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Frank Ocean’s controversial Coachella conspectus

Apr 18, 2023


What began as a local desert festival in 1999, Coachella has quickly evolved into an epicenter of genre-diverse performances and cutting-edge fashion, a highly awaited three-day weekend experienced by celebrities and music lovers alike. 

General admission tickets, priced at a standing $600, have historically sold out within milliseconds of the launch, providing a context of just how desirable the exclusivity of such an event demands. 

This year was no exception, with many attributing the growing popularity to be a product of the 2023 headliner Frank Ocean. 

After a six-year performing hiatus, Ocean agreed on a grand return, per his fan’s requests, to appear on the Coachella main stage for the weekend-capping set. Delayed from his original headliner in 2020, his absence has made fans all the more eager. 

Ocean has taken a unique approach to his fame since his debut album, “Nostalgia, Ultra,” in 2012, making active efforts to refrain from the public eye, cultivating a space driven primarily through the experimental nature of his art form.

Allowing his music to speak for itself without the interfering illusion of social media has indirectly positioned him in a place of immense fascination and speculation among his fan base, who have grown to appreciate his musical ideology and respect him more for it. 

“Frankchella” became the newly selected title by fan-goers as many began theorizing the drop of new music. Others were simply excited about the fantasy-like experience of watching his old work performed live. 

For those unable to attend the festival, a virtual live stream hosted by YouTube was an alternative opportunity for fans to tune in from home. A collective of 250 million live-streamers tuned in to the main stage during the entirety of the weekend. 

Late Sunday afternoon, Youtube removed Ocean from the live-stream line-up and deleted their tweet announcing his performance, leaving virtual concert-goers upset, sparking somewhat of an online disruption. 

“Of course I was disappointed,” said Evie Feldman, senior. “As much as I respect the idea of him aiming for his work to be truly experienced in person rather than watched through a television set, this is the biggest music event of the year and many of his true fans don’t have the means to attend.”

As for those in-person, groups began setting up in front of the main stage approximately 12 hours before his predicted start time in hopes of securing an optimal view. Taking the stage an hour past his start time of 10 p.m., his late arrival followed a somewhat abnormal performance that left viewers, for a lack of a better word, disappointed. 

It’s described that the majority of his set was a projection of an up-close, shaky captured performance displayed on a massive screen. Even people in the front rows had trouble spotting him. His first song, “Novacane,” was performed entirely backstage.

With abnormally long breaks in between songs, an interruption of a 10-minute long set by Paris-based DJ, Crystallmess, and the generally eccentric production structure of the performance, fans were left confused. 

“People had a skewed perception of what the show would entail. I think people were upset that he didn’t just stand in front of the mic and sing his songs,” Feldman said. 

On the other hand, some Ocean fans viewed this as groundbreaking perfection witnessed in real-time. 

Self-proclaimed “true Frank fans” felt his performance perfectly aligned with his pure artistic vision as his unhinged creativity was expressed through the reworked and funky spin of his original songs. 

Amidst his set, Ocean acknowledged the audience, dedicating the show to his late brother Ryan Breaux who passed away in 2020 at 18 due to a fatal car accident. He touched fans with a personal anecdote of coming to the festival with his brother, reminding people of the personal affection Ocean has for creating and appreciating music in its genuine form. 

Regardless of the controversy and vast opinions of his performance, the mere ambiguity of Frank Ocean himself was undoubtedly conveyed. 

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