Frank Ocean is Bad at Arty Album Rollouts, Which Are Stupid

Apple Music and TIDAL, among others, have provoked major artist to engage in this kind of pomposity.

Frank Ocean performing live on stage bathed in a purple light
Getty Images / Jason Merritt

My livestream of Frank Ocean chopping wood at a workbench is not working. I’ve had to reload the page countless times on both my phone and laptop before it quickly flames out. This is, almost certainly, because I do not have an iPhone; today’s Frank Ocean presentation — the most extreme installment in his years of hinting at the release of his second studio album Boys Don’t Cry — comes courtesy of Apple Music.

The album is finally due out on Friday, complete with a video and a zine, reports the New York Times.

I am sick of this. Not of Frank Ocean withholding an album, because whatever; many of my favorite artists take longer between releases (I am, for instance, a fan of D’Angelo and the non-governor Scott Walker). Nay, I am fatigued by performance-arty album rollouts backed by major corporations.

I am referring also to Rihanna’s hallucinatory, Myst-core Samsung app as another bad example. Beyoncé’s pre-LEMONADE teasers were okay, and the TIDAL-controlled video-album remains one of my favorite things I’ve seen all year. But it’s capital-E Events like that which encourage all walks of pop artist to stoke their most dilettante-ish tendencies, and use some minimalist or gauzy smoke-and-mirrors to build hype, or even create it out of nothing. Even Ariana Grande, meekly, tried it with the launch of a cryptic website and several teaser videos earlier this year.

Kanye is Kanye, and one would — in 2016 — expect no less from him, but keeping tabs on the minutia of the Tweet-screed-punctuated Life of Pablo rollout took years off of my life.

It seems obvious, looking at the live tweets of the details of Frank Ocean chopping wood (to a ambient/pseudo-industrial music soundscape, mind you), punctuated by screenshots of iTunes playing songs from his breakthrough 2012 album Channel Orange, that this stunt is as much a business move as an Artistic Choice. Headline-grabbing moves of this ilk are one semi-proven way to make a greater dent in terms of album sales and streaming.

Most major pop artists, now, are effectively partnered to one of two streaming services, Apple Music or TIDAL. The two companies compete with one another for exclusive content, but also seem to be attempting a union, of so. Just this weekend, Kanye lobbed off a few Tweets about the prospective sale of TIDAL to Apple Music, and how the companies’ competition was “fucking the game up”:

By many accounts, Jay-Z has been looking to sell TIDAL for quite a while. If the exclusive content were consolidated into Apple Music, it could begin to pose a thread to the predominance of Spotify, who still dominate the market without platform-exclusive releases by major artists.

Ocean’s Boy’s Don’t Cry will reportedly be available on Apple Music exclusively for two weeks; after that, elsewhere.

Presumably, in Apple’s effort to take over the universe, they will just keep expanding their surprise-drop stealth mission in an effort to dethrone Spotify. I’d like to say this would end Tim Cook putting TIDAL out of their misery, but I fear we have at least a few more years of things like this tedious, pretentious Frank Ocean livestream ahead of us. Also, Apple won’t even be acquiring TIDAL’s catalogue, just their subscriber list, which makes the world a far worse place, which could mean that a hefty chunk of Prince’s discography might disappear into the EBay ether, thus signaling the apocalypse.

Is Frank Ocean Banksy? Can Boys Don’t Cry possibly be good enough to overshadow the hype and speculation? These are the kinds of questions we always waste time asking during one of these protracted campaigns. And then, consumerism being the way it is in 2016, we usually sample the final project and spiritually move on, all too quick, to the next topic of WTF befuddlement, liberally-applied Arthur memes, and whatever else.

Frank Ocean, release your album, not because I think it is going to be the best tones ever arranged into recorded time and space, but because I’m getting gray hairs watching you (or is that actually Banksy?) hacking at this wood.

This story has been updated with new information about the release of Boys Don’t Cry.