Typically, love tastes sweet before she sours. I mean, we spend so much time agonizing over our first loves, we forget the latent sweet memories. We hang on to the bad times, but there were good times, too. I like to think it’s a sign of growth, to let the better memories wash over our senses and enjoy reminiscing on the bygone era. After all, there’s no reason to hold on to anger. After we reach the pinnacle of earned anger, does it still serve us? Likely not. On the penultimate track of channel ORANGE, Frank Ocean looks back fondly on his first love through the lens of Forrest Gump’s Jenny. He looks back on his first love, shedding his longing, and he remembers his lover for all their good times, not for the end of their relationship.
“Forrest Gump” is one of the least lyrically dense tracks on channel ORANGE. Frank practices the art of concision. His images pull directly from the Forrest Gump film, and his sentiments draw from our shared love consciousness. The devil of “Forrest Gump,” then, is in the structure. The short verses, each no more than a handful of lines, all culminate in a moment where “Forrest” slips between our hands—how first loves slip between our fingers and into the air of our past.
Think on the lines “I’m nervous, Forrest” and “Oh, where’d you go, Forrest?” from the first and second verses, respectively. Think of how Frank’s unease grows until “Forrest” disappears. Even though we know channel ORANGE is a largely forsaken place—we’ve identified the end of Frank’s sordid love story from the beginning—there’s something of a dagger to the heart here.
The swing of the Om'Mas Keith production adds pressure to the proverbial dagger. The music is neither brooding nor somber. It feels like a summer afternoon. It feels like all those times you drive by your old high school and the memories of the halls, and first kisses, and the thrill of holding hands on your way to class, all rush back to you. You remember how that early love looked at you like you were the only thing in the world to make them happy. How you thought this was it, was what it meant to be truly loved and cherished. Of course, we were all too young to know shit, but we thought the world of each other.
There’s something so classic about the few images Frank does lace into “Forrest Gump,” too. Notably, the first lines of the hook, “My fingertips and my lips / They burn from the cigarettes,” summon images of hoping to fall in with the “dangerous” crush. You know the crush, the one who smoked between classes while you watched and admired the plumes. Back when cigarettes were the greatest evil, and everything seemed binary and easy to understand.
Too, we all remember our first drag of something deadly—whether it was smoking or drinking. We all remember what it meant to get intoxicated that first time, who we became on the other side of sparking up or taking a shot. How that was part of the first love experience, too, becoming a new person alongside someone who was just as green.
The images of fingertips, lips, and cigarettes remind us of how our first loves themselves burned us. There’s nothing like the first time, and there’s nothing like that first heartbreak. When Frank sings of the heat on his body, we get the sense he is feeling the subtle pangs of loss that come with remembering long-gone good times. We’re not foolish, after all. We know, for one reason or another, things live in the past because they were not meant for our present, nor our futures.
And so, while Frank spends the whole of “Forrest Gump” recalling his first love with a genuine fondness, he also recalls the flicks of pain that came with their relationship ending. “Forrest Gump,” in that way, is an ode to the process of memory. How we have to take the good and the bad in stride, at once, and whether we like it or not.
Yet, there is nothing grave about “Forrest Gump.” There’s a lightness to the instrumentation, wonderful ease to the event of the song, how the beachy guitar accents Frank’s filtered vocal. It feels like we are within Frank’s memories, feels like we are drifting ever so across his mind. Bleary-eyed and smiling on our pasts. You know the feeling: remembering the best of times and realizing they will never happen again, trying to cherish them through tears; remembering the easier times, and trying not to fall into the trap of nostalgia while keeping yourself from turning bitter at all timelines everywhere.
Perhaps that is the real success of “Forrest Gump”: Frank Ocean absconds bitterness. He looks back on his first love with such sincerity and grace. Frank does not throw fits or spew venom. He lulls himself into a gentle reality where the past is a fact, not fuel for misery. Just look at the closing lyrics: “Forrest green, Forrest blues / I’m remembering you / If this is love, I know it’s true / I won’t forget you.” Even with the notes on “blues,” hungry emotions like pining and desperation are replaced with a sense of peace. A promise to remember feels like the peak of some kind of emotional intelligence. It tells us Frank is comfortable with his past being his past, being part of him. Of course, this means Frank Ocean is finally ready for his future.