There’s a very particular life I was meant to have. I was meant to meet a nice Jewish boy, get engaged in a flurry, and move to a delicate home in the ‘burbs, not too far from my parents, and live a quiet existence with a child, a beautiful yard, and no second thoughts. I was meant to be a sweet Russian-Jewish girl, one who works in speech pathology or the pharmaceutical world, like all the other sweet Russian-Jewish girls I know.
But I was none of these things. I am gay—I met a nice Jewish girl, though—and I live in the city, and I don’t have a yard, and I couldn’t be further from my parents both in mental schema and physical distance. But, as Frank Ocean writes on his Blonde opus, “Seigfried,” “I’m not brave,” I’m merely living for myself.
Co-produced by Malay and Frank, the overarching “Seigfried” narrative and mythology are secondary to me. What really makes this song special is a collection of singular lines, all coming together to create a wrenching portrait of the guilt that comes with living for yourself in the face of weighty expectations. Each of the four verses, bridge, and outro boast lines in their wrought vein, lines showcasing Frank battling himself and the forces around him to live a life he can be happy with. There’s something to be said for this battle in all of us, how we are naturally people-pleasers, and how the prospect of letting someone down simply to relish in your own joy is nothing short of horrible.
“I can’t relate to my peers / I’d rather live outside / I’d rather chip my pride than lose my mind out here / Maybe I’m a fool / Maybe I should move and settle / Two kids and a swimming pool”—Frank Ocean, “Seigfried”
The above lines from the first verse, perhaps some of the most iconic imagery in Frank Ocean’s canon, speak to the battle Frank—and the rest of us of-the-beaten-path-folx—faces. The directness of these lines makes them incredibly potent. While we know Frank can thrive in the obscure, his concrete language turns these bars into a universal truth. We begin with him looking around and feeling Othered for simply wanting freedom from the confines of basic American life. We get the stakes, too: Frank Ocean’s “pride.” There’s a value statement here, how Frank recognizes that by choosing a different path, he is relegating himself to be seen as lesser. This anxiety bubbles up as he refers to himself unsteadily as a “fool,” considering he should just “move and settle.”
These lines work towards the picture of an American life Frank and myself so despise. It’s not that this life is deplorable, just that it doesn’t fit the picture of Americana that Frank Ocean paints across his discography. Though he’s a master of American heartbreak, he is also a known rule-breaker. Frank Ocean’s desire to live a life of his own devising is understandable, and he underscores the plainness of his wants with the “I’m not brave” chant to end the first verse.
This chant, taken one way, speaks to Frank’s desires being simple, not something to applaud, which works in conjunction with his history of not wanting to be made into a God-figure but to be understood as a man, which comes at the close of Blonde. Of course, taken another way, “I’m not brave” can be a cry for help, how Frank does not see himself as strong enough to venture into an uncharted life.
Frank Ocean’s vexation continues on the second verse. “I’m living over city,” he begins. “Been living in an idea / An idea from another man’s mind / Maybe I’m a fool / To settle for a place with some nice views / Maybe I should move, settle down / Two kids and a swimming pool.” The American life image returns immediately, just a handful of bars apart, the recurrence of this image suggests it lives in Frank Ocean’s obsessive thought. Meaning, he cannot shake the pressure. This second verse, with Frank in the city, still features him uncomfortable with his surroundings. The life he wants is not the city life, either. As evidenced by him wailing, “I’d rather live outside” once more.
When thinking of the picturesque American life, the immediate contrast, of course, is city life, but that doesn’t suit Frank Ocean, either. Here, “I’d rather live outside” becomes a battle cry for freedom. Frank wants to live a life free of expectations. It’s not about physical location or symbolism. It’s about the ability to choose and be free of judgment. He is wanton in his delivery. He is demanding—and has every right to be.
“I’d rather go to jail / I’ve tried hell (It’s a loop) / What would you recommend I do?” Frank questions on the second verse. He’d rather relinquish his freedom voluntarily than give it up for a series of compromises. There’s indignation to these three lines, where Frank puts the onus on the listener to try to solve his qualms. The idea of “jail” and “hell” as a “loop” is also potent. Is just another reminder that Frank is searching for spiritual freedom, not tangible release.
The song breaks down from here, with Frank’s pitched vocals and invocation of drugs standing in for the mental trip of trying to live for yourself when everyone and everything around you is dictating your life. Frank’s pretzling through a loop of “molly” and vocal effects heightens the emotion of “Seigfried,” leaving us just as confused as Frank is over how he should proceed. The morphing quality of “Seigfried” speaks to Frank’s unrest. As we twist through into the bridge (“This is not my life / It’s just a fond farewell to a friend”), we reach a point where Frank Ocean is comfortable saying goodbye to a life in which he could never indulge.
Just as the second verse breaks down, the third verse becomes a breathless foil to the vocal pitching of the second. Frank Ocean’s tricking lyricism becomes metaphysical. Thoughts and dreams intertwine, and we are unsure of where Frank is going, but his confidence as he declares: “I be dreaming of dreaming a thought / That could dream about a thought” does not feel unnecessarily heady.
Instead, the winding mentions of thoughts, dreams, and God, all stand for Frank Ocean’s inability to parse what he needs from what he is expected to desire. Again, we are witnessing form following content. We are witnessing Frank literally struggling to live for himself through his poetry. If the verses of “Seigfried” remained as plain-stated as the opening verse, there would be no conflict of tension to the track. As we struggle to keep up with Frank’s meanings, he transmits unto us his struggle to live.
Drugs return on the fourth verse, which is nicely obscure and riddled with colors and shapes only Frank could conjure. The meanings here are the most shrouded of all the verses on “Seigfried.” Instead of unknotting them, I invite you to get lost in Frank’s notes on shrooms and tears. I invite you to imagine Frank in conversation with himself, pacing a tight circle so ignited, it burns an acute hole into the ground. Frank is burying himself in his quest to live for himself, which brings us to the outro: “I’d do anything for you / (In the dark).” The “you” here is Frank speaking to himself, and his conviction continues to be tested as he admits he could only live for himself if no one were watching.
“Seigfried” is embroiled in conflict. As the song becomes less and less concrete, and more and more pained, we get the sense Frank Ocean wants for closure, but cannot achieve anything close to closure.
There’s a noticeable ache to “Seigfried” as Frank takes us through his thoughts. He was supposed to be this and that, and I was supposed to be that and this, but life doesn’t ask, and we’ve both turned out quite different from the prescribed lives we’ve been met with. However, the one crucial note of “Seigfried” is the lack of shame. Though Frank is hurting, he never feels shame for wanting freedom. He never expresses disgust with himself for not wanting the American life. That is a triumph.
Though “Seigfried” ends on a somber note, for its lack of indignity, the song is a marvel.