In a rare interview, artist Frank Ocean spoke with The New York Times about disappearing from the world after Channel Orange, his new music on Endless and Blonde, what dating has been like for him in recent years, his creative process, celebrity, that Grammy controversy, and much more.
Ocean, who has become known as something of a reclusive artist in recent years, says his self-imposed exile began in 2013. He told the NYT, “I had, in the midst of all of this, this feeling of isolation,” he added. “Within my circle, there was a lot of places I thought I could turn that I felt like I couldn’t turn to anymore.”
So he headed to London, where he made friends and began dating again.
Of his love life since Channel Orange, which famously documented how his first love was with a man, Ocean said,
“I think normal would be the word, whatever that word means, which is usually nothing. I’m in a very different place than I was four or five years ago with all that stuff. Different in my relationship with myself, which means everything. There’s no, like, shame or self-loathing. There’s no, you know, crisis.
He also says he hasn’t been in love — at least not “the lasting kind” of love — since 2012.
On fame and the demand for his follow-up album to Channel Orange, Ocean commented,
“Sometimes I’m fascinated with how famous my work could be while I’m not so famous. Super-envious of the fact that Daft Punk can wear robot helmets and be one of the most famous bands in the world, while also understanding that will never be my situation. It’s too late. It’s hard to articulate how I think about myself as a public figure. I’ve gotten used to being Frank Ocean. A lot of people stopped me on the street when I hadn’t put music out in a while, literally would yell out of an Uber, ‘Frank, where the album?'”
But creating the work that would become Endless and Blonde took time and wasn’t easy. Ocean says he had writer’s block for nearly a year. But ultimately he decided that he decided to “talk about the way I grew up more” in his music.
Of his song “Self-Control” Ocean said, “That was written about someone who I was actually in a relationship with, who wasn’t an unrequited situation. It was mutual, it was just we couldn’t really relate. We weren’t really on the same wavelength.”
At the same time he was working to create new music, Ocean was also working to free himself from business entanglements that connected him to a label, something he called a “A seven-year chess game.”
Of finally releasing Blonde independently, Ocean said,
“With this record in particular, I wanted to feel like I won before the record came out, and I did, and so it took a lot pressure off of me about how the record even would perform after the fact. Once the goal is met, everything else is lagniappe. It’s not essential for me to have a big debut week, it’s not essential for me to have big radio records.”
When it comes to accolades, Ocean has an approach rarely seen. He chose not to submit his latest music to the Grammys for consideration because the Grammy institution “just doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from, and hold down what I hold down.” Though he admits it has a “nostalgic importance” for him, he also notes that since he’s been alive only a few black artists have won album of the year (among them Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock and Ray Charles.)
Ocean added, “I think the infrastructure of the awarding system and the nomination system and screening system is dated. I’d rather this be my Colin Kaepernick moment for the Grammys than sit there in the audience.”
What the future holds for Ocean is uncertain. He may not create another full album or even continue making music.
He explained: “I believe that I’m one of the best in the world at what I do, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted to be. It’s more interesting for me to figure out how to be superior in areas where I’m naïve, where I’m a novice.”
Read the full NYT profile on Ocean HERE.