sexually empowered artist. For bisexual listeners, this means hearing lyrics like “my guy pretty like a girl” and “I see on both sides like Chanel,” and being able to proudly sing along and assert themselves with the same bravado. They don’t need to hide behind hopeless love songs or “I can’t help how I was born” excuses. Bisexuality is now high fashion.
It’s this empowerment that makes “Chanel” a pivotal moment in the current fight against biphobia. Despite any liberation that may have resulted from gay marriage legalization, bisexual individuals continue to be misunderstood from both the straight and gay communities. It’s difficult for many to even understand how someone could possibly “see both sides,” and “Chanel” is the most mainstream beacon of acceptance to date. (Not to mention it dropped in the middle of Bisexual Health Awareness month.) There are other queer and bisexual hip-hop artists gaining serious buzz, like Kehlani and Princess Nokia, but at the moment Frank Ocean is the industry’s strongest ally of the bisexual community.
While the release of “Chanel” and the continued success of Frank Ocean is a triumph, the hip-hop community needs to understand that Frank cannot be their scapegoat. After the recent controversy surrounding Migos’ oddly phrased (ignorant) statements on iLoveMakonnen coming out as gay, Quavo dug himself further into the hole of ignorance, tellingBillboard “I got a record with Frank Ocean. That closes my case.” That most certainly does not close anyone’s case, and merely doing a song with Frank—or any artist who doesn't exclusively identify as heterosexual—doesn’t take back any negative statements he made about the entire gay community.
Keep “Chanel” on repeat, but know that listening to Frank’s music isn’t the be-all end-all of understanding bisexuality or fighting for LGBTQ rights. The hip-hop community still has so much more work to do, but we're getting closer.
By Selene, aka @seleniepanini, aka Selene on both sides like Chanel.
Art Credit: David Combet