Frank Ocean’s single, “Chanel,” the first music released by the singer since last year’s Blonde and Endless, seems wearied–like someone emotionally at the end of their proverbial rope. The lyrics are a mess of allusions but seem to be about the difficulties associated with self-identity, but perhaps especially in terms of sexuality (many think the line, “see both sides like Chanel” is a reference to the famous Chanel logo of opposingly facing Cs and Frank Ocean’s sexuality). There’s a weaving of themes pertaining to this throughout the song, particularly in terms of duality, ambiguity, and discretion. It’s a difficult thing to express and Frank Ocean sounds tired and perhaps even defeated despite his skill in conveying these emotions: “steam both sides of the L.” Yikes.
I quite like the piano and its muted heaviness. It evokes the image of a faceless individual, barely holding on, hands heavily falling down to hit the keys, simply because he must, as if he’s forgotten his purpose and motivation. This, carried by trotting and grimy drums, creates an image of an accepted weariness, a residual pain resulting from some long passed (or perhaps persistent?) transgression. I also like the inclusion of the spacey synth playing around in the back of the track paired with Ocean’s seemingly disconnected mumblings (don’t let that fool you, though. There’s a hell of a lot of information packed into his words and cadence choices). It makes the single more intimate and stream of consciousness, as if I’m privy to Frank Ocean’s inner soliloquy.
I’m sure I missed more than half of the references in this single but I still like it. As always with Frank Ocean, his tracks are able to convey a lot of emotionality and thus even if I feel as if I can’t understand everything he is saying to me, I can still understand what he means through the melodies and the quality of his voice. At the very least the song forces me to use my brain if I have any hope of finding meaning, which I like. The song may be weary but it speaks to a lonely part of being human and, like always, hearing that loneliness expressed makes me feel, in the end, less lonely.
As a side note: I think the lyrics that Frank Ocean posted on his tumblr are worth sharing here because there’s something beautiful about the way they are presented in image form. A duality of how the words are spaced out and almost reflect each other but also a loneliness in the way the small black words fail to fill the empty space, all the words in the middle not able to ever align into a uniform image, held in place by the less fluid words on the jagged outside edges.
Side note number two: A$AP Rocky also has a remix floating around the internet and his added verse is much more grounded and plain speaking than Frank Ocean’s verses and skips ambiguity for a more straightforward message (and rhyming scheme).