Stop it, all of you: Frank Ocean is better than that Grammy performance - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Stop it, all of you: Frank Ocean is better than that Grammy performance

Frank_Ocean_December_2011_(cropped)

I haven’t watched the Grammy’s in years.  Who cares?

Led Zepplin, Queen, Brian McKnight and Jimi Hendrix never won.  All-4-One and Baha Men did.

I was excited to watch this year.  Despite a poor reaction to his first single, the new king of pop, Justin Timberlake, was back.  Katy Perry wore spandex disguised as a dress.  There were multiple solid live performances scheduled including Bruno Mars, Sting, Alicia Keys, Miguel (I told you he is awesome) and my boy, Frank Ocean.

The first time I heard “Novacane” I really didn’t like it.  The beat was too simple.  Lyrics were all over the place.

When I picked up Channel Orange, I immersed myself in it’s dreamy, numbing mood and realized this guy is a genius.  I love Novacane now.

Every commercial break pumped up the “and coming up….a live performance from Frank Ocean.”  Like the excitement you feel when driving from Southern California to Las Vegas.  You pass sign after sign for the Wynn, MGM, and the Bellagio.  As you approach the city, you can start to see towering buildings, but then you realize that’s just the outer rim, and not even the strip.  Adrenaline pumps.

Anticipating his performance, I felt like Ocean was my kid who I had been practicing basketball with for months, telling everyone how much work he’s put in, and his first game was about to tip-off.  The mainstream didn’t know about him yet.  This was his introduction to the world.  He already won for Best Urban Contemporary album (over Chris Brown who didn’t even bother to stand up and applaud.  I’m seriously considering doing an entire article on why he needs to go away Forever, pun intended.  I can’t believe that garbage heap of an album was nominated for a Grammy.  Kudos to those producers.)

Frank Ocean holds out his microphone to the crowd while performing at Coachella 2012. (Wikipedia Commons)

Frank Ocean performs at Coachella in 2012. (Wikipedia Commons)

At 10:39 my friend Leems texted me:

“Is Frank Ocean really that good.  Haven’t really listened to his stuff but everyone seems to love him.”

“Yea he’s sick.  Very innovative.”

Less than 30 minutes later Frank came out.  I’m not sure if they announced it, but I immediately knew with the desert highway backdrop-screen depicting him running, he was going to do Forrest Gump.

Huge mistake.

He was off-key in spots.  He looked nervous.  He knew he was off.  Something was wrong.

I know that Frank isn’t the strongest live singer.  I’m the same way.  Don’t get me wrong, he can sing.  He’s in no way a “studio production,” but at the same time he clearly thrives in the studio, if that makes sense.

I had left my cell in another room and went to get it because I knew the text from Leems was coming:

“Guess he’s not for me because I did not like that forrest gump song at all.”

Leems is saying what everyone in America is thinking.  Allow me to put on my Johnny Cochran hat.

How could Ocean not be doing Pyramids!  (See my post from last week) What an introduction to the world it would have been.  Unless Frank personally chose Gump to do (which is fine because its his music, his choice) then whoever convinced him to do that or chose for him needs to be fired immediately.  He’s already a unique performer, he doesn’t need to distance himself even further with his first ever massively televised production.

You need to draw everyone in with a hit, which is exactly what Pyramids is – a nine minute long, up-tempo contrast of African-American women from Egyptian times to the present.  Two completely different songs that merge and meld perfectly at the halfway point.  A celebration of the Queen the lovesick admiration men had for god-like women in the ancient past, which then flows into the tale of a man stuck in a shitty hotel room, being taken care of by his girl, a struggling stripper.  The song is so good, he could get away with doing all nine minutes live.

If Pyramids isn’t your game then go with his massive hit “Thinkin Bout You.”  Ocean revealed that the first true love he ever felt was for a boy when he was still a teenager.  “Thinkin Bout You” appears to tell the tale of this relationship.  He lyrically brings you into the awkward situation he must have felt as a young man, opening the song with a dialogue explaining the dirtiness of his bedroom, then the dry weather in south-west of the US, then casually revealing his romantic feelings for this boy, all in the opening verse and chorus.  He does all that in about four sentences.

Every single song on the album sounds familiar, but I can’t do it justice by comparing it to another.  He covers multiple genres and styles, like the piano driven, rap infused (ft. Earl Sweatshirt) “Super Rich Kids.”  The quick hit “Fertilizer” sounds like a pop-jingle from the 60s.  He even has a minute-or-so blues interlude with John Mayer on guitar.

So forget what you saw on the Grammys.  Listen to the album, Channel Orange.  Listen to “Novacane.”  Listen to “Swim Good,” another pre-album single.

Later that night, Ocean nonchalantly tweeted that he couldn’t hear his keyboard during the performance.  That may be an excuse, but I would buy it.  He’s earned it.

Reed


About the author

REED

REED is a songwriter/producer out of Philadelphia, creating haunting music with a heavy emphasis on the specifics. Ben Reed, born in Chadds Ford, PA, began releasing his own style of Electro-Soul earlier this summer, and continues to produce tracks that infect your memory with catchy hooks enhanced by relatable, detailed lyrics. Reed is a self-taught guitarist and pianist, who writes, sings, produces, and masters all his own material. Formerly of an acoustic songwriting-duo, Reed played numerous shows along the East Coast, and gained a respectable following nation-wide via local radio play and social media sites. In late 2011, after moving back to Pennsylvania from a 2 year stay for a job in Huntington Beach, CA, REED purchased a new Taylor guitar and began writing music again, but this time expanding to a newer, unique sound by combining electro, soul, rnb, and pop. . Contact the author.
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  • Michelle

    It is rare these days to watch an artist perform with such humbleness and humility. I am a Frank Ocean fan, from the Lonny Breaux to Channel Orange. I thought his performance was genuine and perfect. You could clearly tell he was nervous and likely taken back by the magnitude of the performance. I can’t wait until the release of his next album! (I also think Pyramids is one of the best songs on Channel Orange. I hate to compare artist, but it reminds me of Prince)

  • harlemboy

    “Novacane” and “Swim Good” appear on Frank’s album-length “mixtape” which he titled “nostalgia, ULTRA.” He released it for free download in February 2011, more than a year before “channel ORANGE.” You can download the entire thing from the Odd Future site and probably other sites as well. There are many great songs on “nostalgia, ULTRA.”
    It was entirely his decision to perform “Forrest Gump” on the Grammys. Obviously a bad choice because it’s a minor song compared to the numerous masterpieces on “channel ORANGE.”

  • Kurrgo

    Check out his twitter. He said he couldn’t hear the keyboard, which would explain the questionable performance. I was also disappointed and knew he could do much better. That explains why he didn’t. Trying to sing a song you’re playing on a keyboard without hearing it would be challenging especially in a huge auditorium like that.

    • Reed

      Good point Kurrgo. I noticed that too and agree its very difficult.

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