Let’s Be Frank, Entertainers And Fans Need Grace

April 25, 2023

When Coachella announced Frank Ocean as a headliner, fans and overall enthusiasts were hopeful for his return after such a long hiatus. It’s no secret that Frank Ocean isn’t one for celebrity, but that doesn’t change the zealous fervor his fans maintain for him. Weekend 1 of the annual festival marked the Blonde singer’s first stage performance in 6 years. However, between his polarizing performance and his last-minute withdrawal from weekend 2, it’s time to consider that both artists and fans need grace. 

In the wake of international COVID-19 responses, the music industry has undergone a dramatic shift. With people outside again, the return of large-scale events, and the irrefutable influence of TikTok, there have been marked improvements and disappointments in how the music industry operates. However, realities like the diminished value of a studio album or the change in shelflife perception of music are nothing new. When albums were difficult to make, there was an understanding that you could only put so many records out at a time. When the CD came, and with its ease of production and distribution, releasing music became easier. Herein lies the task of sating the insatiable appetite of the public. With the dawn of the internet and the ease of producing and distributing music, we are inundated with new music at any time and on any given day. In short, it’s a free-for-all and the public has grown accustomed to having their attention wooed by one artist or another. 

Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate the parasocial relationship

But what happens when an artist doesn’t want to do the wooing? What happens when the artist wants to focus on the music exclusively?

In cases like that of Frank Ocean, it’s very clear that he doesn’t want to participate in the spectacle of the music industry. By observing his behavior over the years, a strong argument can be made that he merely wants to make music as authentically as he can without having to engage in the media performance of his artistry. The same argument can be made for Beyonce, known for popularizing the ‘surprise album’ and changing the “new music” release day, but more especially for keeping the conversation strictly about her art. In my opinion, we know too much about each other as a society. As someone who is personally invested in the arts, I believe it’s important to refocus our attention on the creative output instead of the irrelevant aspects of the artist’s personal life. This might be a suggestion that parasocial relationships need to be re-evaluated, but for now, it is what it is.

To this point, artists deserve a bit more grace than they’re given when they disengage from the media machine during times when they aren’t sharing their art. 

On the other hand, however, fans participate in the success of an artist and, for that, deserve a modicum of consideration when artists determine how they engage the world. Live shows, live streams, social media posts, and the like are a one-way form of communication between the artist and their fans, for the most part. They feed the nature of parasocial relationships as they appear today. Granted, at live shows, there’s an element of interaction between the artist and the crowd, but for the most part, artists rely on alternate types of media to communicate with their audience. Nevertheless, those moments not only entertain the audience but given how personal a music listening experience can be, live shows are cathartic. With the high value placed on such experiences, it should come as no surprise that concert ticket prices have soared over the years. 

Frank Ocean at Coachella

In the wake of Frank Ocean’s canceled Coachella performance, it’s completely understandable why festival go-ers would be so vexed.

They spent money to see him, only to find that he was an hour late, with a ‘low energy’ performance comparable to an unreleased music listening session in comparison to what was expected to be a grand return to the stage. While there are valid mitigating factors to what happened, as fans express their frustration, they too deserve some grace. During his set, Ocean gave a speech commemorating his late brother saying, “My brother and I, we came to this festival a lot. I feel like I was dragged out here half the time because I hated the dust out here. I always wound up with a respiratory infection or what have you. So I would, like, avoid coming. But I would always end up here. One of my fondest memories was watching Rae Sremmurd… with my brother.” 

Grief is an emotion that demands grace. It demands consideration, it leaves little room for logic in many instances. At the same time, whatever the mitigating circumstances, there has to be responsibility and accountability. From the online discourse, it’s clear that fans were looking for a little more consideration from Frank in how he chose to carry out his performance and later his abdication. 

Where does this leave entertainers and their audience?

As we seek each other out to re-establish meaningful interpersonal connections, as we investigate what it means to be “outside” again, the relationship between fan and entertainer needs just as much consideration. Very often, entertainers are placed on a pedestal so high that they can’t breathe. Upon them, we bestow all sorts of virtues that are not rooted in who they are, but in what society, their audiences, hopes they are. Similarly, fans have often been allowed to act out, to speak in ways that don’t deserve to be repeated, this needs to be curtailed. Parasocial relationships are one-way by nature, but when it comes to the relationship between entertainers and fans, a sentiment that deserves a two-way movement is grace.


Featured image by AFP/Angela Weiss