I think about starting over all the time. I think about what it means to reset in the little ways (going to sleep for the night) and in the big ways (moving to a new city) as often as I think about the most innocuous things.
A few nights ago, I realized I use sleep as a crutch, how I rush to bed to advance the day, to get that soft reset, to get the chance for a tiny new beginning. My girlfriend told me she’s the opposite; she avoids sleep to slow down time. I guess she’s scared of new beginnings, but the thing is, whether you rush or you run, newness doesn’t care. Life refreshes as it always does.
Love comes and goes, we grow, and things come to an end as naturally as they come to a new starting line. Frank Ocean tackles all of this on “Nights,” the Blonde standout produced by Frank, Vegyn, Michael Uzowuru, and Buddy Ross.
Frank Ocean’s “Nights” is a five-minute song that feels like a space odyssey, an unfolding eternity, a traversal of the highest order. “Nights” floats and is its own vortex of being. It sucks you into its orbit, and you gladly oblige. “Nights” feels like staying out all evening, looking in the mirror, and realizing you’ve had too much to drink—and not minding.
“Nights” will take care of you, take you where you need to go. It took me a while to appreciate “Nights” in full because the song is packed with quotable lines, and I found myself fixating on single sentences as opposed to the whole suite of ideas Frank Ocean is presenting.
Think of a trio of lines like “You don’t even got nobody bein’ honest with you / Breathe ‘til I evaporated / My whole body see-through” and how we could muse on each word until we run out of words. Watch as Frank turns honesty and breath into commodities, turns vulnerability into a physical act. Or, the related “I don’t trust ‘em anyways / You can’t break the law with them,” and how the pair of lines tickles the mind. Frank’s mistrust, breaking the law, it all comes together to tell a tale of distant folx, people from a life Frank no longer understands.
Most think “Nights” is about a single relationship, but when investigating bar for bar, it feels as if “Nights” is about a previous world. The world Frank belonged to when in a prior relationship, sure, but a whole world nonetheless.
I think of the past life of Frank Ocean most on the final bars of the first verse:
“Everybody needs you, everybody needs you / Oooh, nani nani / This feel like a quaalude / No sleep in my body / Ain’t no bitch in my body.” –Frank Ocean (“Nights”)
Here, we see Frank pushing away from his past and the anxiety it’s causing him (“No sleep in my body”) and his anger at letting the relationship go, on a carnal level (“Ain’t no bitch in my body”). Too, the final line of the first verse could suggest Frank is capable of moving on entirely, as in he ain’t no bitch. There’s nothing of his past left in him. He is a new man.
And how iconic is this chorus? Think of “Wanna see Nirvana, but don’t wanna die yet / Wanna feel that na na though, could you come by?” The brisk moment of suicidal ideation feels shocking, but also reminds us Frank Ocean is continually wrestling with himself. The search for peace can feel so hopeless. Then we have the back half of the couplet, where Frank is in his relaxed state of yearning. Here, Frank falls back on his past pleasures and shows us once again how dangerous pleasure can be.
This brings us to the bridge, and Frank’s pitched vocals; to Frank buzzing in his former lover. Then, “Still got some good nights memorized / And the look back’s gettin’ me right” brings us to the present. This was one of those “good nights,” when things were easy and all flesh. But life cannot be made up of flesh only, which is why the song must stop abruptly and begin anew. We need a new beginning. We need the reset. We cannot avoid it any longer.
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Think of perhaps the stickiest pair of lines of “Nights”: “Every night fucks every day up / Every day patches the night up.” I like to think we’re still in the present, at the crest of a new day, thinking back on all our memories.
When Frank talks about every fucked up night, he recalls each “good night” he committed to mind, and how in the daylight, he knows there’s no meat on the bones of his past. He’s free to move forward. New beginnings, man. They’re coming. Sometimes we spur them one, sometimes they strike us like God, but they’re coming nonetheless.
Four years on, the “Nights” lines I can never get out of my head is: “Did you call me from a séance? / You are from my past life / Hope you’re doin’ well, bruh.” The imagery, the assonance, and the way Frank ends this couplet with such a nonchalant, “bruh” make these three lines so potent.
These lines show Frank Ocean stuck in time, but capable of moving on. They remind me so much of myself, and how I let my memories overtake me again and again, while continually trying to outrun my past selves. These lines speak to me because I am too sentimental for my own good, and the moment I learn how to move on, I become incredulous when memories tug at me, but that’s Blonde. Blonde is about the way memories seize the spirit without a second thought.
There’s so much to be said, too, for Frank’s well wishes, and how they are a sign of emotional maturity that we’ve seen him working towards since 2011’s nostalgia, ULTRA.
It makes it easier to believe his pre-chorus, his singing of new beginnings. This pre-chorus is the crux of “Nights.” It borrows from the Frank Ocean literary canon with images of a vexed sun and time-bending. Life begins in the nighttime on “Nights,” and on the pre-chorus, we have visions of a night shift standing in for the work we do on ourselves at night.
Think of all the late-night conversations and revelations we’ve had over the years as a people, perhaps even soundtracked by Blonde. New beginnings strike us in the twilight hours, in those moments between night and day, where anything feels possible, and the world feels like it belongs to us. There’s an element of control to these images, but of course, we know control is a myth.
Think of the structure of “Nights.” There have been studies done on the beat switch of Frank Ocean’s “Nights” and why it gives us such pause. I have my own theory: form follows content.
Frank spends so much time singing about the sun going down, the day coming, and when it finally comes, despite the long first verse and the apparent avoidance of the second half of the song, it happens anyway. Frank uses the structure of “Nights” to remind us time moves forward regardless—the beat switch strips us of control. It’s jarring and refreshing. Time’s passing is scary, but Frank turns it into a thing of beauty.
In the four years since Blonde’s release, different “Nights” lines have jumped out and stuck with me. To hit the heart of “Nights” is to page through four years of romances, heartbreaks, and endless grief. Too, to get to the core of the song is to appreciate new beginnings, to realize every ending is an opportunity for more.
Each new beginning is a chance to live in earnest. So much can unravel in the early morning stillness. When you stretch in golden hour light, and your bones crack, and your muscles warm up, you begin anew, and life opens up to you as it did yesterday and as it will tomorrow.
These moments all stand for the way love moves and breathes, too. As the heartbreak album of a generation, Blonde does not mince words. By “Nights,” we have experienced so much ache and pain, and Frank realizes there is the need for a reprieve. It’s also the reason why André 3000’s “Solo (Reprise)” follows “Nights,” because we are in dire need of a break from the doldrums, no matter how sonically pleasing they are.
On the most technical level, then, “Nights” is an exercise in pacing and texture. More than anything, though, it is a coping mechanism. It is a self-reasoning, a frantic journal entry meant to soothe us when faced with the inevitabilities of life. It works—with Frank Ocean, it always works.