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Frank Ocean and the art of the identity crisis

November 20, 2012|By Matt Donnelly
  • Frank Ocean, left, discusses his breakout year and sexual boundaries with GQ's Men of the Year issue. He's pictured here with manager Kelly Clancy.
Frank Ocean, left, discusses his breakout year and sexual boundaries with… (Peggy Sirota / GQ )

We were never optimistic that artist Frank Ocean would agree to a cathartic chat — a Diane Sawyer-style sit-down in which he would discuss his bombshell year of making great music and pushing sexual boundaries in the industry.

It seems GQ's Men of the Year issue is as close as we're going to get. Ocean spoke with the magazine about his life-changing decision to reveal a prior romance with a man, and the roller-coaster of tight-lipped success that followed.

"The night I posted it, I cried like a ... baby," he said of the Tumblr blog that started the ball rolling. 

"It was like all the frequency just clicked to a change in my head," he said. "I hadn't been happy in so long. I've been sad again since, but it's a totally different take on sad. There's just some magic in truth and honesty and openness."

But perhaps that magic was not to happen in the GQ interview. Author Amy Wallace had the housekeeping task of asking Ocean to clarify his sexual orientation, asking specifically if he identified as bisexual.

Normally we at the Ministry would say it's none of our business, but the moment in pop culture that Ocean represents — a trailblazer up against a long tradition of homophobia in hip hop — does demand a certain amount of candor. Or doesn't.

"You can move to the next question," he offered. "I'll respectfully say that life is dynamic and comes along with dynamic experiences.

"I'm in this business to be creative — I'll even diminish it and say to be a content provider. One of the pieces of content that I'm ... not giving is porn videos. I'm not a centerfold. I'm not trying to sell you sex," he said.

Fair enough. Ocean's tracks, penned for himself or for other artists such as Beyonce, are the stuff of sweeping heartbreak and glossy existentialism. But hasn't his openness in discussing sexuality given him the platform to let his content shine? 

"Because people realize everything that I say is so relatable ... as a writer, as a creator, I'm giving you my experiences. But just take what I give you. You ain't got to pry beyond that," he said.

Maybe his fans enjoy the coded morsels in his song lyrics about heartbreak or Ocean is learning in advance to keep the juicier parts of his identity close to the vest.

But if his sentiment on "prying" makes anything clear, he's holding the cards — along with cash, industry cred and a GQ Man of the Year title. Content indeed.


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Frank Ocean's talent, sexuality could push musical boundaries

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