Today’s date is August 20, 2015. If you’re a Frank Ocean fan though, then you’ve doubtlessly counted the days and realised today is July 52, 21 days since the window for the release of his sophomore record Boys Don’t Cry closed.
People expected Frank Ocean to release his second studio album in July because Frank Ocean told them to. In a post uploaded to Tumblr in April, the Channel Orange singer announced he had “two versions” of a new record that would be released in “#July2015”. But July came and went and the record didn’t surface. As a result he’s been called the “dad who went to the store for cigarettes and never came back” of R&B.
For Frank Ocean fans, the last few months have peregrinated at an excruciating pace. In the time that’s passed since the initial announcement on Tumblr there has been no official information from Frank’s camp: no release date, single, or tour. Fans have had to search for information elsewhere. They’ve stalked the Instagram accounts of the record’s collaborators, pressed his brother for information on ask.fm, and rummaged in the code on Frankocean.com for hours. At one point it was suggested the New Yorker website held the clue to the album’s release date, because a post written about the artist who painted the frog picture in Frank Ocean’s announcement photo kept changing to today’s date. Someone even posed as Frank on Reddit and teased fans with “hints” that the album would be dropping soon.
The intense pursuit for information has yielded nothing but continual misery for Frank Ocean’s fanbase. Yet if the album drops as it’s rumored to on Friday before his headline set at FYF Festival, then everything will presumably be forgotten. Because even as his fans are tearing their hair out, the agonising lack of information on Boys Don’t Cry’s release has allowed Frank Ocean to cultivate an insurmountable amount of hype. People need this album.
The drought tactic has been employed on two other albums this year: Kanye West’s seventh record SWISH and Rihanna’s R8. Like Boys Don’t Cry, both were slated for a 2015 release yet information on them has been scarce. Rihanna and Kanye have both dropped new music, and Kanye played a headline slot at Glastonbury, but eight months have passed since both artists dropped their first track of the year and neither has announced a release date. Similarly Skepta fans have been waiting four years for his third album Konnichwa. By giving their fans no concrete information on release dates, all three artists have maintained a steady up-curve of anticipation that peaks each time a new video drops, a collaborator gives an interview, someone in the studio leaks a snapchat, or a relation to the artist posts something ambiguous on social media that could be related to the record’s release. It’s a clever game; one that feels au courant with the peak and troughs of the internet’s news cycle, and allows for frenzied excitement to be perpetually renewed while providing very little in the way of concrete information regarding a new release.
In the grand scheme of things, the interim between the above artist’s last and next records hasn’t been that long. Michael Jackson held time for five years between Thriller and Bad. D’Angelo waited over a decade to put out his release last year. And then there’s Dr Dre. There was a seven-year interval between 1992’s The Chronic and its follow up 2001. It took another 16 years for Dre to kill off Detox and release his grand farewell record Compton.
Before the (present day) internet, the wait to hear Dr Dre’s 2001 or Michael Jackson’s Bad must have been agonisingly long for fans. Until each record was announced, or a magazine interview hit the stands, there was scarcely any information available. Yet the longing for records feels more desperate and painful now we have frequent access to information, however slight it can sometimes be. As both a music critic and a fan, I’ve wasted infinite late nights and work days on forums, seeking meaning and constructing theories from microscopic fragments of material; peering into Instagram, looking at interviews, and weighing up whether a record will drop.
The Detox approach – where a record looms large in the public consciousness without ever actually coming out – can be dangerous for obsessive fans like me. It’s easy to get caught in the excitement; to believe this weekend is the weekend. Then it passes and you feel crushed. You’re back to square one. On call, continually waiting for an album that could drop at any moment.
The rollercoaster of hype can be good for the artist in terms of sustaining excitement for their new record. The snippets of information and conspiracies regarding monumental records like SWISH, R8, and Boys Don’t Cry transition from forums and on to music sites, where they generate large-scale hype outside the artist’s core fan base. Long term, the result can be even better. Compare SWISH or R8 to Taylor Swift’s 1989. Taylor’s record was publicised across the board with teaser videos, exclusives, and interviews. However the big-budget marketing campaign for 1989 meant it was easy to forget soon after it had been released. Because it had been shoved down our throats, it became difficult to maintain interest. Now the thought of another Taylor single feels like last year’s news. In contrast, Frank, Kanye, and Rihanna have barely participated in promotion for their records, so you can presume the interest surrounding them will remain long after they’ve been released. It’s a great marketing tactic.
Proceeding with an album strategy that is barren of information can also be a knife edge though. Kanye West and Rihanna walk the line between releasing enough music so their fans don’t get exasperated and without dropping so much it becomes humdrum. However Frank Ocean may have taken things too far by announcing a release date before putting out any music. Some fans are starting to get angry; they want to know why July has been and gone without a word from Frank’s camp. It feels like their patience is being tested. Once Boys Don’t Cry drops - presumably with a magazine or a double album - those fans won’t remember the hours they spent incessantly refreshing his website agonising for its release. They’ll be too busy. But it’s the prolonged minutes, weeks, and months in between action that are important. It’s like dating. Treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen. But even then, there needs to be a bone or two.
You can find Ryan Bassil on Twitter.