Frank Ocean Taught Us to Never Settle

Frank Ocean’s poetry grows wilder as “White Ferrari” progresses, and yet the final message is so accessible: “We’re free to roam.”
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We’re all guilty of moving the goalposts on our happiness. Instead of working to make ourselves happy with our present, too often, we’re guilty of looking towards the future for peace and comfort. It’s the language of, “As soon as this comes to pass, I will be at rest.” The thing about saying you’ll feel better tomorrow, is that it’s always a true statement, but what about today? I’m guilty of thinking love will bring me solace, and telling myself, “As soon as I fall in love, this will all be over.” 

Frank Ocean’s haunting “White Ferrari,” produced by Om’Mas Keith, Jon Brion, and Frank himself, is all about that fraught pursuit of peace in love. “White Ferrari” is four verses, no hooks, and all emotional gut. The song bleeds from the first words. It feels like a journey through a longstanding fool’s errand, one we all embark on despite knowing better.

“There was 50 versions of ‘White Ferrari,’” Frank Ocean told The New York Times in 2016. “I have a 15-year-old little brother, and he heard one of the versions, and he’s like, ‘You gotta put that one out, that’s the one.’ And I was like, ‘Naw, that’s not the version,’ because it didn’t give me peace yet.” 

Peace truly is at the center of “White Ferrari.” Through the story of “White Ferrari,” through the telling of unrest, Frank Ocean finds his comfort. The effect the song has on Frank in real life mirrors the impact the song has narratively and on the listener. All these lines run parallel to each other, to a final point of bringing us some sense of closure.

And so we begin in the car—Frank loves cars—with a lover around whom we’d rather be silent. Frank is in the driver’s seat; his lover lost in the fog of some intoxicant. The moment Frank lets them out “on Central,” his forlorn voice pacing ever so slowly over lacey production, we get the first of several nerves flicked. 

I didn’t care to state the plain / Kept my mouth closed, we’re both so familiar,” Frank sings with an exacerbated tone. Of course, “the plain” statement Frank is talking about here is one of the things being over, dead, and done. Their silence implies a mutual understanding, “both so familiar” with what it means to witness a relationship decay.

Our immediate next image is one of closeness. The jar of this leap implies we are working with vignettes. Though it’s unclear if these all reference the same relationship, we can approach each of the four “White Ferrari” verses as separate scenes. With this second verse, we have conflict unfolding in the first half, with Frank begging for his lover to stay, chanting they’re fine, trying to convince himself it’s all a-okay. “You were fine, you were fine here,” feels like a desperate plea. It feels like Frank trying frantically to hold on to his peace.

The way the vocals waterfall from verse to verse, with the final words of the first lingering as we’re three lines into the second, we get the impression Frank Ocean is fighting himself from memory to memory. The singing on “White Ferrari” mimics the broader structure of Blonde, how the song and the album feed off the haphazard nature of memory. We get our memory-throughline on the following lines of the second verse, where Frank says: “You left when I forgot to speak / So I text the speech, lesser speeds, Texas speed, yes.” 

Silence as action is the theme of the first half of “White Ferrari,” how the quiet can muscle between two lovers and have them drift apart. In this instance, silence is not mutual as it was in the first verse. Frank’s inability to communicate shoves his partner away, which gives us the “text the speech” line. A line where Frank attempts to recapture the moment to no success.

The throughline of silence evolves on the third verse, where the “you” of the vignette is silent but in need. “I care for you still and I will forever / That was my part of the deal, honest / We got so familiar.” Perhaps the three most painful lines on “White Ferrari,” here, Frank Ocean deals with regret and memory within memory. Where the couple was “familiar” with the death of a relationship on the first verse, by the third, the familiarity is that of intimacy, relating to Frank’s begging for closeness (“Stick by me”) on the second verse. These minor details are scaling vines, all to the point of showcasing how Frank Ocean’s heartbreaks have barred him from feeling any semblance of peace.

By the third verse, Frank has laid on thick the error of seeking peace in love. He supposes it will never come. We get his frustrations most definitively on the close of the verse: “Mind over matter is magic, I do magic / If you think about it, it’ll be over in no time / And that’s life.” 

Several things at play here, but we begin by looking at Frank’s notion of magic. This mention is meant to prepare us for the fourth and final verse, where the vocals are pitched, and the scene is so otherworldly, we have to assume Frank willed us to another plane. The second of these three lines is a call to Blonde overall, an affirmation of our reading the album and this song as a memory bank. Blonde and “White Ferrari” are coping mechanisms for getting through the most gravely and impossible to swallow memories.

The vocal stacking on the third verse and Frank’s wailing fading away into thudding guitar plucks gives us the impression the song is over. There is a moment of quiet—not exactly calm—and then glitching sounds slowly come into the field. Frank’s worked magic, after all. These sounds signal our transition from past to present. 

The conflict with the “you” of “White Ferrari” takes full shape as we begin the final verse with “I’m sure we’re taller in another dimension / You say we’re small and not worth the mention.” Here, Frank paints his fanciful nature and ability to dream big up against a deflated partner, incapable of seeing the bloom of the world and the potential of humanity. This contrast would normally break Frank, but he motions forward.

Clearly this isn’t all that there is,” Frank asserts. The “this” refers, of course, to the setting, to the world the couple has constructed. Too, “this” speaks to the way Frank has been emoting for the whole of “White Ferrari.” 

From scene to scene, we’ve witnessed Frank lose his peace at the hands of a broken love affair. Finally, it seems, he’s grown beyond these ill moments. Finally, he’s become capable of providing himself peace. We know this because he nearly shames his partner, shades them at the least with the close of the song: “You dream of walls that hold us in prison / It’s just a skull, least that’s what they call it / And we’re free to roam.” These lines bring us back to the “mind over matter” words of the third verse. How Frank’s partner dreams of a simple life—the villain of the final arc of Blonde—and Frank realizes the mind and body can unite to work real magic in this life.

“White Ferrari” ends on a somber note of freedom. Frank’s whispering vocal is a note on the difficulty of leaving behind what once comforted you to learn how to comfort and free yourself. As we use love to foster peace, we can turn to “White Ferrari” as a series of examples in which this thinking is flawed and dangerous. 

The lesson of this song is never to settle, to always grow with yourself, and to use the self as a crucible of inner-peace. “White Ferrari” is a very timid self-love anthem, constructed and written with a wistful zeal. Frank Ocean’s poetry grows wilder as the song progresses, and yet the final message is so accessible: “We’re free to roam.” We are, and we do.

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