Is Frank Ocean’s Career Over?

Photo courtesy of Arthur Edelmans

On the weekend of April 14, after a six-year performance hiatus, Frank Ocean was scheduled to close as one of the many headliners for 2023 Coachella in the event’s first weekend. Many Coachella-goers bought three-day festival tickets solely to watch Ocean’s set that Sunday, and he was dubbed as the most anticipated headliner of the year.

This has not been the first time Ocean has been considered for headlining Coachella as he was announced as a headliner for Coachella’s 2020 lineup, which was ultimately canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic that March and instead rescheduled to headline in 2022. By Coachella 2022, though, due to scheduling conflicts, Ocean was unavailable to perform those new event dates and was replaced by Kanye West, now known as Ye. West would later decide to pull out of Coachella 2022, and The Weeknd ended up taking his place as headliner for Coachella 2022.

On April 16, Ocean took the stage but not in the way many of his fans expected. Among the snowballing issues with Ocean’s performance, that weekend included an hour delay to Ocean’s performance due to Ocean requesting for Coachella staff to melt an ice rink he requested prior to the event, only vocally performing a handful of songs in his fourteen-song setlist, and not performing the rest but instead playing the Spotify versions of the rest of his songs. There was additional chaos amid the overall chaos of that Sunday, including Ocean having to end his performance early due to curfew restrictions in California and more, but many of his fans were left disappointed with his performance while die-hard Ocean fans claimed that only the true fans of his craft would have enjoyed the performance.

Ocean was scheduled to headline the next weekend for Coachella, but instead of headlining, Ocean made the decision to pull out as headliner and was replaced with Blink 182. It turned out Ocean was suffering from fractures to his ankle leading up to his performance during his on-site rehearsals. About the first weekend, Ocean said, “It was chaotic. There is some beauty in chaos. It isn’t what I intended to show, but I did enjoy being out there and I’ll see you soon.”

For the Internet, it can never be left at that. Many discourses emerged from this event including the idea of the difference between an artist and a performer, the consideration of Ocean’s preparation to perform during his grieving period from the death of his brother, and more. 

I wanted to provide my own input to some of these discourses that arose in the coming weeks now that all the initial shock and anger has blown over by deep diving into what unfolded that weekend, the initial comments, and the discourses that arose on many social media platforms.

First, I do not believe Ocean was ready to perform under the circumstances of dealing with his private issues no matter if it was his health or his grievance of his late brother. Prior to finding out about his injury and the theory of his grieving his brother was circulating the Internet, I know good and well that the process of grieving looks different for everyone. There’s no date on when you stop grieving, and some can snap out of it quickly while it takes years for others. Under these circumstances, I believed he should have pulled out and returned to Coachella at the time he was most prepared. Now, with the recent revelation of the physical pain Ocean was experiencing, I have seen many artists and performers push through their physical pain to give stellar performances. Not saying everyone is required to do that because celebrities are humans too. In Ocean’s case, though, it was of extreme importance for him to re-enter the music industry swinging after his hiatus, and this situation so far has cost him headlining another Coachella especially with the music festival’s executives claiming they plan to distance themselves from Ocean.

This point being said, I do think at times there is a loss of reality for musical artists’ in consideration for their fan bases as these festivals like Coachella require different processes for fans to obtain the money to go see their performances and also the amount of planning it takes to be able to attend festivals such as these. Whether it's paying off credit card debt or saving all the money to attend a weekend at Coachella, musical artists often need to remember and recall the realities of their audiences.

Now, the discourses online that I will address include the difference between an artist and a performer. In this conversation, music artists can be placed in two categories: an artist solely or both an artist and performer. In this context, an artist can be defined as a creator that is good at the craft of music but is not necessarily a great performer to see in person. Music artists that can be both great artists and performers can include Beyonce, Kanye West, Taylor Swift, and many more. Many have wondered online if Ocean is a great artist and performer or solely a great artist.

According to the discourse online, this critique arose from Ocean’s lip-syncing of his songs from Spotify. I have no idea why he was lip-syncing on stage or using the Spotify versions of his songs, and I have no intentions of defending him in any shape or form. Though, I will agree R&B predecessors were able to both create their craft and perform it to the best of their ability for award shows, tours, and in this case live festivals. I couldn’t agree more with Jay-Z when he said during his performance when stage managers tried to play a track of his vocals over his natural ones, his fans might as well listen at home. 

This being said, I believe Ocean is a great artist, but I wouldn’t consider him a performer necessarily–especially with many of his fans claiming that in his previous concerts, they have been lulled to sleep with his slow R&B tracks. Looking back at my own experiences with my first live performances from both UMi and Kehlani the previous year, I am inclined to agree with his fanbase that will be lulled to sleep after listening to a slow setlist.

The final discourse online I wanted to answer was the question everyone has been asking: Is Ocean’s career over?

Ocean as an artist has a firm reputation in his craft of music, but I know it takes more than craft for artists to reap the accolades within the music industry. In some cases, there is importance to being able to perform your songs and singing them as well or just as well as the tracks would sound. In this case, the debut of Ocean’s highly anticipated debut after his six-year hiatus puts him on a bad footing in the industry–pun unintended. I question how this will affect his future ticket sales along with the reputation of his fanbase. Though stan culture is prominent, I am wondering if his stans will be able to keep him afloat. Ocean’s comeback is possible, but it will be a challenge that could take years to repair.