Frank Ocean’s “End”

With “End,” the final track on Frank Ocean’s 2012 debut ‘channel ORANGE,’ we’re just left to stew in our feelings.
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Frank Ocean’s “End” has happened to all of us. The scene Frank sets taps into our universal experiences as intensely feeling creatures stumbling through love and inevitable loss. Over a sample of Frank’s own “Voodoo”—a track released to Tumblr in 2012—we are met with a couple talking in a car—oh, how Frank loves cars—as it rains all around them. As the couple talks, we can barely make out what they’re saying, but given the track is called “End,” we know this cannot be good. It would be very Frank Ocean of Frank Ocean to set the breakup of channel ORANGE to the tune of a song featuring rowdy lovemaking. But that’s Frank; he deals in juxtapositions.

Yes, “End” has happened to all of us. We’ve all sat idly by as our worlds collapse. Maybe not in a car, but doesn’t it typically storm when bad news comes? As if the sky is opening up to wail on our behalf. As if the world’s heart is breaking for us. I remember many a heartbreak soundtracked by the harsh patter of raindrops and the way the windows look dewy. I remember the way I wished for the rain to wash me away along with the earthworms. I remember the way I wished to be cleansed of memories the moment the break struck in my chest. Yes, rain can symbolize new beginnings and awakenings, but at the onset, when it begins to pour, the only thing we think of when we see rain, is sorrow.

The inclusion of the rain on “End” as we loop over “Voodoo” is meant to push us to undo the story of “Voodoo” altogether. There is no lovemaking, wedding, and child-rearing in the reality of “End.” Frank is setting a scene in which all the dreams of a happy ending are being pelted by rain until they melt into nothingness. Think of the moment before the breakup, the final seconds where all your dreams and future plans are still intact. Then the moment immediately after the fatal words leave your former lover’s lips and hit your ear. How things we spend months, years, decades, building in our minds can crumble with the greatest of ease. Control is a myth, of course, but it feels good to plan ahead. But, on “End,” Frank makes it clear planning is futile.

The way “Voodoo” is filtered through “End” makes the reality of “Voodoo” feel like a distant ideal. The song fades into the disembodied voices of the couple in the car, signifying the future becoming nonexistent in the face of the present. In that way, “End” shows us how love and disaster can bend time and upend lives without so much as a clear word to make out. There is not discernible dialogue from the couple, but we know what comes next. We know the pain rumbling through Frank’s chest as the relationship dissolves in his hands.

Love and the future go hand in hand. We fall in love, and we know we’re in love, because we’re comfortable making plans and feel secure in our futures. To end a love affair is to put a pin in the sweetest future imaginable. It’s brutal, but sometimes, it must be done. The great triumph of “End,” then, is that Frank doesn’t portray a reason for the relationship ending. 

We get a hint of being let down easy on the outro (“I wish you could see what I see”), as if to say one partner simply lacks the self-esteem to be in a symbiotic relationship, but other than that, there’s no clue as to why the relationship is over. We don’t waste time picking sides, affirming wrongs and rights. With “End,” we’re just left to stew in our feelings. With “End,” Frank Ocean begs us to remember and emote alongside him. The song is complex in its structure, but oh so natural in its execution.

I want to bring everyone back to the start of channel ORANGE, to the great excitement of Frank Ocean’s Tumblr letter, and the line, “I felt like I’d only imagined reciprocity for years.” Meaning, “End” mirrors how Frank felt betrayed by the intensity of his love. Meaning, we knew channel ORANGE would end this way. We knew from “Thinkin Bout You.” We knew love on channel ORANGE would be bittersweet, with an emphasis on bitter. For my piece on “Thinkin Bout You,” I wrote: “Because a first is rarely a forever, and we must shoulder that burden for our entire lives.” Now, that “burden” has come to life. The forever has been erased. There is only the past and the “What could have been?” swirling above our heads.

“End” is both the end of channel ORANGE and the conclusion of a first love. It brings us back to the moment reality set in, and we realized the first could only ever be the first. All those plans for weddings and glorious days spent together evaporate. We know this feeling. We know the way the feeling hollows out our chests and dulls our minds—but we also know we will love again. That’s why, in the final moments of “End,” Frank gets out of the car and walks to the door because another door will always open, even if it’s the door back into ourselves.

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