Words by Sian Irvine.
Photography by Kieran Irvine.
Anyone who knows me personally (and probably a lot who don’t) will know how much Frank Ocean means to me. The underdog of Odd Future, fighter of Chris Brown and all round enigma, Ocean constantly challenges the idea of what it means to be black and LGBT+ in the 21st century, all whilst being (arguably) the most important musician of our generation.
August 20th marks the anniversary of the release of Blond – which also means the anniversary of that time Frank had me listening to nothing but air for 14 hours straight (thanks, Endless). To honour this, I wanted to rank my favourite Frank songs. Feel free to let us know if you agree or disagree by sending us an email or using #ultravenus !
Ivy Frank shows off his wordsmith skills in the second track from Blond. In Ivy, he reminisces about an old love. “I thought that I was dreamin’ when you said you loved me” has to be one of the most beautifully simple lyrics going. This song is so heart achingly bittersweet, seemingly written in hindsight and highlighting how our feelings towards a lover can so drastically change after a breakup. On top of this, the last 40 seconds of the song are an absolute mood.
American Wedding There are so many things I love about Nostalgia Ultra, and it kills me that it’s still not available on streaming platforms. One of my favourite things about Frank’s first mixtape is the way he sampled so many already amazing songs, and then chopped and mixed them into his own incredible creations. (One of my favourite anecdotes is that Frank did not ask permission to do this- Chris Martin of Coldplay was totally cool with it and loved Strawberry Swing, whilst The Eagles lost their shit over American Wedding). What I love about this song is that it’s so much more than a story of young love, it’s a real musing on the state of the “American Dream” – “a thesis on Islam/virgin brides and arranged marriage/Hijabs and polygamist husbands/those poor unamerican girls/after school she ran to me, jumped in my 5.0/this is the home of the brave, land of the free/but your parents still didn’t know”. If any karaoke bars had this song on their roster- which they don’t- it would 100% be my go to.
Pyramids This one is super simple. I love that Frank completely trolled the music industry by releasing a 9 minute long single. Also, had a pleasant surprise when this was part of my Pilates class sound track this week. Surprise Frank is never a bad thing.
Pilot Jones Another bittersweet but beautiful song about a failing relationship. This song acts as somewhat of a cathartic rant from Ocean, but sounds so melodic and melancholy. The song ends with an almost defeatist but poetic line: “but if I had a condo on a cloud then I guess you could stay at my place”, this song is just so, so painfully beautiful.
Self Control Honestly Frank, same. This song, from Blond, features Yung Lean and Austin Feinstein- and vocalises a feeling that we surely all have felt at some point in our lives- knowing that we cannot be with a certain person, but craving that feeling, even if it is only short lived. This song is that little bit more painful as it seems to correlate to Frank’s first love- a male, who had a girlfriend at the time, which he told us about in a soul-bearing letter on his Tumblr some years ago. Trivia- this song also samples a clip during the outro which repeats “come back, Aaliyah”, an ode to the R&B queen that we lost in a plane crash in 2001.
Frank’s verse in “Oldie” Okay so, whilst technically this is an Odd Future song as opposed to Frank’s very own, it definitely deserves a mention because Frank came here to remind you that he can still spit bars. Granted, we have to wait until 5:15mins before we hear Frank, but it’s definitely worth it. He enters the ring with “get me a Persian rug where the centre looks like Galaga”- a nod to his love of video games, and goes on with “rent a super car for a day, ride around with your friends”, referring to another passion of his- fast cars, and possibly the time when Odd Future drove around LA in a Lamborghini, blasting Watch the Throne and throwing dollar bills into the street. The cleverest line for me, however: “I’m high and I’m bi, wait- I mean I’m straight”- referring to his long standing struggle with his sexuality, although despite years of speculation, Frank basically came out here, and no one noticed because they just thought it was intelligent word play. We stan an LGBT+ genius.
Nikes And herein Frank ended the pronunciation of “Nike” debate. When Blond was (finally) released, I took my dog for a long walk to listen to the album in its entirety. My heart sung with joy with Nikes as the opening track. So much is covered- a nod to Carmelo Anthony, ASAP Yams, Pimp C and Trayvon Martin (in particular here we hear and understand Frank’s grieving for a young black life lost to police brutality in America, or more specifically, George Zimmerman). The song is both light and heavy, dreamy and real. The whole crowd sing-along with Frank at Lovebox 2017 was a huge moment.
Pink Matter (Special mention “Solo (Reprise)”) Honestly, these songs are on this list because I just really am here for Frank and Andre 3k’s relationship, which I think comes through perfectly in their music. I also love that, despite becoming over the years very comfortable with his sexuality, Frank still acknowledges the beauty of feminine power and sexuality. Plus, there is so much TRUTH and clout in Andre’s outro: “Well, Frankly when that Ocean so mu’fuckin good/make her scrub the mu’fuckin wood/make her walk the mu’fuckin plank/make her rob a mu’fuckin bank/with no mask in and a rusty revolver”.
Swim Good Frank himself is indeed an Ocean, so the imagery of him “[swimming] from something bigger than me” is powerful. Again, this song takes something so relatable- the idea of running from an unmanageable problem- and turns it into art. We’ve all experienced heartbreak, but only Frank Ocean can take that and turn it into a beautiful, visual story.
Acura Integurl It pains me so much that the full version of this song has, to my knowledge, not even been recorded, let alone released. The full song has only ever been heard live. This doesn’t stop me, however, from listening to the 2 or so minutes that are available to me on repeat. This is poetry at its finest. I also love Frank’s nod to his influences- in this case, the first line alludes to a love of Lil’ Wayne, and later in the song, Jimi Hendrix. Aside from the sheer genius of this, however, this song is honestly the most beautiful I’ve ever heard, and is without a doubt my favourite of all time. It’s such a powerful love song, even more poignant in that it is unfinished and unreleased. Listen to Acura Integurl here