The best Frank Ocean songs, much like the man behind them, are the ones that play with a sense of duality. Note the radical fissure that cleaves the epic “Pyramids” into two disparate pieces, or the duet of pitch-shifted voices singing in warring octaves on “Nikes.” Their identity is one built on diametrically-opposed camps of both form and function, constantly in dialogue with each other and never sitting still.
“Chanel,” dropped over the weekend without warning, is Ocean’s most dualistic work yet. It is writ large in the achingly-melodious, auto-tune-enhanced chorus of his ability to “see both sides like Chanel” and referenced slyly in numerous throwaway lines like “how you looking up to me and talking down?”
It is also, without contest, Ocean’s most shockingly subversive work to date. While the subtext may be lost on the casual listener, the duality of “Chanel” is quite bluntly addressing Ocean’s bisexuality and the pratfalls of gender expectations therein. “My guy pretty like a girl and he got fight stories to tell,” he begins before brusquely describing a sexual encounter with “one that’s straight acting.”
Fittingly, his most forthright confessional to date is matched by production that is muted, submerging mellifluous lines of piano beneath layers of reverb and letting his vocals stand front and center; yet another instance of dual identities syncing into one harmonious, if anguished, whole. And while the A$AP Rocky featuring remix that followed shortly after is entertaining, it takes away from the most precious element of what makes “Chanel” work: this is Frank laying himself barer than he’s ever dared before.
In other music news, Drake’s More Life will finally be hitting our ears this weekend, if these reports are to be believed.