The radiance of unwavering joy is personified in Pharrell’s “Pink + White” piano melody. It is the sound of two butterflies mating upon a rainbow, elegant and beautiful. Seeking comfort within such vibrant colors, I played the song on repeat. In a room where love had begun to fade, Frank’s “It’s all downhill from here” felt like a pessimistic prophecy from an oracle who foresaw the forthcoming wildfire that would engulf paradise. The phrase vocalized a truth I wanted to elude―the inevitable end of a cherished love.
It's been one full year of these transfixing moments with Frank Ocean's Blonde. One year of my life in harmony with the lyrics, a painful unison.
There’s a difference between listening and living with an album. The high volume of music saturating eyes and ears has something new always replacing the old. It’s hard these days to find a body of work to be submerged in; too many options and not enough ears or time.
What makes Blonde special is how the music is able to bare certain truths that couldn’t be found elsewhere. When Frank exhales, “I’m not brave!” on “Seigfried” there’s an arresting power in the stark statement. I recall memories where bravery wasn’t anywhere to be found, and to express that emotion with words seemed taboo. Frank wasn't like me, he could admit fear, brawl with decisions, and confess his inner-most truths with unfiltered transparency. Sincerity didn’t make him weak, it made him human. Just when he began to feel more mystic than man, Frank returned with his heart on a silver platter.
Blonde has been an easy album to live within, like discovering a voice who could narrate all the pieces of life that felt unarticulated. What is whispered, what is kept internal, what is written in journals with the words “If you read, you’ll judge” scribbled across the front. There’s something so incredibly impactful about his simplistic language and the feelings he conveys. The life painted is authentic; the highs of life, but more importantly the lows that follow.
Happiness in its most cliché incarnation makes brief appearances throughout the album's 17 songs. The only time Frank sounds genuinely overjoyed is during the first half of the criminally overlooked “Futura Free.” It is the victory lap, a freestyle filled with humorous lines and carefree reflection. Blonde isn’t a happy album, and yet it isn’t bleak.
“Ivy,” for example, doesn’t allow the death of a failed union to eclipse the elation of their love. Last week's heartbreak will be healed by the weekend, no differently than the unrequited love described on “Nikes” is understood with mature comprehension. "I'm not him but I'll mean something to you" is affection that is bound to be a disaster but the bliss was never meant to last. On the interlude “Good Guy,” the blind date isn’t a pleasant memory, but the clarity in the final line, “I know you don’t need me right now and to you it’s just a late night out,” immortalizes the search for companionship and the reality of how it isn’t easily obtained. Even the good guys aren't good enough.
There’s a lack of naïve hope when Frank sings; there’s no jadedness to protect his innocence. “Confusion is a luxury which only the very, very young can possibly afford and you are not that young anymore,” James Baldwin wrote in his 1956 novel, Giovanni’s Room. There's very little confusion in Frank's maturation. His growth as a man and songwriter can be heard in his perspective.
So much of what makes Blonde an immersive listen is how it doesn’t sell the basic concepts of good or bad—it's more like finding a corner of heaven in hell, or a rising fire within the pearly gates. You can feel the ache in his world as he confesses eternal love on “White Ferrari” in contrast to the promise of relinquishing ownership on “Godspeed.” Letting go is a theme that’s explored across the album, and letting go tends to be the hardest part.
I’ve grown to appreciate the stripped-bare instrumentation―naked enough to climb a pole in Magic City. It’s a necessary serenity—emotions aren’t always loud and voracious. Sometimes the feelings that shake us to our core are the silent ones, hushed tornados that envelop our entire being rather than thunderstorms roaring across the skies.
It doesn’t feel as if a year has passed since Blonde was presented to the world. The four years of waiting felt much longer in retrospect. But I guess it’s the same reason Christmas Eve is so much longer than Christmas Day—anticipation slows the flow of time. When your days and nights move to the rhythms of the music it's easy to become lost in them. The best music is there to be leaned upon during those unbearable days and those overwhelming nights in rooms with secrets only talking walls would reveal.
Growing up teaches you that love isn’t just beautiful romance and overpowering heartache. Love, like life itself, is an expansive experience. It is the private dance between two hearts, and everyone moves to a different groove. The feelings of heavenly ecstasy and hellish regret aren't exclusive to any man or women, we are all likely to feel both the halos and the heat. In life and in love, no matter the dire circumstances, pleasure can be found, if only for a moment.
Frank isn’t sugar coating love as eternal bliss, but as waxed wings in a world with a merciless sun. It is the cold, harrowing honesty of his clear-eyed candor that made Blonde a constant companion throughout my 2016 and 2017. Moments of merriment were rarely christened by his sultry singing; the joys of life were scored by others. He was for after the parties, when the physical bodies had left and the ghosts of memories began to haunt. He was for after the bottles were empty, and self-control is forsaken in exchange for momentary satisfaction. He was for after the sex, when two bodies lay in darkness awaiting the dawn, unsure of where to go from there. He was for solitary car rides underneath dim lights, completely lost in thoughts that can only be mused upon in solitude.
Blonde is enriched by an intimacy of confessed emotions, an album that isn’t just heard but felt. One year later, I'm still in my feelings.
By Yoh, aka Yohfried aka @Yoh31