Frank Ocean’s ‘Chanel’ is the most important song in the world right now
Ocean’s moonlit new work is fluid and brilliantly straightforward
As predicted, the 6 God aka Drake came through and snatched everything last week. With anticipation surrounding More Life at a fever pitch, the timeline of recent rap events suggests that nothing else matters.
A song that does deserve attention, though — something that feels entirely more important than “more chune for your head top” — is Frank Ocean’s new “Chanel.” The boastful first few bars of Ocean’s new song might be the coldest, gayest, and most securely masculine flex in the history of rap. Elegant and mellow, the song’s lyrics read as a deliberate ode to duality and non-heteronormative binaries — an ambition, that since the death of Prince Rogers Nelson, is sorely missed in black music.
During the summer of 2016, Ocean released two projects. The visual album, Endless, quickly was followed by Blonde, which included a photography-based ‘zine called Boys Don’t Cry. This was followed last month by “Slide,” an infectious collaboration with Calvin Harris and the Migos. After all that content, the last thing Ocean’s fans expected from the otherwise frustratingly elusive artist — this soon — was more Frank Ocean.
Yet, on the second episode of his Beats1 radio show, that’s exactly what happened. And this Ocean seems bolder than before — and not exclusively because this Ocean premiered his new track 18 times in a row with three different endings for an hour straight. The Frank in that opening line — My guy pretty like a girl — is less reserved about what we know of his sexuality, while remaining sure of his masculinity.
Unlike some of his other songs — such as “Thinking Bout You” and “Bad Religion” — that vaguely emote affection for other men, “Chanel” needs no further deciphering. This new line in this new song is one of the few spots in Ocean’s catalog where his sexual fluidity goes beyond a strategically placed “he” or “him.” Aside from maybe “Forrest Gump” or “Good Guy,” this latest track might be the most comfortable he’s been addressing his relationships with men since his infamous Tumblr letter. And, if we’re being honest, those other two songs are somewhat easy to miss. Given that it’s the last song on the album, you could, ostensibly cut Channel Orange off before “Forrest Gump” even starts to play. And “Good Guy” is a 67-second interlude.
It would take a special, dedicated type of anti-gay person to pretend the bars aren’t crazy good on “Chanel.” As with most of Ocean’s lyrics, not only does that initial line hit home with true-to-life simplicity, it also feels poignant and timely. His guy is pretty like a girl, and he got fight stories to tell. Whoever that guy is, it’s hard to imagine that black boy doesn’t look blue in the moonlight.
Pretty like a girl, and having fight stories to tell? It’s the exact mood that filled the frame as Chiron sat across from Kevin with his head tilted, forgiving eyes wide, gold shining through his mouth. That film and this song feel thematically similar — both are dynamic explorations of manhood. And as far as duality goes, there’s also something to be said for Ocean’s choice to embed so many statements about masculinity within a song built around a Chanel — I see both sides like Chanel / See on both sides like Chanel — metaphor.
Right after those initial lines, Twelve treat a n—a like he 12 speaks to law enforcement’s routine dehumanization of black bodies — a routine that feels more like emasculation when that black body belongs to a grown man. The lyrics Got one that’s straight acting — turnt out like some dirty plastic” bring us to the other side of the table, as Kevin stares back at Chiron.
Within these verses, even right after challenging the norms of same-sex relationships, Ocean seems aware of and even accepting of conventional definitions of manhood — but only on his terms. As he raps, How you looking up to me/ And talking down / Can’t you see I am the big man / God level / I am the I am, “Chanel” feels like the only song out right now that proves you can remove toxins from masculinity without dismantling the things that keep you solid.
An admirable feat on its own, that feels especially dope when it’s done so close to rap. Disrupting gender norms with excellent rhymes and contagious flows feels like an undeniable way to shift the culture. Ocean’s guy is pretty like a girl, but chicks still grind on his belt, his whole team’s diamonds are real, and he showed them how to shine by themselves. And don’t forget the V on both sides of the 12 as he steams both sides of the L — fast cars and weed smoke. To Frank, all of these things matter.
It’s important to celebrate Ocean’s willingness to flex everything — his sexuality and masculinity, his success and vulnerability. It’s important that we see both sides like “Chanel,” even throughout More Life, and the next 10 Drake albums.