frank ocean’s surprises with “chanel,” his queerest track yet

March 15, 2017

There’s something haunting about Frank Ocean’s ability to be two things at once: daring and subtle, intensely political yet disassociated from public movements, at the forefront of a new music moment blending and defying genres while staying mostly out of the spotlight.

“Chanel”, a surprise track released over the weekend, embraces the best parts of this skill both in lyric and style. In the chorus, Ocean tells of being able to “see both sides like Chanel”—referring to the Chanel logo with its two overlapping and reflecting “C”s—to an aching melody with his bluntest words to-date over a stripped down beat.

By Hari Ziyad*, AFROPUNK Contributor

Covering topics like anti-Black policing (“Police think I’m from the underworld / 12 treat a nigga like he 12 / How you looking up to me and talking down?”), Ocean is more forthright than ever, but it has the most effect at the queerest parts of the song. Perhaps for the first time, Ocean explicitly references sex with men: “Remote controller on your lower back / Yes the good / Dick could roll the eyes back in the skull / Rolling when you ride, poppin’ / Rolling when you ride.”

Frank’s blunt embrace of his duality in “Chanel” can most obviously be read as a nod to his bisexuality, but the haunting moments are in the hints that even this label might not provide enough room for people as enigmatic as him to be all of who they are. For instance, in his opening lines—”My guy pretty like a girl / and he got fight stories to tell”—we are called to challenge what “guy,” “pretty,” and violence all have to do with gender in a way that questions a gender binary altogether.

It’s by far his queerest track yet:

*Hari Ziyad is a New York based storyteller and writer for AFROPUNK. They are also the editor-in-chief of RaceBaitR, deputy editor of Black Youth Project, and assistant editor of Vinyl Poetry & Prose. You can follow them on Twitter @hariziyad.