In the great words of Frank Ocean, “Whoever you are, wherever you are… I’m starting to think we’re a lot alike.” If there’s one thing writing has taught me, it’s that we all have bleeding hearts and wounded souls. We’re all carrying metric tons of baggage and silently begging to get through the day. At one point or another, our hearts have caved in, and though we surely rebuild, the wreckage stays with us. Wreckage, then, is how Frank Ocean properly opens his second full-length project, channel ORANGE. He’s been “Thinkin Bout You.” It feels so… Tender.
“A tornado flew around my room before you came,” Frank sings. His lover’s presence marked by destruction. The intimacy of a bedroom in shambles, telegraphing a life in shambles. The ire of a broken heart captured by clothes on the floor and an overturned desk chair. Perhaps a record scratch. Perhaps a poster peeling off the wall. Perhaps a love never meant to be, one so deadly in its approach. “My eyes don’t shed tears, but boy, they pour when…” Frank closes the first verse. His strength depleted. In 2012, and perhaps for all-time, Frank Ocean portrays love as a siphon.
“I was 19 years old. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together. Everyday almost. And on the days we were together, time would glide… By the time I realized I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless. There was no escaping, no negotiating with the feeling. No choice. It was my first love, it changed my life.” —Frank Ocean
It’s disingenuous to talk about love, loss, and “Thinkin Bout You” without talking about Frank Ocean’s open letter, posted to Tumblr in 2012. In the letter, Frank comes out as queer. In the letter, Frank bares his soul and proves to us he is one of America’s most important writers. In the letter, Frank makes us feel like we could be him. We have been him. Remember your first love rotting in your hands, turning them dark and sticky and sickly. Remember your first love buzzing through your veins until you got anxious from the high. Remember how your first love bent time until your future together inevitably became your past. Because a first is rarely a forever, and we must shoulder that burden for our entire lives.
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“I’ve been thinkin’ bout you, do you think about me still? / Do ya, do ya? / Or do you not think so far ahead?” Frank questions. The hook to “Thinkin Bout You” feels emotively miraculous. Simultaneously, Frank invokes the absence and presence of the boy of his 19th year. Simultaneously, Frank molds time as if it were wet, malleable, and willing. The simplicity of the hook makes it so cutting. How our fleeting thoughts become musings, become deep dwellings. To think of someone, to give them your time, what could be more romantic? And yet, the pleading “Do ya, do ya?” leaves us in shambles.
To suggest he’s not thinking so far ahead, as Frank hits a piercing high note, reminds us of the spiral of time. Linear time is a Western construct. Love moves differently. Love travels and traverses. When you recall your past, you imagine a potential future in tow. Could it have been? is the operative question of “Thinkin Bout You.” We know the answer without ever hearing from the boy. It pains us. It pains Frank. This is why he turns coy and defensive on the second verse, singing: “No, I don’t like you, I just thought you were cool enough to kick it.” Of course, Frank changes his tune when the center of his affections starts to pull away.
“Since you think I don’t love you, I just thought you were cute / That’s why I kissed you,” Frank sings, advancing the chase. Remember the push and pull of your first love. The games. How every outing and moment together was a bashful show-and-prove. There’s so much in Frank’s kiss. He gives himself over to the boy with a single gesture, and yet, the boy thinks about Frank not even once. With that, “Thinkin Bout You” is the moment your heart caves in and reality overtakes you. The bliss and splendor of your first love melt away, so too does the rancor and squalor of the aftermath. You’re left with the truth: Endings. It’s always an ending looming in the wings of our life’s stages.
Frank’s been thinking ‘bout forever. A forever with your first love is tooth-achingly sweet. Stomach-churningly sugary. If the boy does not want to remember, does not want to face the past and revel in the future, Frank will do the work for them both. Love and fantasy dance together. “It won’t ever get old, not in my soul, not in my spirit, keep it alive / We’ll go down this road ‘til it turns from color to black and white,” Frank concludes. He’ll keep this first love alive however he must. Do you think fondly on your first love? Resent them? Either way, they plaster themselves over your heart. They become the beatings’ second skin.
Here, Frank Ocean bends time once more. Color a marker of the present and future, black and white a marker of the past and aging. At once, love is the future and the past, and the future of the past. “I felt like I’d only imagined reciprocity for years,” Frank wrote. “Now imagine being thrown from a cliff. No, I wasn’t on a cliff. I was still in my car telling myself it was gonna be fine and to take deep breaths.” Down whatever road, cliff, or car, we are only ever left with ourselves. ‘Til our vision turns from color to black and white.
When your heart caves in and your first real love leaves you, you aren’t sure of yourself. Who are you without this backdrop of romance? Of course, we’re thinking about forever. “Thinkin Bout You” is an attempt to save ourselves from facing ourselves. The longer we dwell on a potential forever, the longer we can avoid the present rife with uncertainty. “Thinkin Bout You” ends with forever, with a wail. Frank is not ready for the present. He doesn’t want the answers to his questions, and can we ever blame him?
“I feel like a free man,” Frank Ocean ends his letter. “If I listen closely.. [sic] I can hear the sky falling too.” We dust off our hearts. The sky may be falling, but the world continues to turn. We’ve been thinking about you, whoever you are, wherever you are. I’m starting to believe we are all too much alike in our pain and triumph. Maybe that means we’ll all feel better soon. Maybe not. Regardless, we’ve all been thinking ‘bout you. Does anyone think about us? Do they, do they?