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Frank Ocean is the lovesick bard we need but don’t deserve

By Ben Sapet One day after Valentine’s Day we were graced with a gift better than any bouquet of flowers or box of chocolates: a new single from Frank Ocean. Ocean’s late-night Valentine’s gift to the world was not a new album, as some had hoped, but a striking cover of “Moon River.”  Where the original Audrey Hepburn recording relies on her breathy whispers tinted with wistful longing to give the ballad its simple, dreamlike beauty, Ocean’s layered vocals and swelling, synth-infused instrumentals lend his version a poignant sense of heartsick contentment. Ocean’s “Moon River” speaks, like much of his discography, to the bittersweet aches of life and love. As usual, Frank Ocean gives us more than we deserve. Our holiday dedicated to love seems mired in the hackney consumerism from online flower deliveries to poorly chosen jewelry and the obligatory chorus of groans from singles everywhere. This year, as the pink candy was discounted and the little red hearts went back in storage, the clouds parted and Frank Ocean descended with a rich, moody song to balm hearts overwhelmed by love found, love lost, and love never reciprocated.

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As an artist, Frank Ocean continues to evolve and grow without ever letting his new work unravel the old. Every piece seems to pick up where the last left off, changing stylistically but without Ocean ever deviating from his role as the nuanced storyteller and gifted musician at the center of it all. Frank Ocean moved from the sample and reference-heavy memories etched into each song on nostalgia,ULTRA to the vivid imagery, elaborate production, and anthological storytelling of Channel Orange. Four years later, the layers were stripped back with Blonde. Its comparatively minimalist production, inward focus, and aching melancholy made Blonde a startlingly intimate, emotional experience that feels more like connecting to Ocean himself than observing his art. Now, Ocean’s “Moon River” follows the scattered exhaustion at the end of Blonde’s hour-long odyssey of unrequited love with a gentle croon that finally finds a tender satisfaction in remembering the love he felt. We’re lucky to have Frank Ocean as he is: a sensitive recluse who pours his life almost solely into his art. Ocean’s near complete absence from social media and the celebrity news cycle makes the intensely personal nature of his recent art all the more influential. Eschewing the gossip and oversharing that characterizes modern stardom, Ocean’s life exists not in headlines, but in his music. His music isn’t a celebrity confessional that sparks gossip and stokes feuds to light social media ablaze. Frank Ocean uses his talents as a storyteller to share his own story by carefully reconstructing the emotions, moods, and moments that color his life. The jokes about Ocean taking his time and the pleas for more new music from him speak to more than just a restless fan base—we want to share another intimate moment with him in the world his music creates. We haven’t done anything to deserve the intricate beauty Frank Ocean brings into this world, yet Ocean continues to use humanness, with all its raw spots and vulnerabilities, as his muse. As we wait impatiently for his next album, we should be thankful that Frank Ocean has decided to invite us into his life and his music.

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