Frank Ocean dropped a surprise new single on his Beats 1 radio show Blonded last night called “Chanel.” While fans had a long wait between Channel Orange and his dual 2016 albums Endless and Blonde, Ocean has not wasted any time in 2017 putting out new music with his feature on Calvin Harris’s “Slide” and now this new track.
As Rolling Stone noted, Frank Ocean’s debut of “Chanel” on Blonded included music from Thundercat and Dilla, as well as an extended discussion of Whitney Houston’s hit 1995 single “Exhale.” Ocean’s first episode of Blonded featured a wide-ranging interview with Jay Z, where the two spoke at length about the restrictive nature of terrestrial radio where playlists are based more on advertising dollars than breaking new acts.
When news of “Chanel” broke, reaction to the song was mostly positive.
The new track, which features A$AP Rocky on the remix, comes at a time when Frank Ocean is peeling away a bit of the self-imposed artistic veil that has marked his career in the past few years. The roll out for “Chanel” has so far included a marathon listening session on Blonded, a curated Spotify playlist that featured many of the tracks he played on his radio program, and a Tumblr post with an image of the lyrics strewn out like puzzle pieces.
Lyrically, “Chanel” is one Frank Ocean’s most explicitly queer tracks that he has released to date. The song begins with Ocean saying, “My guy pretty like a girl.” From there, the song introduces the refrain “see both sides like Chanel,” which is repeated throughout as a way of alluding to the masculine-feminine exchange in sexuality.
Frank Ocean speaks of a voyeuristic encounter with a lover that he records like an indie film with Gasper Noé-esque close-ups that zoom in on various parts of the body. He also speaks of a “straight acting” conquest that gets “turnt out like some dirty plastic.” The forthrightness of the gay content in this song stands in stark contrast to his earlier works which had implicit allusions to LGBT themes.
Throughout the song, he is evoking imagery of duality not only in sexuality and particular masculinity, but also in drug use and capitalistic pursuit. On both the single and remix there are various references to luxury fashion and consumerism. As with most music from Frank Ocean, the lines between unabashed stunting and irony are obscured.
The production on “Chanel” is thematically in line with the songs found on Blonde and features a mellow piano track that he pairs with a trap beat. The artwork for the single is similar to the spliced Polaroid images popularized by French photographer Jean-Paul Goude, which is another example of how Frank Ocean infuses his work with a fashion-forward visual aesthetic that is influenced by 80’s art-pop.
By releasing his new music on his terms without a major record label machine behind him, Ocean appears to be taking a similar route to one of his major influences, Prince. With his prophetic warnings about the changes in music distribution and the inability of record labels to evolve at the pace of listeners, Prince was one of the first musicians to go independent at the height of their career. Ocean followed the Prince blueprint when he put out Endless and Blonde back to back and continues this streak with “Chanel.”
Though he continues to be one of the most critically lauded artists in music, Frank Ocean made news recently with his refusal to submit his albums for Grammys consideration. Ocean called out the anachronistic structure of the awards show when he spoke with the New York Times in late 2016. In that interview, Ocean described his new approach to music, which he called a “half-a-song format.” With the release of “Chanel,” Ocean is bringing clarity to this next phase in his career where he is finally in the driver’s seat.
[Featured Image by Jason Merritt/Getty Images]