Chanel

My guy’s pretty like a girl and he got fight stories to tell. I see both sides like Chanel. ” Frank Ocean

Two weeks ago Frank Ocean unveiled Chanel, a melancholic, stripped and throbbing Rythm & Blues piece of work. And let me tell you something :

My love for what he offers to us is exponential.

Frank is a griot, a good observer of our TimeS. His music is very poetic. I like the narrative aspect of his songs, their cloudy atmosphere, his melodies arranged like cinematographic works.

And then he has this way of declaiming his verses by dragging his feet. I revel in hearing it accentuate some sounds and then chewing others with those relents of typically Creole accent from New Orleans.

Gender Fluidity and Societal Norms

Chanel metaphorically challenges gender archetypes and hetero-normative carcans. Thus, from the first couplet, his guy is described as being “beautiful as a woman”, but that does not prevent him from having fight stories to tell.

Chanel metaphorically challenges gender archetypes and hetero-normative carcans. #Chanel #FrankOcean… Click To Tweet

Similarly, we find this fluidity in his relationship with gender in the Nikes video, flagship piece of his album Blond(e) released in August 2016:
In the video, Frank is wearing black eyeliner on his eyes and glitters on his face while claiming his burning passion for fancy cars.

Complexity of Social Dynamics

Police think I’m of the underworld, 12 treat a nigga like he 12 !

Still in this first couplet Frank evokes the racial profiling suffered by black women and men in the U.S. Which, because of his social situation, resonates with the chorus:

“He clearly sees both sides like Chanel”

Frank is litteraly rolling in the dough. He’s a critically acclaimed artist. His professional success is indisputable

And yet it does not prevent him from having disappointments with the law enforcement and to be considered a vulgar rogue by the Police who addresses him “like a 12 year old kid”.

Frank is wealthy as fuck, but he’s still black. Even the most extreme material opulence is not an effective bulwark against racism ( and Oprah Winfrey definitely won’t say the opposite).

Frank sees on both sides, like the iconic Chanel logo and its two C’s that turn their backs. The privileges associated with opulence do not preserve him from discrimination.

“Class does not erase race.”

Reinventing Black Masculinity

Piano notes are scrolling in our ears. A little further, disenchanted  he sings about that guy he had sex with  who’s forced by society to “act straight”.

He speaks of forced compromises linked to the weight of social representations, of the compartmentalization of genres that stifle people who do not have the privilege of being all square in the box.

Looking at it, it looks more like a criticism of a suffocating virilism rather than an apology of a cliché masculinity.

However, Frank Ocean has always refused to endorse any label. Under these conditions, it is this slippery duality that is found image on the artwork that accompagnies the single. A plural Frank, the words of Chanel fragmented, elusive on the white background.