The Importance of Memories: Frank Ocean’s “Pink + White”

“Pink + White” might feel disjointed and abrupt on first pass, but the song works as ‘Blonde’ works, as living memory.
Author:
Publish date:

Oh, the lessons to be learned from a love dead and gone. The lessons to be learned from a youth spoiled by chasing passion. The lessons to be learned when we look back on days passed and think of all we’ve squandered. Though the past looks good on no one, it holds so many secrets to our present and future. Too, it can be more than rewarding to look back on the past and revel in the sweetness of oft-forgotten scenes of blithe youth. Now, Frank Ocean is a nostalgic man, we’ve known this from the first notes of his first offering, nostalgia, ULTRA.. His ruminating “Pink + White” is no different.

We know Blonde unfolds firstly as a series of memories speaking to Frank’s canon of childhood and the sweetness of love, and the destruction following giving yourself over to pleasure. “Pink + White” basks in the glory of Frank’s pen and acts as an extension of “Thinkin Bout You.” But first, we begin with some hard truths: control is a myth, and life does not ask. By setting the scene in this sordid way, beneath a sauntering swing, Frank establishes the power love has over him, if only because his lover has unlocked damn near every facet of the Earth for Frank. Repeating “It’s the same way you showed me” on the verse, between images of nodding heads and flight, we get the sense this lover was a cornerstone of Frank’s coming-of-age.

From the first verse, I fixate on, “If you could fly, then you’d feel south.” This line seems to scream: the high isn’t worth it. Once you realize the height of passion, once you understand the height of love, it’s all downhill from there. A natural depression sets in, and perhaps, Frank seems to say, there is no reason to soar to these extremes. Perhaps it’s better to live out a life on land. Frank says as much a few lines later with, “The way it is, were on land.” This reading brings us to the first hook, where Frank sings: “You showed me love / Glory from above / Regard, my dear / It’s all downhill from here.” This hook, taken with the flight line of the first verse, suggests something Frank Ocean often preaches: love can lead to disaster.

Think of all the times you looked at a former lover and thought: What am I doing here, and why haven’t I been here my entire life? All the times you’ve thought you reached a higher consciousness of love with a new partner—a love you could have never imagined. These are the moments Frank sings of when he remarks, “You showed me love,” and what is it we can learn from this newfound love? For one, from the hook, we realize we cannot take this high for granted. We must treasure love with all our might while it’s in our hands. For, as with most precious things, it will soon be gone.

With that, destruction is the theme of the second verse on “Pink + White.” Much like “Thinkin Bout You” opens with a tornado bashing about Frank’s bedroom, here we have a hurricane ravaging an entire town. Whether the storm is real or imagined is secondary to the fact it represents how a decaying love can destroy our whole beings. The decimation of the first few lines blends seamlessly into the welcome repetition of “You showed me,” but this time, we can take the preceding lines to be part of what was shown. That is, by the second verse, the love Frank Ocean recalls is the source of all matter of uproar.

The early demolition of the second verse contrasts greatly to what else is shown in the following lines: cannonballs, neighborhood kids, swimming pools. Yet, in some ways, it’s all the same, when we see images of mortality rearing their heads. But first, we think about the images of a carefree youth Frank so loves. In these precious seconds, “Pink + White” becomes a meditation on all we lose as we grow older. Perhaps a bit of a non sequitur, these few bars show us how interlinked all of our memories can be—recall your last love, and suddenly, you remember pool parties and reckless nights spent with friends. Pleasure receptors in our brains go crazy; nostalgia has that effect on us.

Much of this second verse is an advancement of the first. In particular, flight is once again slyly invoked when Frank notes, “Up for air from the swimming pool / You’d kneel down to the dry land.” Recall the lesson of the first verse—don’t get too high, it’s not worth it—and map it onto these two lines. We get the same motions, moving up, then praising the land. We assume Frank’s lover is praising the land because he almost drowned in the pool. Meaning, he’s praising stability, because the fall-out of the high—of flight—dragged him down too low. Simpler put: we think we want the risk, but in the end, safety is the best thing you can offer another human being, the best thing you can offer yourself. Such is the “Glory from above” Frank sings of on the hook.

Much like “Ivy,” “Pink + White” really airs itself out on the outro. “Remember life, remember how it was / Climb trees, Michael Jackson, it all ends here,” Frank speaks to kick us off. These two lines bring us back to the second verse and the cannonballs off the roof, how childhood has come and gone, and the ease of living has disappeared. What follows are a sweet series of memories—ruined shoes and stealing cigarettes—which dissolve into demand: “Bitch, I might like immortality / This is life, life immortality.” As in, Frank Ocean might just live forever in his memories. As in, a memory can keep us alive longer than actually living in the present.

The ending of “Pink + White” might feel disjointed and abrupt on first pass, but the song works as Blonde works, as living memory. The jagged edges of consciousness make themselves most apparent on the outro, sure, but even as the song fades, there is an undeniable essence to the song. For one, the hook sticks to our thoughts. “You showed me love” gums up the works of our minds and captivates us at once. Think about all the people who showed you what love could be and what you have learned from your time together. Remember, remember, remember it all. 

Frank uses “Pink + White” to highlight the importance of memories. Memories help us live. The lessons they carry help us make sense of the present. Memories might be the key to immortality. At the very least, their sums make us who we are.

Related