Mysticism and Marketing: Frank Ocean’s “Silent Comeback”

This summer, Frank Ocean headlined FYF Fest (LA) and Panorama Festival (NYC), not long after a short onset of cancelations. His recent duo of performances has been hailed a breaking of silence, a coming out of hiding. The performances themselves, to music journalists and festival goers, seemed to be lacking in showmanship, and words were thrown around like: nonchalant, intimate, reserved, introspective. Those aren’t really words you often hear describing festival shows on the main stages.

Music news outlets like Spin and Pitchfork quizzically posted play by plays of both LA and NYC shows, reporting the onstage vibe as something closer to a studio session or rehearsal than a headlining performance, Frank wearing noise-canceling headphones throughout and kneeling in places onstage that proved very tricky for the festival videographers to get to.

The expectation that a headliner must give their whole selves as part and parcel of their art, that they are entertainers whose attentions ought to be entirely focused on delivering one hell of a show to a paying audience is, intentionally or not, inverted in Ocean’s hands, simply because he would likely be just as happy, if not happier, with a cult following as with international stardom.

Devon Maloney, Pitchfork

What is interesting is how the media felt the need to speculate as to why Frank was so nonchalant, so quiet and reserved onstage. Is it part of his mysticism, his whole ghosting schtick these last few years? Is he making a political statement? Why won’t he take command of the stage? Why doesn’t he employ more crazy festival antics if he’s a headliner? Why does he seem on the fringe of his own career, like he’s outside looking in on his own success?

These questions posed after his two shows made me wonder: do performers who use lots of background dancers and light shows and engage with the crowd throughout get these kinds of analyses afterward? If Frank had come onstage and acted extroverted, would he be getting the same sort of coverage?

The swirl of post-fest media coverage concerning Frank’s performances also seem to hang a few heavy questions hinting toward the future of Frank’s career: If Frank keeps canceling, if Frank doesn’t play the festival circuit game, what’s going to happen? If he keeps performing for himself and not to the crowd, will his fans disappear? Does he even care either way?

One mistaken trait of introversion is people thinking you don’t care, that you’re insensitive to their needs.

I think Frank Ocean is a true introvert, and that he does care quite a bit about his following, fame and quality of work.

I don’t think Frank is hiding or silent – he just wants his life. So few people in the spotlight don’t want to share, that it seems almost necessary to think up on-brand intentions to his actions, that his absence and cancelations are what make him all the more mystical.

In order to make everyone OK with Ocean’s introversion, his mysticism is marketed in a way that makes it seem like it was intentional, planned, part of the whole disappearing-and-reappearing act, when really, it may just be that Ocean is a quiet person and does not give a shit about meeting a certain social expectation during live performances.

How can the music industry speak for an introvert when the industry itself shouts?

The kneeling onstage, the shrinking of Frank into his own onstage bubble, reminds me of a how-to presentation I gave in middle school. How to make Frito Pie (chili eaten out of a Frito bag) was my chosen topic, and when I went up to the front of the classroom with a plastic bag full of my props, I decided to give the entire presentation kneeling partially behind a couple desks.

On the critique form my teacher gave to me after the presentation, she’d written, “Don’t be afraid to stand up next time.”

When you’re an introvert there is a need to make yourself little, to put yourself in your own bubble, but that doesn’t mean the quality of your work isn’t grand. Frank has a powerful voice, but he uses it in a quiet way. Keep kneeling, Frank. Keep kneeling.


 

Can you be accepted as an introvert in an industry that thrives on extroverts?
Can you be accepted as a quiet person when your livelihood depends on you speaking up, putting on a show and entertaining crowds in the thousands?

Yes, but it comes with an understanding from society that not being extroverted does not make you less credible, less profound, or less amazing.

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