In late August 2016, after a four-year silence, Frank Ocean treated his fans to what I described as "a massive, multimedia cultural event." What began as a mysterious livestream of Ocean building a staircase, culminated in the release of two albums, Blonde and Endless; an "astounding" music video for "Nikes"; the publication of Boys Don't Cry, a 360-page magazine; and four pop-up shops across the globe. This unconventional approach garnered an incredible amount of adulation. According to Ocean, Blonde "sold a million-plus without a label." Not to mention, it was heralded by critics as one of the best releases of the year.
Similar to mercurial artists like Sade, Fiona Apple, and Lauryn Hill, the control and intrigue Ocean commands and elicits around his projects has earned him a horde of obsessive, die-hard fans. For these people, the run-up and roll-out to Blonde was almost as transformative as the album itself. Following the bread crumbs of information, these Frank Ocean super fans found themselves congregating on subreddits devoted to the artist, following social media accounts with push notifications, and setting up Slack channels to discuss and theorize about what Ocean was really up to.
"Nothing compares to the actual people who stan Frank Ocean," said Jamie Pesek, who manages of TeamFrankDaily. The Twitter-based fan account has more than 40 thousand followers and has embraced the motto, "this is a cult, not a clique" to exemplify its devotion to Ocean.
While lots of artists have intense fans, Ocean's stand apart from other fandoms, such as Nicki Minaj's Barbz or Beyonce's Beyhive. "They are chill, welcoming, opening, and passionate," said Pesek. "A lot of standoms you have are defensive and aggressive. There's nothing wrong with that, but with Frank Ocean, you just don't find that. He attracts these stans who are emotive and down to Earth and appreciative of good music."
It's been a year since Ocean finally opened up the flood gates again with Endless and Blonde. This seems like a perfect time to talk to those who waited for years with bated breath and ask them to reflect on what it felt like when the singer-songwriter finally gave them the trove of exciting, beautiful new art they'd been waiting on.
Jamie Pesek (left), TeamFrankDaily manager, St. Louis
I remember waking up and getting ready to go to work. I saw all these notifications going off on my phone that a stream had opened on Frank Ocean's website. I was so thrown off, and I had no idea what was going on.
I followed a bunch of Twitter fans and the forum KanyeToThe. They had the scoop more than anyone else. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was happening. But there was no warning or way to figure out when he was livestreaming. So I just brought an iPad with me everywhere and streamed all the time no matter what.
He was going on at crazy hours, sometimes like 3 in the morning. So someone in the thread had the idea that we should make a group chat where we could alert everyone if he was back. We would stay up all night watching the stream and talking to one another.
During the stream, I was moving into a new apartment. One day, I was FaceTiming my cousin, and I pulled up my iPad to just look at the stream. I remember scream crying and my face going bright red on FaceTime. I just said, "I have to go, I'm sorry," and hung up. I sprinted through my apartment to set up a table because everything was still in boxes. All of a sudden, I hear his voice, and I just fell to my knees. It was so dramatic, but I had spent so much time loving him and waiting on him and speculating and theorizing. When I finally heard his voice, it was like a punch in the chest.
The next morning, I felt like I was drunk because I was still thinking about Endless. And then he released "Nikes," and I thought I couldn't ever love anything more than that. I was listening to it on these big speakers in my new apartment. I hadn't even met my neighbors yet, but I'm sure that they all hated me.
When Endless dropped last summer, I remember waking up and staying up all night to listen to it. Honestly, I thought he was going to pull some D'Angleo or Lauryn Hill shit after Channel Orange. I had spoken to Frank Ocean at the Dazed 100 party, and he told me "it's done and it's coming." I was happy he was serious. The following day after it dropped, I linked up with friends and had a faux Blonde listening party deep in Brooklyn. Thirty-five minutes into the party an announcement was made that Boys Don't Cry would be given out in Soho, which was one hour away. So I hauled ass to get there and ended up finessing and cutting the line to get the last copy in NYC.
I started listening to Frank Ocean when I was 13. I was one of his fans during the early Nostalgia Ultra days. During that time, there was no artist like him. He was so open and raw—I felt like the music was made for me. Every time a Frank Ocean album drops, its always during a very transitional period for me. Nostalgia Ultra was during the beginning of high school; Channel Orange was the during the end. Blonde was during my first year of college. The music helps me through the growing pains of adolescence.
Sean Stanton, designer behind Rust, California
I was on the subreddit for Frank during that four year hole. When we finally got the livestream, I didn't close it the entire time . It got to the point where my girlfriend was annoyed, and my data charges were insane.
It was an enormous moment when I finally heard some music on the livestream because I had been waiting so long. I hooked up my computer to my TV and watched it while I chatted with everyone in the subreddit. We didn't know if we were going to get an iTunes version or anything. Toward the end of it, he walks to the top stairs, and we are all like, Is he going to jump?! What's about to happen? Then there's that flash of color, and the stream cuts. I was low key crying trying to figure out what was going on.
After that, it was just an explosion with Blonde and "Nikes." After Blonde came out, I just disconnected from the internet and kept listening to the album. When I got back online, I saw the poster for the pop-ups and called my friend like "holy shit!" I drove an hour to go to one, but there was a huge accident and traffic. When I got there, I waited in line for like 45 minutes before they said "the line ends here," and there were like four people in front of us.
The thing about that weekend is that it was this whole thing. It was about discovering the music, but also there was such a unique presentation to it, especially with Endless. Everyone expected something, but when it was so different, the surprise was so good.
Freddy Bennett, stylist, Atlanta
I've loved Frank before Nostalgia Ultra. And I've listened to Channel Orange more than 100 times. When he went on his hiatus, I couldn't do anything but listen to "Sweet Life," "Lost," and "Bad Religion" to hold me over. Then boom, out the blue he started hinting about a new album. When the buzz around Endless happened, I was about to flip my shit. I was so confused by the livestream at first until sounds started appearing. Finally one of my close friends texted me and told me that the album was streaming straight through, so I sat there paying super close attention until the end. When It was over, I was thinking this can't be all there is.
The next day, he released the locations for the pop-up shops around the country, and of course, Atlanta wasn't on the list. I tried to get a friend in LA to shop for me, but it didn't work out because they only allowed one copy of Boys Don't Cry per person. However, my friend was dope enough to do an unwrap the zine with me still on FaceTime.
What made Blonde and Endless so great I think was that we waited so long for them and that gave Frank time to go and study and experience different things. I know at one point he was like living overseas and hanging with Madonna. So I'm sure he was learning different things from her. It gave him time to cook up something that we haven't heard before.
Tiffany Wines, writer, New York
I remember when the initial endless stream dropped, I kept it open in the top of my computer. I was mesmerized by it. When Endless actually started playing in the livestream, I remember the initial reaction was people being like "is this it?!" But to me, Endless was its own chapter and not a footnote. It was cohesive and exquisite on it's own. Each track was distinct and unique, but it was also meant to be consumed together. But then we were still reeling from and processing Endless when the "Nikes" video dropped and Blonde followed suit.
The person who I was dating at the time longboarded over to my house. This was right after Endless dropped, so we could listen to it together. We ended up getting into this big fight, and he left, so then the next day I didn't tell him I was going to the pop-ups, and he didn't end up getting a magazine. We weren't speaking at the time, so I was just like "fuck you."
I remember seeing a Complex article on Twitter about Boys Don't Cry pop-ups opening. I didn't think twice about it. I had been in bed, just listening to the albums when I saw it. I got my roommate, and we hopped in a Lyft, and we just made our way there. When we got inside the pop-up shop, "Nikes" was already playing on a inside. There was all these security guards and people like just pacing on the street. We were lucky to get there when we did, but the line went back so far, much farther than I could see, and no one knew what we were even getting.
Once I finally got a magazine, my hands were shaking so hard. I went out onto the street just to sit down. I was that girl sitting on the street of New York crying, and people kept asking what it was and why I was crying. But I really couldn't make words; I just kept shaking my head.
I remember reading Frank's thank you letter. I could relate because I was raised by a single mother, too. So when he said "to my mother, I'm brave because you were," it really struck me because that's exactly how I feel about my mom.
With Frank, the amount of control he's able to maintain over his narrative is really great. I think his work is crucial, especially those for black bodies. There's so much exploitation; it's pervasive. But the privacy Ocean's been able to keep is so admirable because it is something that is really hard to achieve. As a queer black person, it's something that brings me a peace, knowing that he's able to live his life the way he wants to.
Follow Mikelle Street on Twitter.