Frank Ocean’s visual album Endless was released August 19, 2016, seven months before Chanel and four years after his last album.  In every interview during and after this time when asked if he is making anything he always says Yes, I make things every day and proceeds to give an example, from making stairs to swimming laps without breathing.  Ocean hadn’t released his own music for four years, put out two massive projects one day apart, and then proceeded to release random singles for the next three.  The four years he was not putting out music was after he had just written a letter to his fans on tumblr opening up about his sexuality.  I believe the making of Endless and Blonde influenced his musical progress and vulnerability.

During the 45 minute visual album, a track titled “Ambience 001: In a Certain Way” samples from Wee’s I Think I am in Love With You made in 1977 and from The Queen documentary made in 1968.  This documentary depicted the experiences of drag queens organizing and participating in the 1967 Miss All-American Camp Beauty Contest held at NYC’s Town Hall.  In the sample you can clearly hear Crystal LaBeija say “Cause you are beautiful and young, you deserve to have the best life.”  I Think I am in Love with You by Wee is a lyrically easy, but beautiful song about love.  Norman Whiteside is the writer of I Think I am in Love with You, the frontman of Wee, and is considered the Frank Ocean of the 1970s.  At the time there were only four black artists given the money or creative freedom to make conceptual soul music: Stevie Wonder, Isaac Hayes, Sly Stone, and Norman Whiteside.  He has written a number of songs that Frank Ocean and Michael Uzowuru, an LA producer that helped create Chanel, have reemphasized and brought spotlight onFrank wanted to put his listeners in another place mentally with this song on the playlist.

Prior to the late 60s, ballroom culture revolved around drag pageants that were more like fashion shows or beauty pagaents.  Drag queens of color weren’t often involved- their color was expected to be lightened when they were- and rarely won prizes, and even when they did, they were almost always robbed of what many believed they deserved.  In The Queen, Crystal LaBeijas loses to the Rachel Harlow, the protégé of Sabrina, one of the organizer of the contest.  This decision was analyzed as a “side-eye at any criticism about Ocean not pulling his weight for the LGBTQ community of color.”  But I view this decision as Ocean’s growth as an artist and public performer building and expressing his identity.  In an interview in 2019, Frank Ocean stated that he has started to not view vulnerability as strong, and is rejecting the idea that artists have to be truthful and vulnerable all the time, alluding that his future creations will delve into fantasy and alternate reality; less relating personal experiences.  This shows that in the time between his first album and Chanel, he was still accessing and learning his vulnerability for art.  The inclusion of this documentary and the Wee’s song shows his acceptance with who and where he is, and these ideas helped form Chanel.

Frank Ocean creates a lot of content exclusively for Apple Music.  The second episode of his radio show, blonded Radio, premiered Chanel after an 18 track playlist that featured altogether about 4 minutes of commentary from Ocean himself and about 6 minutes from an MC.  Every song was great, but the playlist as a whole was interesting to listen to.  The first 11 songs were dissonant; they all had some element of a long, strong pitch or interval that was just a little bit off-putting.  By the fifth song I began to notice a pattern and it made the playlist frustrating to listen to but also made me wonder if this was all a set up.  Frank Ocean fans were saved by track 12 being Solo by Frank himself, and made me wonder if Frank was playing god, alluding to Chanel‘s lyric “Can’t you see I am the big man? / God level, I am the I am.”  Tracks 13 to 18 were relatively upbeat, fun, and known songs.  Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston were both featured, two big influences in Frank’s life.  Finally, at track 19, we  hear Chanel.  How the tracks go from here on out get a little confusing. Chanel is played on a loop about 3 times, and you feel yourself start to spiral, convincing yourself that something is different than the last time and hoping there will be commentary.  The fourth Chanel starts, but there is a massive difference about 2 minutes in.  The whole song distorts and a low-quality A$AP Rocky is heard rapping for about 45 seconds until he fades out, the whole song has another massive shift, and it is back to Chanel finishing and playing about one last time.  The show ends on that, nothing from Frank, nothing from the host, just done.  Frank Ocean and A$AP Rocky have been friends for almost a decade, and the cult following A$AP has mixed with his elite style, hearing this mix was beyond exciting.  The worst part is that it sounds purposefully mashed together and not clean, and specifically meant only for Apple users.  Frank’s exclusivity is rarely seen as unappreciative or malicious, seeing as part of the reason fans love him is a coldness he sometimes exudes, but rather as an honor and gift for those closest to him, his fans supporting his creative journey on this platform.  There are parts of Frank Ocean he keeps incredibly private, and A$AP Rocky is also a rather private person, so having a secret version of Chanel that only some of his fans know about and can listen to (there are versions of the A$AP Rocky version on YouTube, but the same or worse quality) is similar to Frank’s personal life and the duality that he sings about in Chanel.  The parts of him he shows the world versus his fans versus the parts of him he shows to those closest to him, like a partner, contradict.  Outwardly can be viewed as cold, but with friends and family Frank is known to be lively and fun and influential, so when he decides to show these parts of him to his fans, they savor the opportunity.  Those close to him have influenced Chanel, and he directly shows this with the version of Chanel that has one of his longest friends in the industry on it.