The years leading up to Chanel‘s release was eventful in drastically positive and negative ways.  Of course, in 2015, same-sex marriage became legalized in the United States and nearing the end of 2015 there was already the expectation that 2016 would be incomparable for LGBTQIA+ rights.  June 12, 2016 a 29 year old man entered Pulse nightclub, a known gay LGBT+ nightclub hosting a Latin Night, with a rifle and a pistol and killed 49 people and wounded 53.  This shooting, later deemed a terrorist attack by investigators, is the deadliest incident in the history of violence against LGBT+ people in the United States and is the deadliest terrorist attack in the U.S. since 9/11.  Outside of the lives lose at the Pulse shooting, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found a 17% increase in hate killings from 2015 to 2016 totaling more than 1,000 incidents of hate violence.  In August of 2016, Frank Ocean released his visual album Endless on the 19th and released his album Blonde on the 20th.  A couple months later in October of 2016, the movie Moonlight was released.  Moonlight follows the life of Chiron, a gay boy who is mentally, emotionally, and physically abused for being who he is, and how he found support and delt with hardships placed on him.  This movie has been acclaimed for its social commentary and heart wrenching tale of how Chiron’s life unfolds.  Moonlight received praise well into 2017 and received a multitude of awards, including three Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Writing-Adapted Screenplay.

Frank Ocean has a very distinct sound, and the songs on his albums, though diverse, create a cohesive experience for the listener.  Neo-Soul is a musical genre that merges contemporary R&B and 1970s-style soul with elements of hip-hop, which I would say accurately fit Frank Ocean’s vibes.  Neo-Soul is essentially modern-day soul music with contemporary attitudes and sensibilities.  I think Frank Ocean approaches his music in a variety of ways, but there is clear emphasis on the importance of good, complex lyrics backed by instrumentals that make you feel.  His lyrics with his music blend beautifully, but I view them as entirely separate entities because of the work that I can only imagine goes into the specific sounds in his music and how each one is manipulated.  In my mind, as an artist, Frank Ocean is at the caliber of many experience musicians; there is always more intent to his music than just one or two things.  He is a creator, not just a rapper, and the listener’s whole experience is considered when creating his art, not just how his lyrics will be perceived, or if these beats will make it on the radio.

Chanel was written by 5 men, Michael Uzowuru, Jake Oh, Rami Dawod, Frank Dukes, and Frank Ocean.  Michael “Uzi” Uzowuru is a Nigerian-American record producer, musician, and songwriter from California.  Jake Oh and Rami Dawod make up the production duo Jarami.  Rami and Jake are Swedish artists and have received notoriety for their remixes and production of singles for Frank Ocean, Camila Cabello, and Silk city and Dua Lipa.  Frank Dukes is a Canadian producer and DJ who has worked with many high-profile artists since the 2010s.  Frank Ocean, originally known as Christopher Edwin Breaux, is one of the most acclaimed artists of his generation.  His only public form of social media is his tumblr account, and though he may not be as active, I find this to be incredibly awesome.

Frank Ocean’s lyrics are consistently jam packed with intent, a big reason so many people admire him.  The first four lines of Chanel set up the majority of the song: “My guy pretty like a girl / And he got fight stories to tell / I see both sides like Chanel / See on both sides like Chanel.”  Ocean’s male partner seems to have feminine features, but also a history of performative masculinity in the form of fighting.  Frank compares these this duality to the Chanel logo which is comprised of two Cs facing opposite directions.  Frank could also be highlighting his attraction to both men and women, using the Chanel logo to represent a different duality in this life and as a symbol of bisexuality.  To top it all off, the last lyric sounds like “C on both sides like Chanel” as if he is just describing the Chanel logo.  It is techniques like this (See / C) that push Frank Ocean above other artists of his generation and contribute to his adoration from fans.

Three lines later Frank states “Hide my tattoos in Shibuya.”  Shibuya is a special ward in Tokyo, Japan known for its shopping district and nightlife, but there is heavy stigma towards tattoos in Japan based in a long history of tattoos as a form of punishment, also associated with Japan’s working class, and in modern times can be associates to  an organized crime group, the yakuza.  Frank is hinting to how he must hide aspects of himself that are not seen as mainstream/socially acceptable.  The following two lines are “Police think I’m of the underworld / 12 treat a nigga like he twelve.”  12 is a popular slang term for the police, and Ocean is saying here that even though he is a critically acclaimed artist, the police are still talking to him and treating him as if he were 12 years old, highlighting that fame is not a remedy to racial profiling.  There is also speculation that this line is an allusion of Tamir Rice, who was 12 years old when he was shot by the police in 2014 because they mistook his Airsoft gun for a real firearm.  His next three lines are “How you lookin’ up to me and talkin’ down? (Yeah) / Can’t you see I am the big man? (Big man) / God level, I am the I am (Woah).”  the delivery of these lyrics is mildly comical, like he is mocking those who think so highly of themselves, while also saying yeah, I am a Boss, how are you going to treat me poorly?  Halfway through the first verse and there are 10 lines of lyrics packed to the brim with meaning.  About 15 lines down, Frank says “Got one that’s straight actin’ /  Turnt out like some dirty plastic (Ride).”  Straight acting is when a person attracted to the same gender does not act according to the stereotypical mannerisms expected of their sexuality.  Ocean reemphasizes his feminine gay lover putting up a front of hyper-masculinity and Frank is the only person who can see the other side.  Frank wants his partner to “turnt out” (open up) and embrace their sexuality.  Frank’s social critiques come from his personal experiences, but are relatable for many people, especially the younger generations who are learning who they are and how to accept who they are.  Frank Ocean in many ways is a voice and simultaneous role model for many people struggling with their identity and relationships.